The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/10/17
Karate Advisor: Bruce Lee
Cast: Dean Martin, Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, Nigel Green

Matt Helm's final outing looks and feels considerably different, thanks to a more grounded and action oriented director. A one billion dollar shipment of American gold is stolen en route to Copenhagen, and the world economy will collapse if it's not recovered within forty-eight hours. Naturally, the United States calls on Matt Helm (Dean Martin) to handle the case, as the governments of the world want to avoid the embarrassment and publicity of assembling an armed task force. While Helm and his bumbling assistant (Sharon Tate) are searching for clues, Count Contini (Nigel Green) sends Elke Sommer and Nancy Kwan to assassinate him. Despite all of his woman troubles, Helm eventually gets the upper hand and hijacks Contini's gold transport with only minutes to spare.

"The Wrecking Crew" is by far the best production of the series, and the cheap visual effects of the previous films are thankfully absent. The car chases are fast and exciting without resorting to undercranking, and the aerial photography is excellent. Rear projection is used sparingly, but one scene at the airport is particularly odd. Bruce Lee served as a "karate advisor" on the film, and the fight scenes are clearly inspired by Asian martial arts. Unfortunately, the execution is overly sloppy and not very convincing, although seeing Sharon Tate and Nancy Kwan go at each other is pretty entertaining. The plot is very straight forward and the goofy sexual innuendo of the previous films is almost completely non-existent.

The ladies in the film are quite stunning, and Elke Sommer is shockingly sexy. Nancy Kwan makes an extremely charming Asian assassin and Tina Louise gives an aggressively seductive performance as an exotic dancer. Sharon Tate is a bit of a wildcard and bounces between being a clumsy airhead and an awkward temptress. She's sexiest when she's not trying to be, and she has a peculiar charm that's difficult to pinpoint. She and Dean Martin play well off each other, and their antagonistic relationship provides most of the film's humor. Sadly, neither James Gregory or Beverly Adams returned for this film, which spoils a bit of the series' continuity. A fifth Matt Helm film was planned, but Dean Martin was so distraught by Sharon Tate's murder that he refused to play the character again. Additionally, poor box office returns gave Columbia Pictures little reason to continue the series.