Film: If Looks Could Kill

Male teen fantasy wish-fulfillment story #1,991

Mariska: They're gonna kill your friends. They're gonna kill me. And they're gonna kill you.
Michael: Talk about peer pressure.

Mostly forgotten 1991 film in which (barely) high school graduate Michael Corben of Detroit goes on a class trip to France and winds up being mistaken for an American CIA agent of the same name who is killed at the airport. Upon arrival he is immediately shanghaied into service by British Intelligence and tasked with stopping Diabolical Mastermind Augustus Steranko from conquering all of Europe.

Has nothing to do with the song by band Heart.


  • Affectionate Parody: To an extent. While the story is more or less presented seriously, it isn't above occasionally poking fun at some of the tropes of the spy genre, but in a kindhearted way.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Michael reloads his machine gun multiple times.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Michael is consistently shown to be a bright and clever young man, however never lives up to his full potential due to his desire to slack off. Even the film's Big Bad, Augustus Steranko, tells Michael to his face that while he (Michael) might have "good intentions", he doesn't "follow through".
  • California Doubling: The movie takes place in the USA, France and Orenbourg, and was completely filmed in Canada (Québec, to be precise).
  • The Cavalry: Subverted; Richardson and the British army show up after the villains have all been dealt with and the mansion destroyed.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hot Scientist Vendetta Galante presents Michael with a tuxedo fitted with "standard hands-up protection." Later, upon being cornered by two of Steranko's Mooks while in the tux, Michael is told, "Put up your hands." He complies. Hilarity Ensues as knockout gas sprays from the armpits of the tux.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Subverted. When confronted by Zigesfeld, Michael initially attempts to retrieve a gun from a dead Mook rather than face his opponent hand to hand. This fails, though, when Zigesfeld grabs him from behind.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Mrs. Grober and the French class spend an awful long time hanging in a cage over a giant vat of molten gold, apparently without the heat or fumes bothering them at all.
  • Cool Car: The red Lotus Esprit. Once Michael sees it, he stops insisting that he's a high-school student.
  • Creator Cameo: Director William Dear as a scientist testing out a bomb-proof suit.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: That sure is one advanced robotic hand Steranko got made for Zigesfeld. Such a device would revolutionize the prosthetic industry and make Steranko a zillion times richer than he already is, but he would rather steal gold from common market nations as part of a harebrained scheme to unite Europe under his rule.
  • Death by Cameo: Singer Roger Daltrey appears as superspy Blade long enough to get his butt handed to him by Linda Hunt as Ilsa, who kills him using a necklace that unfurls into a whip.
  • Disney Death: When Steranko's mansion blows up, everyone thinks Michael and Mariska have died. Poor Mrs. Grober wonders despairingly what she's going to tell Michael's mother, only to have the pair emerge from the fiery ruins unscathed. Cue the cheering.
  • '80s Hair: Proof that the 80's briefly bled over into the 90's.
  • Fearsome Foot: When Michael is climbing the cliff to the chateau, and Zigesfeld's feet come into frame.
  • Femme Fatale: Steranko's arm candy, Areola Canasta.
  • Fictional Country: Orenbourg, which seems to be a slight Expy of any number of Germanic countries. Though there is a real Orenbourg, it's a Russian city.
  • French Jerk: The doorman at the casino. Averted with most of the other French characters however. Generally except for the casino doorman most of the French people encountered in the film are quite nice.
  • Gratuitous French: Unsurprising, considering it's mostly set in France and is about a French class. Mrs. Grober in particular loves speaking French whenever she can find an excuse.
  • Gratuitous German: The German finance minister says some stock German phrases, as does the guy left to guard Michael and Mariska in the dungeon (things like "Mach schnell!" and so forth).
  • Helicopter Blender: When Steranko's getaway chopper crashes, the rotor section detaches and chases after Michael and Mariska like a giant buzzsaw.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Michael tells himself this. Or at least he tries.
    Michael: I'm not afraid to die. I'm not afraid to die. Who am I kidding?
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Zigesfeld. He's very feral and violent and rarely speaks except to growl, but also behaves like a simple little boy around Ilsa, who he seems to regard as some kind of mother figure.
  • Refusal of the Call:
    • Initially, Michael is your typical teenager in such a situation - scared and confused and hesitant to cooperate with the agents. He flatly refuses to do what they say... until he sees the Cool Car, that is. Then he's all too happy to go on the mission.
    • This is then inverted - once Steranko's assassins start trying to kill him, he Refuses The Call again and intends to back out and run off. It's only after he meets Mariska that he realizes the full scope of what's at stake, and agrees to help her avenge her father.
  • Short Lived Aerial Escape: Steranko attempts to leave in a helicopter at the end, but is shot down by Michael and Mariska using Uzis.
  • Sigil Spam: Steranko's awesome-looking scorpion emblem is on literally everything associated with him, from the coins he mints to his helicopter.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Averted. Michael and Mariska almost kiss after she hits him a couple of times, but they're interrupted by a Mook at the door.
    Cell Guard: Very touching.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Martini variety, often veering into Affectionate Parody at times.
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin:
    • During the Board to Death scene at the beginning, Steranko and French finance minister Lafevre have this exchange, leading to the latter's demise:
      Lafevre: France's gold must remain in France.
      Steranko: Well, I'm very sorry you feel that way.
    • A much more literal interpretation of this occurs when Steranko throws Ilsa out of their helicopter.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Michael's classmates. They continually ignore their constantly changing bus drivers and ultimately wind up caged over a giant vat of molten gold.
    • Additionally, the German finance minister, upon learning of Steranko's evil plan (because Steranko tells him), boldly threatens, "I'll tell the world!" While in Steranko's house. Surrounded by Steranko's Mooks. Small wonder he's last seen getting dragged off to an implied offscreen demise.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Mrs. Grober. From meek schoolteacher who lets herself get bullied by Steranko, to grabbing an Uzi and crashing his party very noisily. She even captures several of his Mooks in the climax.
  • The Unfavourite: Michael's parents (his father especially) clearly prefer his younger brother Brad. However, they don't treat him badly and his father tells him he loves him and just wishes he'd be more productive.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Kelly disappears from the movie after being thrown off of the bus by Zigesfeld.
  • X-Ray Vision: Built into the sunglasses. He uses it to cheat at the casino to see the next card, before being told to stop looking degenerate.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Steranko does this to Ilsa at the end.
  • You Killed My Father: Said verbatim to Steranko by Mariska (although it was actually Ilsa who did it).
    Ilsa: No, dearie, I killed your father!