aka Alto rischio
Produced by Pietro Bregni for PAC (Produzioni Atlas Consorziate)
Distributed by PAC
Director: Stelvio Massi
Story: Teodoro Agrimi, Gianmaria Vismara
Screenplay: Stelvio Massi, Domenico Paolella, Francesca Bregni
Cinematography: Roberto Brega
Music: Walter Rizzati, the song “Heaven” is sung by Shana Joy
Editor: Alessandro Gabriele
Art director: Marta Zani
Cast: Stéphane Ferrara (Mike), Isabel Russinova (Vera), Angelo Infanti (Sjberg), Massimo Lodolo (Anatolj), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Olga), Giovanni Oliveri (Johnson), Dale Wyatt (Mitzi), Giammaria Vismara (Alex), Plamen Manassiev (Stefan), Stefan Dimitriev (Jordan), Gabriele Torsello (Barman), Francesca Benny (Oshka)
In the early nineties, some experienced Italian directors were obliged to scout for work in the emerging film industries that were being established in former Soviet countries; financing was hard to find in Italy, where film production had gone into free-fall and labor was cheap beyond the former iron curtain, making location work there ideal for low budget productions intended for local and international distribution. Guido Zurli, who was used to making films in countries as diverse as Indonesia and Turkey, made Rodjen kao ratnik in Serbia in 1994, Ruggero Deodato shot The Washing Machine in Hungary (93) and Stelvio Massi made two films in Bulgaria, The Balkan Runner (94) and High Risk (93). Both of Massi’s films were produced by P.A.C., one of the few production houses still churning out films in the early nineties, extending the careers of classy but under appreciated directors like Sergio Sollima and Aldo Lado in doing so. P.A.C. seemed to have a special fondness for Bulgaria, with other of their productions – Berlin 73 (93), for instance – also being shot there. Of course, P.A.C. were merely ahead of the time in their penny pinching efforts, and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria have since become thriving locations for international co-productions.
Unfortunately, High Risk is really a very poor film, and while Massi and producer Teodoro Agrimi’s dedication to the cause can’t be doubted, the results really don’t justify their efforts. A group of hackers – ok, one hacker – financed by ex-spook and general moneybags Sjberg (Angelo Infanti) have managed to break into the New York stock exchange and are planning to destroy its computer systems in order to erase some of Sjberg hefty debts. It’s up to C.I.A. agent Mike (Stéphane Ferrara) and local computer programmer Vera (Isabel Russinova) to spoil their plans. But they have a coterie of killers on their trail – well, three of them – including the deadly femme-fatale Olga (Maria Grazia Cucinotta).
Boasting the most hideous late 80s fashions (Bulgaria was obviously some years behind the West in clothing terms, baggy stonewashed jeans are the order of the day here) this is an incredibly ugly, crude looking film, which is especially disappointing considering it was also photographed by Massi, an accomplished cinematographer as well as director. One can only assume that its lack of artistry is down to the low production values, reducing the amount of time available to set up and light sequences. The choreography, too, is very poor, only highlighting just how good the stunt-work actually was in low budget Italian films, which Massi seems to have realized because he limits the action sequences as much as possible, leaving it as an action film without action, a thriller without thrills.
It’s not helped by the script, which despite being co-written by the veteran director Domenico Paolella, lacks drama and propulsion. It attempts to be in vogue – by including clunky technical trimmings that you sense the writers don’t really understand – but merely seems dated, not least because of the antique looking computer terminals that everyone taps away on. It’s always a giveaway when a film features a hand-gliding sequence; hang-gliding never looks cool, you might as well pin a notice of a film poster saying ‘this is going to be rubbish’. It all gears up to a James Bond style siege sequence in an orthodox monastery, but this fizzles out because there only appear to be five guards and it ends on a freeze-frame of Sjberg being… captured. To be honest, despite the number of films he made I’ve never been entirely convinced by Massi as a director. He had some talent, but even his poliziotteschi, which he’s most famous for, tend to fall short when compared to directors like Castellari or Lenzi. High Risk, unfortunately, comes across more like something that Bruno Mattei or even Jess Franco would have put together.