Silent Trigger (1996)

A tower. A ridiculously massive sniper rifle. A couple of folks with a history who dislike and yet obviously lust after each other. A couple of unusual security guards. A stoic Dolph Lundgren. Silent Trigger is the kind of borderline action thriller that is cheap, occasionally sleazy, and somehow tries to be philosophical and end on an uplifting beat.

Dolph Lundgren plays Waxman, a sniper working for a secretive organization known as the Agency. He does contract jobs, where he goes somewhere and shoots the target. Gina Bellman is Clegg, a spotter assigned to work with the sniper on the job. The two don’t know they’re working together, but they have a history: years before, on Clegg’s first time out as spotter, Waxman failed to shoot the target. While they managed a harrowing escape through a war torn nation, Waxman believed they were set up but catches Clegg radioing in and learning her orders are to kill Waxman for his failure. Waxman escapes and somehow is still employed with the group that wants to kill him years later.

But the tensions between sniper and spotter are only part of the problem, as there are a couple of security guards working the skyscraper construction site they are using for their sniping spot. One of the guards, Klein, is a rookie security guy who prefers to go by the book. The other, O’Hara, is a cocaine-fueled slacker who really wants to rape Clegg and has a bunch of spider tattoos, which he sometimes hallucinates about during drug binges. If you’re wondering what the hell the spider thing is about, yeah, I don’t know either. It makes for a couple of largely pointless scenes of O’Hara freaking out and then seems to get completely forgotten by the rest of the movie, which is probably for the best.

So what happens? Oh, shenanigans, definitely. O’Hara gets beat up and handcuffed to a dirty toilet, Waxman opines on the killer instinct and whether anyone can get it back after they fail to do the job, Clegg tries to double- and triple-cross folks, there’s a kill team that shows up wearing pieces of oxygen filters that serve no purpose whatsoever, rain falls the whole time, and a bloodied up Waxman and Clegg definitely have sex a few minutes after she nearly got raped and he beat up a guy in a dirty bathroom, because…sure, movie, whatever.

There are some ridiculous things going on here, and I don’t just mean why there is a dirty toilet on the top floor of a construction site for one bad guy to be handcuffed to (a toilet which becomes notably cleaner later when he makes his escape). But one thing we definitely need to talk about is the sniper rifle that Lundgren walks around with, because as ridiculous as it appears to be, it’s a real thing: the Iver Johnson AMAC-1500/5100, a weapon which weighs 36 lbs and has a barrel that’s 29 inches in length. This monstrosity fires .50 BMG rounds, massive bullets that don’t so much kill people as pulp them, and the squibs used in the film try to reflect this by doing less spraying and more gushing whenever Dolph successfully hits an enemy. Yeah, this rifle is an AMR, an anti-material rifle, because it can be used to disable vehicles. This thing gets loaded more like an artillery cannon, with Dolph manually removing the bolt, locking it onto each individual bullet, and loading it before he can fire. And yet, he somehow manages to fire this thing from the hip.

I cannot stress how ridiculous that is. This thing weighs more than a small child, it fires .50 cal rounds, and it doesn’t even have a foregrip because no way in hell would anyone ever even attempt to shoot this thing without setting it down on the ground. And yet Dolph spins and blows a blood geyser through a dude without so much as a wince. You have got to love movie magic firearms.

I should take a moment to discuss director Russell Mulcahy’s work. While it’s a mix of genres and budgets, including multiple made-for-TV and direct-to-video titles, made across a multitude of nations, he’s worked with a variety of big name actors: Denzel Washington, Christopher Lambert, Michael Caine, Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin, Michael Madsen, Geoffrey Rush, and on and on and on. He’s also done numerous music videos, from Elton John to AC/DC, Duran Duran, and Billy Joel. And he directed Razorback, a ridiculous and fantastic Australian horror film about a giant killer boar that is just as much nature gone amok as it is Ozploitation, alongside crime films like Ricochet, Blue Ice, and The Real McCoy and even a superhero film in The Shadow and a video game movie in Resident Evil: Extinction.

But the major reason why I want to point out Mulcahy’s films are to celebrate both the highs and the lows, because Russell Mulcahy directed the cult classic Highlander. And then five years later, he gave us a film so bad it was written out of the series, Highlander II: The Quickening. That’s right, Mulcahy is responsible for a phenomenal one-two punch that led me into cult cinema and then into its dregs. I remember being a kid and passing around the Highlander VHS tape, having long, dumb conversations about how great the movie was, and then using sticks to reenact scenes from the movie. My knee still hurts whenever the air pressure changes from where it got smacked during one of these reenactments over 20 years ago. And then Highlander II came along, and it’s so, so dumb, it made me do some reevaluating, the end result of which was a long, multi-film conversation that led me to deciding it was perfectly fine to enjoy bad cinema, even if some of it leaves me cringing.

Mulcahy has proven he can easily go from moody to over the top in the same film, and he successfully does it in Silent Trigger. It’s got a gloomy, austere atmosphere, full of rain and drab colors on a set that is barebones, yet the gunplay that occurs is ridiculous and frantic. Dolph’s never been the most emotional of actors, but this film feels well suited to how he expresses himself. And Bellman plays off of it, contrasting her performance to Dolph whether she’s the rookie in flashback or the steely professional in the film’s modern day.

Silent Trigger ain’t Highlander, sure, but it’s also not Highlander II territory. And it’s perfect Dolph Lundgren territory for the era. Now enjoy a trailer that’s totally not in English:

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