By the time the eleventh year of the ’80s rolled around, international leading man Richard Harrison had run the genre gamut from Herculean epics to spaghetti westerns to martial arts blowouts, and had made 116 feature films.
Director N.G. Mount had made one.
This lone accomplishment was 1983’s Ogroff the Mad Mutilator, a misanthropic super-8 monstrosity shot in the backwoods of France and distributed via only the darkest channels. One of the most disjointed, amateurish and nightmarishly paced homemade horror offerings of all time, the mighty Ogroff was the type of movie that’s best used to ruin any future chance of work as a filmmaker. But after seven years of seclusion, Mount somehow found himself in the United States (!) with an actual 35mm camera (!!) and a bona fide fading Hollywood star willing to shed both his shirt and remaining dignity.
Operation Las Vegas opens as if Mount can’t believe he’s actually in Las Vegas, with endless reverent shots of oversized casinos glowing with American neon excess. A bald dad in a cheap hotel room handcuffs a briefcase to his wrist. A motorcycle assassin tracks him and cuts his hand off with a machete. A drug bust goes awry. Mobsters bury bodies in the desert in plain view of the busy freeway. The president of the United States is displeased.
Don’t fret; Richard Harrison is on the case. At the airport, he offers a woman (Brigitte Borghese of Jean Rollin’s Sidewalks of Bangkok) a ride in his “limo,” which is played by a white Ford Escort. He’s soon reunited with his old CIA comrades: a mumbling boss and a jovial black character whose voice is dubbed by a white man eating peanut butter. Harrison’s bleach-blonde airport date is revealed to be top secret master assassin Britta, who heads off to her Deadly Prey-style training camp to organize the destruction of society: “You call this keeping your gun clean? I’m sure your ass is no cleaner!” The camp’s main defenses are land mines and hillbillies in Budweiser hats. Eventually, Harrison and company suit up in dollar store camo and head in for fully automatic warfare.
While Mount’s sophomore feature is infinitely more professional than his first, it remains a triumph of non-human vision. Before leaving Europe, he’d hand-picked his own crew and many members of the cast, whose dialogue was later dubbed into English by illiterate catatonics. The CIA boss goes momentarily full-French while yelling at an old lady about ninjas. Speaking of which, a female ninja kills a window washer by karate-chopping his bicep. Fight scenes are sped up for maximum viewer palpitations, and most of the actors look like they’ve recovering from a stroke and are now waiting for their nap.
That’s especially true of the film’s star. After a decades-long career spiral, Richard Harrison is so emotionally absent on screen that he appears to be doubting that he was ever born at all. While most former luminaries would be embittered by an irretrievable dive into the cinematic sewer, Harrison has simply flatlined in a zen state of supreme failure. Whether he’s leaning against a tarnished slot machine or jogging through the desert with a blazing uzi, he wears the expression of a newly retired uncle in a warm bath. In Operation Las Vegas‘ standout scene, Harrison leafs through an issue of Penthouse while enjoying a post-coital cigarette. Sadly, this quietly triumphant bachelor moment is interrupted by yet another ninja attack.
There is thankfully plenty of pep elsewhere, primarily provided by co-star Brigitte Borghese. A scientifically constructed middle-aged would-be bombshell, she had started her career in ’70s XXX features and would appear in two more N.G. Mount films (Trepanator and The Syndrome of Edgar Allan Poe) before her death in 2013. This was unfortunately prior to completing their next collaboration, a possible sequel to Operation Las Vegas that was to be titled “Britta the Torture.”
Movies like this exist in spite of our basic concept of movies. The closest aesthetic comparison would be Rescue Force, which was directed the same year in the same city by Charles Nizet… who happens to act in Operation Las Vegas as FBI Man # 1 while Richard Harrison happens to appear in Rescue Force as Chief CIA Agent. This isn’t a coincidence, but rather part of a complex web of available talent and shattered aspirations, an invisible network of unprofessionals flaunting their financial and artistic limitations to entertain a demographic of less than a dozen humans. We are among them. Stand proud.