The KGB and the CIA have struck a bargain to eliminate former agents who might prove embarrassing to either of their espionage organizations. The chief of the CIA mission in Lebanon names Gabriel Lee as the next agent it wishes to have liquefied. Lee is vacationing in Israel when the assassins fail at their first attempt to kill him and he turns to his former mentor, also a retired agent, for assistance. Written by
Familiar spy shenanigans. Not bad, but not all that good either.
Spy escapades riddled with double crosses and triple crosses were all the rage in the '60s and '70s, and this is Peter Collinson's belated addition to the genre. An uninspired and very routine espionage yarn, set (and filmed) in Israel, The Sell-Out is preposterously hard-to-follow at times but it would be wrong to dismiss it as a complete failure. It may not be especially good, but the performances are competent enough and the climactic chase sequence is moderately exciting.
Elderly ex-spy Sam Lucas (Richard Widmark) lives in Jerusalem with the sexy but much younger Deborah (Gayle Hunnicutt). He likes to think he has left the spy business behind, and he now runs a successful antiquities store. However, he is forced back into action when he receives a call for help from his old protege Gabriel Lee (Oliver Reed). Lee defected to the East some years previously, but has now become the target on a clandestine CIA-KGB death list. His only chance of getting out of Israel alive is to plead for the help of his old pal Lucas, even though it will mean re-igniting long-buried tensions and emotions.
There have been so many films of this ilk that The Sell-Out struggles to come up with anything fresh or interesting. Widmark is likable as the reluctant hero and Reed gets to put in some moody posturing as the enigmatic defector. Director Collinson cuts back on the hard-hitting violence that characterises many of his earlier films (there's violence in this one, but nothing in the same league as Fright or Open Season). The Sell-Out is a very formulaic film, never so bad that you feel like turning it off but never so good that you feel the urge to watch it again. Everyone involved has done better.... and worse.
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