There are quite a few unreleased projects I’d love to see on the big screen, such as, for example, the third part of Snake Plissken’s adventures, titled ‘Escape from Earth’ or Ridley Scott’s ‘The Train’, an action movie about a genetically-altered beast running amok on an underground train in a dystopian Los Angeles. Yet there is no other unmade movie I would have loved to see as much as ‘Shadow Company’, written by my personal favorite scriptwriter Shane Black, the best author, who perfectly combines neo-noir style with the typical 80s quirks.
It was Black’s very first script, the one he wrote back in 1984. Black later brought his friend Fred Dekker on board as a co-author and together they penned the draft that is on the net, dated ‘October 20, 1988’. After the blazing success of ‘Lethal Weapon’, Black was in high demand. Walter Hill was attached to the project as an executive producer with John Carpenter, fresh off shooting ‘They Live’, meant to direct the movie. He needed this success the most, his latest big screen release, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ having a hard time at the box office.
‘Shadow Company’ has it all when it comes to writing style – it has Black’s typical sense of humor; he breaks the fourth wall over and over again. The movie is rather self-aware similar to ‘Lethal Weapon’. It starts in Saigon in February 1974 with our red herring for a hero, lieutenant colonel Nikko, walking into the wrong room, searching for a gambling den. He witnesses six commandos playing poker, them betting insurance life policy, medals and their own fingers. Nikko gets whacked for being an idiot. These six are, in turn, members of the ‘Shadow Company’ – super soldiers, commanded by major Stark and general Woodhurst.
Sixteen years gone, the war is over and the movie continues. Our hero, Jake Pollard, a Vietnam vet is on the road and spends his last money, buying some coffee. The man witnesses a news broadcast about the bodies of six American GIs found at some Cambodian temple and these MIAs are about to be flown back to USA for proper burial. Pollard heads to the town of Merit, hell bent on stopping the deadly six. In the town, he meets an angsty rebellious teen by the name of Kyle Traeger and his on-and-off girlfriend Heather. General Woodhurst, who has not gotten over the failure of the Vietnam War, wants his former soldiers to ‘bring the war home to those who betrayed it’. Woodhurst revives his former subordinates with ‘Agent Orange’ and commits suicide. Shadow Company hits Merit and starts a bloodbath, destroying everything in their way. Oh, and one of them is Heather’s father, captain Stockton. It’s up to Pollard and Kyle to stop them, Pollard being the seventh original member of the Shadow Company and Kyle’s dad.
It is certainly a movie with its own style – a neo-noir action horror. Why do I say ‘neo-noir?’. ‘A street choked with smoke, garbage and human souls’ sounds like a line straight out of Raymond Chandler’s novel. Besides, this is how Black describes Pollard, ‘The loneliest man in the world. Three day stubble. Movie star handsome. But hardened. Like maybe he’s seen more than a man really should’. It’s a very macho man movie, but it does have a heart and a real nice main theme that the war has to be buried for good and no longer affect the lives of the young generation. Speaking of macho moments, Shadow Company has one badass creed.
My will is strong,
My name is dread,
I fear no death,
‘cause I’m already dead.
Six members of the company themselves are your typical tough as nails commandos, who are introduced in a fashion similar to the introduction in ‘Extreme Prejudice’. Armbuster (‘Mirrored sunglasses. Sleeveless camouflage flack vest’), Stockton (‘Blonde. Pretty-boy. The name ‘Doris’ is embroidered in a pink heart on his fatigue jacket like a bowling shirt’), Perez (‘Cradling a combat flamethrower, he light a cigarette. On the front of his helmet is a decal – an evil, cigar-smoking Woody Woodpecker’), Kozalli (‘Distrustful of automatic weapons, Kozalli carries an M16 with a soldered-on M79 40 mm grenade launcher’), McCall (‘No helmet. Instead: a perpetual headband. The fingerless soldier’) and Noonan (‘Wearing a New York Knicks cap and holding a small transistor radio to his ear’). Armbuster is our main bad guy here, Stockton is Heather’s dad and Noonan has to thank God he didn’t live to see New York Knicks in their current sorry state.
The movie has both good and bad moments. The good ones include some genuinely funny parts, like McCall’s torn away head croaks ‘Medic’ as its last word. There is one scene where an MP at the armory lists the weapons and the supplies stolen from the place by Shadow Company, trip wire being the last on the list. ‘He stops. Looks down. He has just STEPPED ON the trip wire. It is rigged. The explosion blows the place inside out’. The scene where Heather talks to her undead father is very emotional as well, her saying things like, ‘you won’t shoot, daddy…I know you won’t…and if you do… then fine, I’ll just die…’cause I’m better off dead…I’d rather be dead…If a father can kill their children’. Heather says he loves him and ‘shoots’ him with a toy gun, Stockton still flies backward, as if hit by a bolt of lighting, killed by love. As for the bad ones, Pollard being Kyle’s father is fairly obvious. Moreover, the whole second act is pretty stale, the stakes not rising higher than they already have. The thing I disliked the most is how the mechanics behind Shadow Company works. It’s never explicitly explained how they operate and why do they do what they do. Still, it’s something Black and Dekker could have worked on. I reckon, the shooting could have been started by the beginning of 1989 and in case John Carpenter would have left the project for whatever reason, it would have been up to Walter Hill to direct the movie. Both of them are legendary professionals and I love all of their movies, save for Hill’s ‘Tomboy’.
Now, speaking of dream casting, who do I want to star as Pollard? If it is John Carpenter directing, then the man for the job is definitely Kurt Russell. To tell you the truth, I reckon that Russell will fit into Pollard’s shoes perfectly – like, the man is the spitting image of Snake Plissken, just that he has a hidden heart of gold where Snake only has his own code. Or, think of a more humanized version of sergeant Todd 3465 from ‘Soldier’, whose silent genetically enhanced opponents kinda remind you of the zombie soldiers from ‘Company’. As for the schedule, Russell would probably have to choose between shooting this movie or ‘Tango & Cash’, the last true 80s action movie. However, there is another option. Considering that by the end of the second act Pollard gets heavily wounded, why don’t we invite an actor, who is famous for playing heroes, who get heavily wounded by the end of the movie? Hell yeah, Michael Biehn, that’s who I’m talking about. After ‘Terminator’ and ‘Aliens’. Besides, the shooting of ‘The Abyss’ was done by the end of December 1988, meaning, that I don’t have to deprive Biehn of his masterpiece. The only thing that bothers me is that in all of instances mentioned above, Biehn was supported by first-rate costars. Sigourney and Henriksen, Harris and Mastrantonio, Schwarzenegger and Hamilton. In case other cast members let the movie down, can Biehn save ‘Shadow Company’ by himself? Kurt surely can – Russell even dragged ‘Escape from L.A.’ into the ‘so bad it’s good’ territory. I’ve changed my decision on the subject for a dozen times and I’m still not sure. Let’s put it this way, Kurt does give the movie a better chance at success in case the film is not particularly good. He’s way more stable and disciplined compared to Biehn, who had known problems with alcohol. Moreover, we need more Carpenter-Russell collaborations. So, yeah, I vote Kurt.
Second leading role is Kyle, Pollard’s son. Now, here we need a rebellious street punk, whose soul is on fire. Val Kilmer is way too old. Robert Downey Jr.? Now, that’s a possibility. After starring in ‘Less Than Zero’ the man is known, but… Here you go, Christian Slater. I can watch any movie, as long as it has Christian Slater in it. He was my favorite part of ‘Guns, Girls and Gambling’, better than a hot fair-haired lesbian hitwoman. And boy, do I love blonde femme fatales. In 1989 Chris is still young enough and, despite the age, he’s already well known. As for the schedule, Slater doesn’t have to miss neither ‘Gleaming the Cube’, nor ‘Heathers’, he’ll only have to turn down ‘The Wizard’, which is not much of a loss. I’ll take Slater here, but just because we two go way back to when Moses wore short pants. Blame my dad for showing me “True Romance” when I was six years old.
As for Heather, Kyle’s on-and-off girlfriend? Mary Stewart Masterson. Do not try to convince me otherwise. I’ve been in love with her ever since watching ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’. Armbuster, the ‘Shadow Company’ leader? Jesse Ventura. I’d add Anthony Quinn as evil general Woodhurst, the one, who was in charge of the project and Gary Busey as major Stark, the Company’s former commanding officer.
Speaking of what kind of a movie ‘Shadow Company’ would have been…well, think of it as of a crossover between ‘Universal Soldier’, ‘Platoon and ‘Night of the Living Dead’. The movie would bring up the subject of America having a global post-war PTSR and the script does muse on the Vietnam theme quite a bit, in line with films like ‘Rambo’ and ‘Rolling Thunder’. ‘Shadow Company’ is a fast-paced action movie, but still, it does find the time to dwell on the relationships between parents and children quite a lot, considering that both Kyle and Heather are fathered by the members of the ‘Shadow Company’. It reminds me a bit of Bob Clark’s classic ‘Dead of Night’, which is an interesting combo of horror and family drama itself.
The main issue I have with the script is the ending. It feels somewhat lame and way too open ended, having Pollard fly away in a helicopter, saying goodbye to his son he’s just met and them discussing, how ‘the dead should stay dead’ – ‘yeah, but maybe they didn’t have to die in the first place’ and Bing Crosby singing about Christmas. I reckon, Carpenter would have had the finale changed and that ain’t exactly something Black is not used to, considering the original endings of both first and second installments in ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise. Come to think of it, what the movie lacks is a powerful, melodic rock ballad over the credits. I strongly suggest either ‘I Remember You’ by Skid Row or ‘Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)’ by Cinderella. ‘Tears in Heaven’ or ‘My Father’s Eyes’ by Clapton would have been a better fit, but they’ll only be written in the 1990s. The same can be said about Joe Cocker’s ‘My Father’s Son’.
In the end, I do not know how ‘Shadow Company’ would have turned out. It might have failed in the box office, but redeem itself and obtain the cult classic status. It might have been a huge hit, spawning a franchise with loads of sequelitis like ‘Shadow Company 2: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, ‘Shadow Company 3: Electric Boogaloo and ‘Shadow Company 4: The Smell of Napalm’. I do not know. But what I do know is that for sure would have been entertaining, if flawed. We would have loved the hell out of it, the movie being so eighties in style it hurts. So yeah, regardless of the financial success, ‘Shadow Company’ would have been a cult classic, a film, beloved the action movie communities, the sort of we have on ‘The Action Elite’. If only… In the end, thinking of it is the only thing we can do. The movie is referenced here and there a few times, The General and Mister Joshua, ‘Lethal Weapon’ leading villains being former members of it. Shane Black’s older brother Terry wrote a script for the film titled ‘Dead Heat’, the plot of which somewhat resembles the idea behind ‘Shadow Company’.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a goddamn shame we’ll never get to see this movie on the big screen. ‘I’d but that for a dollar’. Personally, I always regret discovering these things could have existed, because now I know I’m living in a world half full, which is just a shadow of what it could have been.