Another feature of...
Crocodile 2: Death Swamp
Plot: Survivors of a plane crash, including a gang of criminals, find themselves hunted by a big crocodile.
A few months ago I reviewed Hard Cash. There I generally fulminated about the scads of films ripping off the work of Quentin Tarantino. A quick survey of our site, moreover, will reveal Hard Cash to be the only such film I’ve reviewed. From this we may infer that I don’t particularly enjoy this sort of film. (Bad ones, I mean. Tarantino’s own rare efforts I enjoy quite a bit.)
Conversely, I’ve examined seemingly dozens of movies involving killer animals of one sort or other. Most of these suck, but obviously I’m drawn to the genre anyway. So imagine my dismay when I popped the DVD for Crocodile 2 in my player and quickly learned that it was largely…a Quentin Tarantino knock-off. Blech.
The first (Nu Image) Crocodile was basically a slasher movie – or more exactly a ‘dead teenager movie,’ to borrow Roger Ebert's phrase – with a big crocodile. Crocodile 2: Death Swamp, however, is even more depressingly a bad Reservoir Dogs rip-off with a big crocodile. Both films were written by the same two people, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. They may wish to inject a little more originally into Crocodile III, should it appear down the line.
We open with a heist scene. Four masked men, absurdly overloaded with weapons, march into a bank and stick the place up. A lot of freeze-frames are used here, both to add to the scene’s (purported) ‘cool’ factor and, let’s be frank, eat up a minute or so of the movie’s laborious hour and a half running time. Faux ‘70s funk music – surprise – plays on the soundtrack. Where do they get their ideas?
One of the Tarantino elements his less talented brethren can imitate – forget the complicated plot structures and expert characterizations – is dialog suffused with boatloads of profanity. That trait instantly manifests itself here. One can only hope that Anderson and Gierasch just wrote into the script, "The killers should randomly insert at least one ‘f’ word into each line of dialog." I find it depressing to contemplate someone actually writing the literally hundreds of ‘f’s we hear here into their screenplay. Lest you think I exaggerate, eight instance of the ‘f’ word appear in the DVD’s English subtitles in the first forty seconds of dialog.
The gang collects huge duffel bags of cash. Monster movies now rarely think the monster is enough of a motivating device, so there’s always an auxiliary MacGuffin. Obviously the money will fulfill that function here. As well, Tarantino-esque films requires a lot of ‘cool’ bloodshed. Therefore the cops come running in and are cut down in various outré fashions. You know the drill: Lots of slo-mo blood spurts, guys shooting foes while leaping through the air, etc. Your basic, and increasingly tiresome, aping of John Woo.
I did enjoy one moment of the robbery, though. They apparently only had so much fake money to represent the ridiculous number of (unsecured and unbound) stacks of bills in the bank vault. So watch carefully. When a portion of a stack is thrown into a duffel, the exposed ‘bill’ still on the shelf is blank white paper. (!!) Presumably they just cut typewriter paper to size and then placed one fake bill onto each stack to suggest piles of money.
Cut to the airport. We meet our Heroine, Mia the Stewardess. (To give the film points, she’s seriously cute. Mia is played by Heidi Lenhart, a veteran of numerous short-lived TV shows.) She’s rather artificially standing outside and looking over, and then opening, a small package containing an engraved cigarette lighter. This lets us know her name, her boyfriend’s name (Zach), and that at the film’s climax, when she needs a cigarette lighter, that she’s been established as having one.
Oh, I’m sorry. Do you think I’m being overly cynical? Did I mention that when she tries to use it here it takes a number of tries to get it to work? Gee, it’d sure be exciting if she was in a life-and-death battle with a giant crocodile, and she had to light something (a puddle of gas, a bomb, etc.), and then the lighter didn’t work right away and we thought she might get killed only then it finally does work at the very last second and she lights the whatever and leaps away through the air in slow motion and there’s a huge fireball that consumes the giant crocodile and…oh, sorry. I’m getting a little ahead of things, I guess.
To be fair, though, imagine a film today whose heroine *gasp* smokes! How politically incorrect!! (Actually, we never see her smoking, despite the lighter, although plenty of other characters do.) In fact, I’m surprised they didn’t provide her with the lighter by having her righteously confiscate it from a smoking passenger, one whose nasty habit marks him for a bloody demise. In any case, and to my amusement, actress Lenhart handles the device like someone who has never tried to operate one before. Which is probably the case, but you’d think she’d have mastered this not-overly-difficult skill before shooting started.
We cut to a beach in Acapulco, allowing for some gratuitous bikini shots. Here we meet Zach, awaiting Mia’s arrival for a lovers' vacation. She calls him before her plane leaves. Here we learn that Zach is the one who wants a serious relationship and Mia is the one who doesn’t want to get too heavy. (This, obviously, will change by the end of the movie.) I guess there was a time, lost now in the mists of cinema history, in which having the woman be the one avoiding a committed relationship was fresh and daring. But that was long, long ago.
This is the set-up part of the film, so we go on to meet Disposable Victims like Julie, Mia’s stewardess buddy. Of course, this character isn’t referred to at this point by name, and it’ll be many scenes before we learn what to call her. As a second banana character, Julie’s role is to have supposedly comedic character traits. The one beat over our heads here is that…are you ready?…she’s a stewardess, but she doesn’t like to fly!! Oh, my sides. How wacky.
Then the bank robbers comes into the airport. This is where the full horror of the Tarantino apery truly hit home, as, inevitably, they march in slo-mo formation through the airport as the previously established fake ‘70s funk music plays. They enter following a pointed close-up of a CONCOURSE sign. I can only deduce that this is a desperately lame pun on the facts that crooks are often ‘cons.’ That should give you a fair idea of the level of film we’re talking here. Not helping is that of the four crooks, the three white ones are dressed like they’ve just arrived from an Arthur Fonzirelli costume ball. The black guy, the gang’s leader, manages to look significantly cooler, although that’s not much of an achievement.
In case you’re thinking that having a black guy as the gang leader is somehow ‘progressive,’ let me say that the primary way he’s different from his associates is that he constantly uses variations on "mf" rather than "f". Because, as we all know, "mf" is a term of some currency in the ‘Hood.
On the other hand, the pilot for Mia’s flight is black, too. As we all know, making extraneous authority figures like police captains and pilots and judges black means that you’re racially sensitive, even if all your main characters are white. There are a lot of horny young kids on the plane, too, justified by the fact that a flight to Acapulco is a "party plane." One kid (they even give his name [!], which is Brian) explains the origin of the Singapore Sling, alerting us that he’ll be the Smart One who’ll have all sorts of weird factoids on hand when the crap hits the fan later. We also meet a smarmy lawyer character, introduced hitting on a young woman (pointedly introduced as a nurse). Gee, I wonder how he’ll fare?
All this ‘character’ introduction occurs as Mia and the as-yet-unnamed Julie serve drinks to the first class passengers. So let’s see. The four Party Kids, including Brian the Smart One. Daringly, Brian isn’t a nerd, although that just reduces his chances of seeing the end of the movie. The Nurse. Justin, The Exaggeratedly Sleazy Lawyer. And the gang: Max is the Cool Black Guy. Squid is the Funny Guy. Pete is the Explosive Psycho. (He’s also Australian, as we can tell from his constantly calling everyone a "wanker.") Finally, Sol is the More Dangerous Quiet Psycho. He, we can tell, will keep trying to rape Mia until he meets his inevitable gruesome demise. Yep, nothing spells entertainment like a sexual predator.
Oh, and we finally learn that the Dead Meat Second Banana Stewardess’ name. Which allowed me to go back and insert it wherever I previously referred to her. Hurray. I also was annoyed by the knowledge that all these characters are pretty much doomed to die, either as preordained comeuppances – the crooks, the lawyer – or Stock Croc Fodder, which is everyone else. I’m assuming only Mia and Zach (who inevitably will drop into events at some point) will make it out alive, although I’ll give Brian a 40/60 chance as the Smart One.
The thing is, and call me old-fashioned, but I like a little suspense in these things. And I’m not talking ‘At what exact second will they die?’ suspense, I mean ‘Will maybe this character survive?’ suspense. Unfortunately, these days a large roster of characters is generally introduced solely to provide a long procession of Ready-Made Victims.
Anyhoo, at about the fifteen minute mark the plane runs into the necessary Dire Storm. No surprise there, since obviously even a preternaturally large crocodile isn’t much threat at 35,000 feet. The plane is ordered to return to Anaheim.
When this is announced, we get the movie’s most obviously moronic moment. Which is that the four robbers immediately whip out pistols they’ve nonchalantly gotten past security. There’s no way they could have gotten these past the metal detectors that were standard even before 9-11. I mean, Sol, Squid and Pete are carrying Colt .45 automatics, the M1911A military make, which is a big freakin’ gun. (Max’s pistol is similarly huge, but more modern and stylin’, as befitting a Cool Black Dude.) And from what we see later, they also must have been literally festooned with spare ammo clips.
Also, since they are now in action, the tiresome constant profanity comes back into play. First minute use of ‘f’s and ‘mfs’: Eight. In any case, the mysteriously armed crooks seize control and force the pilot to continue through the storm. One of Brian’s buddies is killed by Sol, thus further establishing him as a psycho. Which, frankly, I think we already got. Luckily, the gigantic bullet doesn’t pass through the guy’s head and plow through the wall of the plane, resulting in explosive decompression. (Or, conversely, ripping a monstrous hole through Mia or Julie, who were sitting behind the guy.)
Meanwhile, the copilot resists, which would never happen (again, this was made pre 9-11, and as we now know too well pilots were trained not to resist hijackers), and is shot through the torso. Here the script actually calls for the bullet to pass through him, so that it can smash into and disable the controls. Down goes the plane in a welter of passable CGI. As noted before, even cheap CGI renders objects and structures much more convincingly than with living organisms.
The plane hits the marshland below. The fuselage breaks in half, and a huge fireball disposes of all the extras in second class. (Actually, it should have killed everyone, as we see the flames fire through first class, but is doesn’t. In fact, no one even sustains any burns.) And so, twenty minutes and change in, we start the body of our movie.
Which would be fine, if the ninety-odd minutes weren’t so lame. Depressingly, we follow the normal path for these things. Basically, the general situation is set up, and the same scenes (the crooks argue, the crooks seek out the money, the crooks threaten everyone else, Sol threatens Mia with his sexual attentions, etc.) play through again and again as the various characters get picked off one by one.
The Nurse, who they never even bother to name, is badly wounded. Justin the Lawyer shouts, "I’m alive!" to establish once again that he’s Selfish. Then he starts gloating about the huge verdicts he’ll get from the airline (given the way the gang got all their weapons aboard, I’d say he has a pretty good case), to establish once again that he’s Sleazy.
Mia tries to care for the various passengers, establishing once again that she’s Caring and Stalwart. Max shoots the wounded nurse rather then have her slow them down, to establish once again that the criminals are Bad Dudes. Then -- and I’m assuming, in fact, hoping that these are ad-libs -- Max shouts in short order four variations on the line, "Get my mf’ing stuff!" This establishes once again that criminals have potty mouths, and are not particularly imaginative. (Given the way the last two-thirds of the plane went up, the money should have been destroyed. But it’s the film’s MacGuffin, so it amazingly survived.)
Zach learns the news in a cantina, where he proceeds to give a fine display of Ugly Americanism. You’ve got to admire a film in which there are almost no likeable characters. Oh, wait. No you don’t. Luckily, the bar contains (three guesses) Roland, a Han Solo-esque Gringo Man ‘o Action and All Around Rogue. We can tell because he has beard stubble, a Mexican hooker on his lap and is kicking back shots of Tequila. Plus he smokes little runty cigars. He agrees to take Zach out in search of Mia, albeit for a fee. Because, remember, he’s an All Around Rogue. Not that the $3,000 he demands seems like much of a price. Was this script written in 1958 or something?
As they move around the marsh in the pouring rain, the Pilot is grabbed and munched by a large croc. (Not big enough to be our menace, though.) I’m not one who sees racism in everything, but why do they keep having the monsters kill a black guy first in these things? Anyway, the Crooks open fire and kill the croc. Apparently we’re going to copy the first film and have the monster Croc seeking revenge for the slaying of a young’un.
Also stolen from the first film is the figuring of a backpack in events. In the first movie, a croc egg was inadvertently carried through the swamp by one of the film’s especially moronic characters – which, actually, were all of them – leading the croc to keep after the cast. Here, supposedly under the noses of the crooks, Mia is carrying the plane’s black box – the size of a large toaster – in a backpack. The idea is that the tracer unit in the box will lead the authorities to them. Finally, both films follow a group making their way through a swamp and being killed off one by one.
The group heads off, in search of the town where the Crooks were going to lauder their loot, or something. They are keeping the passengers alive to mule their stuff. Meanwhile, Zach and Roland have a comic scene. Or some kind of scene, anyway.
Then it’s back to the Swamp Trek. At this point it’s stopped raining, although it’s still dark out. All the better to disguise bad CGI effects, ya know.
Justin the Sleazy Lawyer notes a gas smell. Jeez, you’d think they’d be embarrassed to keep using these seem plot devices over and over. Of course, Brian the Smart Kid – who from now on I’m call him Expository Kid, for obvious reasons – explains that it’s methane. "It’s the number one cause of wildfires in swampy areas," he explains. (Yeah, probably because not too many other things burn in a swamp.) I myself can attest that methane is also the number one cause of fires in B-movies set in swamps. Hmm, I wonder if the methane gas will meet up with the lighter Zach gave Mia earlier?
To explain why the authorities won’t be able to find them right away – and not until after Zach and Roland do, of course – they have Mia posit that even after finding the plane they won’t expand the search until they figure out all the bodies aren’t accounted for. This might be true normally (sorta), but Mia’s carrying the black box in her backpack. The whole point is that the box has it’s own homing device, and certainly somebody would notice the signal was moving. Or so you’d think. And if they have the device with them, the authorities won’t be ‘searching’ for them, they’d be tracking them.
Back at the plane we see that *gasp* there’s a really, really big Crocodile in the swamp. Seeing the previously slain croc, this one releases a great roar of anger. Gee, didn’t see that coming.
Anyway, to be clear, the party now consists of seven characters: The three crooks -- Pete went missing after the crash and is presumed dead, but I’m expecting him to show up right when somebody’s about to escape or something -- Mia, Julie, Brian the Expository Guy and Justin the Sleazy Lawyer.
[Future Ken: Oddly, Pete remains dead. Making me wonder why they bothered to write him into the movie in the first place.]
Having tied the prisoners up, Max and Sol go to sleep while Squid keeps watch. Taking a chance, Mia attempts to use her feminine wiles to get the latter to drink some doped mini-cocktails. (I’m not a drinker, but don’t those little liquor bottles have seals on them? Wouldn’t Squid be able to tell that the bottles were tampered with?) This leads to a way too long *yawn* suspenseful sequence where Mia waits for Squid to fall unconscious.
Finally, he does fall asleep, having helpfully untied her first. Now, I guess I’m just callous, but my plan would be to grab Squid’s .45 and kill Max and Sol before they wake up. Then you could go back and take out Squid. I mean, look at the situation here. Stuck in a swamp with some homicidal maniacs who have already murdered two innocent people that they know of, and who are undoubtedly planning to kill all of them as well. Why would you risk your own life and that of the others to try and capture them alive?
Instead, of course, Mia and the others take off. They do at least take the gun, but really, why would you leave a trio of bloodthirsty killers behind who are sure to chase after you? (Could it be because there are 50 minutes of movie left?) Anyway, they all hobble off. Soon Max is wakened by the reappearance of rain – this wouldn’t happen if he were dead – and the chase is on. Max sends Sol out to corral them again, which also couldn’t happen under the "I blew their heads off while they were sleeping" plan.
You might be wondering how he could possibly find them in hundreds or thousands of miles of swampland. That’d be because the characters are IDIOTS. See, they decide to head back to the plane, which is the only place were the killers might find them. This might be unavoidable under other circumstances, but again, MIA HAS THE FRIGGIN’ BLACK BOX WITH HER. The one with the homing beacon that will bring any search party right to her. Cripes.
The group hears SOMETHING IN THE SWAMP and hurries along. However, the three killers are right behind them. Apparently the prisoners had only a two-minute lead on their pursuers. Good thing they decided to head towards the plane so they could be tracked. (Actually, after wandering through the swamp in the rain much of the night, without even a compass, how exactly does everyone know where the plane was?)
Julie ends up with the recorder and then gets chomped by the Giant Croc. Well, not giant-giant, just unbelievably huge. Of course, the CGI Croc moves way too fast, thus calling attention to it’s all too evident fakeness. When are filmmakers going to learn to animate their beasties as if they have mass to them? There’s also the inevitable giant prop head, probably left over from the first movie. See, that’s the advantage of making a series of giant crocodile movies. You can reuse your props.
Mia opens fire on the Croc with the .45. This might, maybe, have worked if she’d have run up and shoves the barrel into its eye or something. Instead, she only manages to squander her cartridges. Then they run off, chased by a Croc-Cam. However, just when we most expect it, they run right into the killers. Boy, that off-screen teleportation is right handy for those there bad guys. For a change of pace, the profanity of the moment is ‘bitch’ rather than the ‘f’ word. That’s some versatile scriptin’ there, by golly. Meanwhile, the camera zooms in to show up that Mia’s dropped her lighter. I expect Zach will find it later, though.
The next day, Roland and Zach are flying towards the scene in a helicopter. Uh oh. Since Jaws 2, helicopters in these things have fared less when than black supporting characters. Also, I swear I’m gonna puke if they have a CGI giant croc jet-propelling itself up high up into the air. I must have seen that crap in like three or four separate movies by now. (Crocodile, Crocodile and Blood Surf, just off the top of my head.) Doesn’t anyone making these movies know how much a 30-foot crocodile would weigh, much less how un-aerodynamically designed it would be?
By the way, how much is helicopter fuel. The $3,000 Roland’s getting paid is looking smaller all the time. And his brilliant plan involves a patently phony gizmo, one with the word ‘tracker’ haphazardly stenciled on it. This device will – are you ready – track the signal from the black box. If that’s their plan, why even bother? Isn’t that what the FAA would be doing right at this moment? And with a few more resources? And can civilians even track such a thing? And if they could, wouldn’t it be a felony?
Speaking of how much things weigh, look at the size of the cases the prisoners are carrying, supposedly filled with paper money. Hell, the two Justin’s carrying would weigh an insane amount. And that’s ignoring the fact that the money should be soaked through, making it weigh three or four times what it normally would. I also like that fact that Justin is still wearing his red power tie, which moreover is still nattily knotted up around the collar of his artfully rent dress shirt. There’s a guy who refuses to dress down, I’ll tell you what.
The characters stop to argue, and suddenly there’s a shock cut to a mutilated upper torso lying nearby. I suppose it’s supposed to be Julie’s. It’s hard to tell, really, but I guess it’s meant to indicate that the Croc is in the area. Or something. I don’t know.
Back to the ‘copter. "El Pantano del Diablo," Roland muses as they fly around. "The Devil’s Swamp." Gee, thanks. (I guess El Pantano del Muerte is elsewhere.) "The natives call it a sunken world where monsters live." Boy, now the film’s all the spookier! The tracking device starts beeping. Roland lands on a rather convenient jetty, where he conveniently has a boat stashed. "We’ll do the rest of the search on the ground," he explains. Uh, why? Wouldn’t the ‘copter be a hell of a lot faster? Also, and let me admit that I’m not a professional guide, but does riding in a boat constitute a "search on the ground"?
By the way, what’s the point of having a lightly camouflaged supply dump sitting right next to a highly visible jetty? Isn’t one going to call attention to the other? In any case, they’re soon traveling down river in a motorized inflatable raft. Soon they locate the area where the signal is originating. Bending over, Zach – surprise – finds Mia’s lighter. At that moment the giant prop Croc head enters the picture. In case I wasn’t clear earlier, the Croc swallowed the black box along with Julie. So that’s where the signal is coming from.
The Croc head is right atop the nearly prone Zach. Roland distracts it by firing into its head and they take off. This is a problem with this kind of movie. The croc is often shown doing impossible things – I’m still waiting for it to launch itself out of the water like a dolphin – but can’t do things you’d expect it to be able to do. Like run down two guys on foot. (Maybe we’ll call this the Hero’s Running for His Life Exemption™.) Of course, the fact that the Croc is a currently prop head being trundled around on an armature probably isn’t helping.
The duo manages to escape in the raft. Then, in an amazing coincidink – especially since we’ve been told this swamp is bigger than the Everglades -- the craft is soon seen gliding right by where the killers and their captives are hiding. Max jumps out and shoots Zach and Roland to death, then kills the prisoners, and then he and him men load the money into the boat and cruise off to live like kings off their ill-gotten gains.
Oh, wait, that’s not what happens. (Stupid movie.) Instead, we get a Mexican standoff. Max and Sol do jump the boat and capture Zach. Roland, however, dives into the water and ends up behind Max with a gun pointed at his head. Suddenly, the scene is interrupted when the Croc bursts from the water. Squid is in her giant prop head mouth (?), spitting up stage blood and with a not entirely credible prosthetic arm supposedly dangling by a thread from his shoulder. In perhaps the funniest bit in the movie, the shredded limb is first his right arm, then a couple of shots later it’s his left arm. Man, that’s one big freakin’ continuity error.
Luckily, there’s an abandoned, flooded building sitting right there in the middle of the swamp. (!!) This is more than a little reminiscent of the abandoned hotel from the earlier movie. Good to know Nu Image encourages recycling. Anyway, the second floor of the building is clear of the water, and Roland, Brian, Mia and Zach make it up there safely.
By the way, there’s no frickin’ way I’d be letting Sol or Max into the sanctuary. Even if Roland was stupid enough to lose him gun – and he’s still got it – you could hide out of sight and bean them with the crap laying around as they tried to climb in the window. Even you’re a bleeding heart type, you’d think you’d make them toss in their guns first. Instead, they sit there like morons, ‘surprised’ when the killers climb in and get the drop on them. Cripes.
The Lawyer – still wearing his tightly knotted tie -- is the only one still outside at this point. This leads to the traditional "will he make it or won’t he" stuff. Then he does make it. Only he celebrates leans out the window to taunt the Croc below. And yes, he does shout, "Eat me!" Whereupon the critter, yep, launches itself up out of the water and snaps him up.
Pardon me for five minute, would you? I’ll want to brush my teeth after I’m done puking.
[Roughly five minutes later.] Anyway, so the lawyer got killed. Who’d thought, huh? In an ‘ironic’ moment, or maybe it’s supposed to be a ‘humorous’ one, or something anyway, Justin’s *snicker* alligator leather shoe is all that’s left behind.
So they’re safe, but trapped by the Croc patrolling outside. Sol starts freaking out. Then, in a ridiculous bit, Roland lights up a cigar -- no matter how much water these characters swim through, their smoking materials always survive unscathed -- and adds fuel to the fire by relating an appropriate Legend. Which is another element recycled from the first film. "El Lagarto Diablo," he muses. (Three guesses. And yes, I do think there’s also an El Lagarto Muerte out there somewhere.)
"It’ an old legend," he continues. Yes, unlike all the new legends. Anyway, there follows a time-wasting monolog that basically is meant to add a touch of atmosphere to the proceedings while also, well, wasting some time. See, centuries ago some Conquistadors met something like our Croc and all died. The story ends, "the swamp was consumed by fire." You know, between the lighter and the detailed conversation about methane gas, I really think this last bit of foreshadowing is a tad gratuitous. Also unlikely is that Max, trying to settle the freaked out Sol, would let Roland blather on like this. Especially since roughly 30% of the killers’ dialog in this movie has been them yelling at their prisoners to "shut the ‘f’ up!"
All the Conquistadors, save the one surviving witness, who went mad, were killed. In my favorite part, however, the natives, having ancient knowledge of the beast, kept themselves safe by chanting over and over, "El Lagarto Diablo." That’s right, the Aztecs (or whoever we’re talking here) just happened to have given the creature a Spanish name.
Max decides to send Brian and Zach out for the boat. Amazingly, this makes sense, since Zach wouldn’t take off and leave Mia behind. However, he sends Sol out with Mia to collect the money. This doesn’t make sense, especially in the dark of night. Also, Max has Roland come up to the third floor balcony with him as he keeps watch. Then he then lets Roland stand right next to him. Since Roland already got the drop on him once, this seems unlikely. Why not just tie Roland up on the second floor?
Zach and Brian head out. Zach’s the tracking device, since it’s been obvious for quite some time that we’re going to keep an Alien knock-off scene as the creature’s movements register on the scope. By the way, why haven’t the authorities found them yet? The black box is in the Croc. The Croc is swimming around the area somewhere. At this point the authorities are almost a full day behind Roland in finding the signal, which seems more than a little unlikely. Also silly is that the tracking device doesn’t immediately go off. Wouldn’t the signal have a range of many, many miles? Otherwise, what’s the point?
Anyway, Mia manages to collect all the money, and she and Sol return to the loft. Here we finally get the scene where he attempts to rape her. Nice script. Of course, the film isn’t going to actually allow her to be raped. So they start circling around the large, open, flooded stairwell. Gee, what will happen now?
Still, things get surprisingly graphic first. Yuck. There’s not any nudity, and thanks for small favors, but it’s still a pointlessly cruel scene. During this Mia manages to slice him up with a piece of glass, which is about the most impressive thing she gets to do in the movie. He reacts by strangling her almost to death. By the way, Max had told Sol to leave her alone, and he’s right above them. Meaning there’s no way he wouldn’t hear Mia’s screams.
Instead, Mia is saved when the Croc’s tail smashes through the floor and knocks Sol across the room. How fortuitous. Then the beast starts knocking at the pillars holding the place erect. Max finally runs down the stairs – with Roland following at his back!!! – to check things out. In a nice bit, Roland runs over to help Mia, but she panics in the dark and knocks him over the edge of the stairwell. This would probably be a bit more dramatic if we really thought they’d let Roland get killed, but anyway. Realizing her mistake, she tries to help the clinging man climb back to safety.
Meanwhile, Max sees the raft sitting right outside. Zach jumps in another window with Roland’s shotgun – hmm, Max should have assumed there might be weapons in the boat – prompting another standoff. Mia helps by yelling and shifting Zach’s attention to her for a second or two. If this really happened, of course, Max would have instantly shot Zach to death. Luckily he doesn’t, though. It’s good to be the film’s hero, even if you’re totally lame.
Brian runs over to help pull Roland up. (Poor Brian. With Roland around, he’s definitely on the Croc Chow list. There’s no way the film’s going let four people live.) Anyway, Zach decides to put down the gun (!!!!) and help with Roland. Again, he’s the hero, so Max doesn’t take the opportunity to open fire. Instead, he and Sol toss the money into the waiting raft and take off.
Then Zach and Mia tumble into the water. Gee, I wonder if they’ll get eaten? Roland fires the shotgun at the creature. Despite being searched before, he magically must have concealed numerous shotgun shells about his person, since he fires the double-barreled weapon over and over and over again. He also yells at Brian to throw stuff at its eyes. Whereupon Brian picks up a chunk of debris and hits the Croc’s tail with it. Boy, you’d think Information Guy would know which end of a crocodile the eyes were at.
Zach and Mia keeps the stout pillars between them and the Croc, which actually made their continued survival almost believable. Then Brian goes tumbles into the water and immediately gets et. What a shocker. Still, the good news is that as soon as Max and Sol get killed the movie will be over. (Or so you’d think. We still have roughly fifteen minutes of ‘story’ left.) Luckily Brian grabbed a rather convenient bowie knife before he fell and he manages to repeatedly stab the Croc in the head as it snacks on him. Hmm, too bad Quint didn’t have a big knife when the shark was…oh, wait.
Diving underwater, Mia and Zach manage to immediately make their way outside (??), where Roland joins them. Suddenly, the building turns into a miniature and collapses. Meanwhile, Sol and Max are abandoning the raft, which is deflating. Why? Uh, why not. Here Sol does the thing where he’s sick of taking orders, and so he grabs a share of the money and goes to strike off on his own. Of course, Max shoots him in the back. Why? Uh, why not. I mean, admittedly, he can’t possibly carry off all the money, so…wait, what was the question again?
Oh, and Sol stumbles about four feet away and then the Croc jumps up and eats him. (Off-Screen Teleporting. Can’t beat it.) At this point Max should be about twenty feet away, tops, but he’s off-camera so they ignore him.
Cut to dawn. Roland, Mia and Zach make it to the ‘copter. They celebrate their triumph and the lovers stop to kiss. I love how both of them are wearing dirty, torn clothes but are utterly clean and with Mia’s makeup still perfectly applied.
They also pause to reintroduce the lighter. Yes, yes, the *(#%~@ lighter. Yes, we remember it. Enough with the damn lighter already. (Besides, the river area they’re in now doesn’t seem like a place that would generate much methane gas.) Gee, wouldn’t it be startling if Max suddenly…oh. Hi, Max. Hmm, that wasn’t as startling as I thought it would be.
Roland sells the lovers out, offering to fly Max to safety for half the money. Since Roland’s a movie character, of course, it’s merely a trick to save the kids. Well, OK, this hasn’t been revealed yet, but I’m anticipating. The kids grab the second inflatable raft – bet this one doesn’t deflate – and head back to civilization.
Roland goes for Max’s gun. Max shoots him in the shoulder. From that range, and with that gun, Roland’s arm would be decorating the waters below at this point. Even is this didn’t happen, the kinetic shock from the bullet would almost certainly incapacitate him. Instead, he continues to batter Max with his good arm. Tough guy, that Roland.
Of course, Max is kind of screwed either way, since if he kills Roland no one will be flying the copter. Then Max gets pushed most of the way out the door. Roland gets the gun. "Guns don’t kill people," he quips before blowing Max away. "People kill people." Does anybody really quip before killing a guy? (Especially when one has a massive hole in his upper torso?) Really, this touch just really yanks you out of the film.
Roland turns around to get Zach and Mia. Why, it was only a scheme to save their lives! He wasn’t selling them out at all!! By the way, I wouldn’t exactly fall over dead if as he lowered the helicopter the Croc were to…oh. Hi, Croc. Yep, it apparently has leapt its entire body length or more from the water to grab the landing strut in its maw. Also, it seems rather bigger than it’s been before. Anyhoo, the ‘copter and the Croc crash back into the water. This is, to be fair, one of the film’s few interesting effects shots. I think the crashing helicopter is a model, with the crocodile added digitally.
The helicopter massively blows up (this, on the other hand, is an atrocious effects shot – the miniature they use is horrendously bad), killing Roland. Well, there’s a cheerful ending. Soon Mia and Zach motor up to the scene. At this point I was rolling my eyes at the idea that the Croc could leap thirty feet or more into the air and grab a ‘copter but will fail to kill two people in an inflatable raft.
Driving away in a panic, they hit the Croc, whose prop body is quite noticeably smaller than the CGI body we just saw grabbing the ‘copter. Mia inevitably falls in the water, which she’s done like five times without being killed. It’s good to be the heroine. Zach motors back to return her to the somewhat illusory safety of the raft. They speed off, but the prop Croc keeps pace. Probably because it’s tied to their boat and being towed. That’s my theory, anyway.
Finally getting ridiciously far ahead of the Croc – why not just take off if you can outrun it? – they stop when Mia spots some CGI methane bubbles in the water. She dumps a bunch of fuel in the river and then we finally get the stupid lighter bit. Gee, but it has trouble lighting, remember? Then, just at the last second, yawn, the lighter lights and she tosses it into the water and the Croc goes Ka-Blooie!! Only first she gets her own really lame Action Heroine line, which again serves only to remind us we’re watching a not particularly adept movie. (This bad punch line habit also marred the end of the same writers' script for the rather better Spiders. Again, let me plead that they abandon this trope in the future.)
I guess we’re not supposed to notice that Our Heroes are drifting right through the area they just dumped about twenty gallons of petrol in. I also guess we’re not supposed to notice that if the Croc dived underwater and swam away it would easily escape harm. Instead, it stays stubbornly on the surface and in fact continues swimming directly into the area going up in flames, which it effortlessly could have avoided.
Since the film refuses to end, we sit back with some irritation and wait for the inevitable Shock Last Minute Scare. By the way, how many decades has it been since anyone was shocked by one of these? The scene also seems to be included so that the actress playing Mia can be paraded around in a teeny bikini. She dives into a resort hotel pool and the Croc jumps out and eats her. This naturally turns out to have been a nightmare, leading to the inevitable Rearing Up In a Panicked Sweat Right Into the Camera. Amazingly, though, she doesn’t shout "NOOOOO!!!" Still, the whole dream thing is just adding insult to the Shock Ending injury.
When I first saw this film, the Tarantino knock-off stuff drove me up the wall. Therefore, I concluded that the movie was worse than it’s extraordinarily lame predecessor. Unlike Octopus II: River of Death – creative titles, these – which managed to be at least a bit better than it’s truly and downright incredibly obnoxious forebear. Spiders II, meanwhile, we’ll get to in the near future.
Watching our subject for a second time, piecemeal as I wrote about it, it seemed (somewhat) stronger I remembered. I think it holds up to repeat viewings (somewhat) better than the first film because it lacks of the plethora of annoying and generic Horny Teenagers that populated Crocodile. The cast here might at times be equally irritating – cutting down on the profanity would have helped a lot – but at least they’re recognizably adults and occasionally do something smart. Occasionally.
Summary: (Somewhat) Better than a poke in the eye.
Plot: Mutant bats are bred to bore audiences.
Well, you have to give it to them. Realizing that they probably couldn’t make a film dumber than Bats, they opted to make a duller one. Which is in itself no mean accomplishment.
We open, as a prop sign informs us, at the Whitley College Science Center. This is accompanied by some horrible generic pop-rock stuff that already had me wincing. Apparently believing that the best moment to smash the audience in the head with a frying pan is right at the beginning, we meet two pretty college students/lab assistants who ‘comically’ converse in Valley-speak. Yep, nothing like resurrecting cultural clichés that are two decades old. You’ve really got your finger on America’s pulse, people.
The Blonde Valley Girl is new. This, needless to say, sets up a wad of clunky exposition from the Brunette Valley Girl. They enter the lab, which is lit with ultraviolet lights. Supposedly this is for the bats, although I suspect the director thought the way it made the girls’ lab coats glow was ‘cool.’ They also introduce a sonic signal that alerts the bats it’s feeding time. This results in a low-grade, bad CGI bat frenzy. Three guesses where this is going. You can tell what kind of movie this is going to be when Blonde VG leans back into a cage and a bat, that’s right, gets into her hair.
Another prop sign – brilliant establishing concept, guys – reveals a house to be the residence and office of John Winslow, veterinarian. There’s more ‘comedy’ – good grief, kill me now – featuring a wacky woman and her cat. I think the idea is that the woman has a (no doubt zany) romantic interest in him, thus letting us know he’s single. Since this already seems like a particularly innocuous TV movie, I was unsurprised when Winslow proves to be a widower. The two also discuss the town’s big annual event, the April Blossom Dance, which is coming up that weekend.
Back to the lab. The VGs are complaining about the bat incident to Prof. Fuller, their boss. We can tell he’s a scientist/college professor in a small town because he wears a sweater vest. Blonde VG mentions her bit head kept bleeding. Since she proves conveniently stupid, even for a college student, Fuller has to explain what "anti-coagulant" means. Thanks for spelling out the most basic ideas for us rubes in the audience, guys. Then, since they’re apparently being paid by the cliché, Fuller happily notes "they’re very efficient eating machines." Wow, how do writers come up with this stuff?
We are dutifully introduced to other characters whose adventures will hold us transfixed for the next hour and a half. There’s Genna, Winslow’s inevitably cute yet wholesome teenage daughter. (Since the actress playing her appears to be in her early twenties, Genna could either be your typically old movie high school student or a young college attendee.) She’s making a video documentary about their small town. This, needless to say, proves another clunky expository device. Watching her winsomely exchange banter with her father brings to mind a particularly awful knock-off of The Gilmore Girls. Later we’ll also meet Genna’s ‘comical’ slacker dude boyfriend, Logan. If you guessed that "slacker dude" also means "computer hacker," you’ve seen too many of these things.
Back at Whitley, meanwhile, Fuller is working late. In case we don’t ‘get’ this, Al the Janitor asks him, "Working late?" Breaking away, Fuller walks towards the lab. Purported suspense is generated by cutting to the bats – mysteriously flying free from their cages – with a Doris Wishman-esque progression of shots featuring Fuller’s feet as he walks across the lobby. We cut outside where Al is tossing out some trash. He hears a shriek and we cut back to the lab. Fuller’s body lies facedown on the lobby floor, somewhat hacked up by the bats. The bats fly up to the ceiling, and escape through a CGI crack the filmmakers added for this purpose. Otherwise we might wonder how the heck the creatures managed to get outside.
Back to the Winslow house. Genna’s film introduces us to realtor and town Evil Capitalist Carl Hart, as played by Corbin Bernsen. (!!) Scholars at the Jabootu Institute for Advance Bad Movies Study will be holding a series of debate as to whether Mr. Bernsen’s appearance here is slightly more or slightly less embarrassing than his turn in Raptor. (He’s also about one film away from being added to my Spell Check list.) Hart’s henchguy is Louis, a big fat security guard. Since he’s big and fat, he’s predictably really dumb and the butt of many of the film’s increasingly painful attempts to be funny.
Back to the school. The VGs enter the lobby to find Fuller’s moderately chewed-up body. Soon Detective Ally Parks is arriving on the scene. Needless to say, Ally is a former big city homicide cop who ‘ironically’ moved to a small town to escape the violence and blah blah. Gee, I wonder if she’ll prove a romantic foil for Winslow. Tagging along with her is yet another annoying comic relief character, Howard the inept uniform cop. Gack. With Louis, Howard and Logan, that’s three annoying comedy characters already. Ally later has a (sorta) Meet Cute with Winslow, who as the town’s part time Animal Control officer is involved because of the escaped bats.
I don’t want to get bogged down here, so let’s skip around. Bernsen’s Hart is loosely cut from the ‘Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life’ pattern. For instance, he drives one farmer off his land by forging information on the guy’s loan papers. Asked if he got a judge to change the date, he gloats, "No, I got an inkjet printer to change the date." This sort of nonsense serves to make Hart an utterly unbelievable character, since his evil deeds are so inept and obvious that he would have been sent to prison numerous times by now.
At the same time he’s the film’s forth *sigh* comic relief character. Meanwhile, the Chief of Police is his reluctant lackey. This allows him to conveniently impede Ally’s investigation wherever necessary. Of course, Hart is in the middle of a shady real estate deal on which he’s gambled everything, because that’s the kind of movie this is. In fact, he’s soooo corrupt that he even cheats to make his daughter the Queen of the Apple Blossom Dance. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Soon the bodies start piling up, albeit in comparatively small numbers. (Oddly, Hart lives out the movie. Presumably they wanted to be able to bring back the film’s ‘name’ star should a sequel be called for. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for such, though.) Moreover, a Movie Doohickey with Flashing Lights – that’s right, it emits the bats’ sonic feeding signal – is seen at each attack. This lets us know that there’s a human villain behind all the (mild) carnage.
To be fair, I’ll give the film credit on the following points. First, the bats aren’t silly superbeasts like the one in Bats. They don’t smash through windshields or knock people off their feet or similar goofiness. Also, they actually kill a dog here – albeit off-screen -- which these days is comparatively daring. Then…well, actually, that’s about all the good points. OK, the production values aren’t bad. I guess the problem is that the best things about the film are merely serviceable, and it’s all downhill from there.
The bad stuff, aside from everything else, is mostly tied in with the constant attempts at humor. Most are just stupid. For instance, Ally proves unbelievably easy to startle (her ‘comic’ trait) for a veteran ex-homicide cop from Los Angeles. And I really want to emphasis how unlikely a villain Hart is. His behavior is just way too broadly half-assed for some guy who supposedly controls the town. Winslow is also a really useless character, defined mostly by his sitcom-y relationship with his daughter and his growing, inevitable romance with Ally. I guess you could give the film points for making him the scientist and the woman the cop, but that’s really not that unusual anymore.
Then there’s the inevitable speech, which looms over us like a promised 3:30 beating in the elementary school parking lot, wherein the Police Chief explains that the townsfolk rely on the Apple Festival and Dance to make their financial nut for the year, yada yada. Cripes, all we need is a coroner exclaiming, "This was no hang gliding accident!"
The special effects aren’t awful, although they aren’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. Almost all the bat stuff is moderately successful CGI. Again, the bats are handled in a fairly realistic fashion, which is a plus. However, that also makes them a bit boring, and that’s a debit. The attack scenes, like the rest of the film, seem designed not to offend anyone. The inevitable mass attack takes place (of course) at the big Dance, but everyone is saved when Genny uses klieg lamps to chase off the light-sensitive critters.
In case I’ve failed to communicate it, Fangs is basically the sort of tepid ‘scary’ movie that might premiere on the Fox Family Channel on Halloween night. First, despite the nominal attack scenes, the film proves extremely bland and inoffensive. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it helps if the film is strong in other departments to compensate. This one isn’t.
Second, the lame and highly predictable solution to the ‘mystery’ element smacks of TV movie plotting. This is the kind of deal where about half an hour in I deduced the killer’s identify by thinking over simple plot mechanics. By which I mean, I figured the murderer had to be a character already introduced, one who wasn’t too obvious a red herring and so on. Within about two seconds I figured out his identify. The fact that the solution was absolutely moronic given police forensic procedures over the past five decades or more only convinced me more. It’s like the solution to the worst Agatha Christie book she never wrote. And as with episodes of Murder She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder, the solution is blatantly telegraphed so that even the dimmest viewers can figure it out.
In fact, everything here seems from a bad TV product. The acting, the score (imitation Danny Elfman music), the dialog, the characters and especially the gruesomely bad comedy. So it was unsurprising to learn that the film was written by Jim Geoghan, a man who’s prior work involved scripts for such unfunny sitcoms as Family Matters, Kate & Allie, Silver Spoons and Mama’s Family. The cast is right off TV as well. Aside from Bernsen, actress Tracy Nelson (Ally) clone, is best known as the nun sidekick to Tom Bosley on NBC’s The Father Dowling Mysteries. Numerous other actors here are familiar from their television work also. Even the fact that Winslow is a widower instead of a divorcee seems like old-fashioned TV movie characterization.
Summary: A horror movie you can watch with Grandma.
Plot: Rachel Welch is a ‘60s skydiver-turned-superspy.
The success of the James Bond movies kicked off a worldwide splurge of campy spy adventures. These ranged from the big screen (Our Man Flint, Modesty Blaise, the Harry Palmer and Matt Helm films, etc.) to the small (The Wild, Wild West, Man From UNCLE, Get Smart, The Avengers, Secret Agent Man and so on).
Fathom is sort of an American version of the pretty poor Modesty Blaise (see below). As noted above, Welch is the titular star – oh, grow up – although she receives second billing to…Tony Franciosa. (!!) What, James Fransciscis wasn’t available?
We open with the camera gliding over the half-dressed body of Ms. Welch, who’s lying prone and tapping a spike into the ground. I guess it would be petty of me to mention the slight amount of cellulite revealed by the harsh digital clarity of the DVD presentation. Her actions are soon accompanied by a hideous ‘60s pop tune entitled "Fly Away With Me, Sky Girl," which lacks even the amusing awfulness of the Modesty Blaise theme song. Perhaps Henry Mancini was unavailable, but hey, they were able to get John Dankworth (??) to compose the score. What’s a Dankworth? Not much, if his music here is any indication.
Following the high-octane spike-driving action, we watch Our Heroine mess around with a red parachute. This artifact is actually labeled "LOW SPEED PARACHUTE" for the slower members of the audience. Welch awkwardly folds the mass of silk into a lumpy mass, which through the miracle of the cut-away shot is soon neatly tucked into its container.
By the way, the credit sequence, which basically involves the described activities, is credited to Maurice Binder. Presumably he wanted to differentiate his work here from his baroque credit sequences for the Bond movies by making it extremely dull. If so, mission accomplished.
We cut to some people skydiving, an activity that ranks just behind scuba diving as a cinematic boredom inducer. Then we watch Fathom jump from a plane and do some Bad Bluescreen Diving. This hasn’t exactly been the most dynamic opening seven minutes in film history. Tim, a British fellow we just saw arrive on an airplane, drives up in a jeep and offers her a ride.
Fathom is taken aback when the Jeep continues past the road to town. Tim explains that he’s taking her to see a Col. Campbell. Campbell is the leader of HADES, the Headquarters Allied Defenses Espionage and Security. Which might well be the lamest and clunkiest Spy Organization Acronym in cinema history. His ID, we see, is signed by President Lyndon Johnson and British PM Harold Wilson. Uh…OK. Fathom notes that either this is impressive "or I’ve been kidnapped by a mad autograph collector." Which about sums up the film’s level of humor.
An incoming radio message informs Campbell that Fathom’s "been cleared by Washington at the very highest level." Fathom, who proves to be your typical Dental Hygienist/Sky-Diving Champion, is needed for a, what else, super-double-secret mission. Anyhoo, the U.S. has managed to lose the Fire Dragon, a control unit that can remotely set off our hydrogen bombs. You’d think they could change the frequencies on the bombs or something, but I guess not. Sometimes I wonder how we ever won the Cold War.
She’s shown film of Peter Merriwether (top billed Franciosa) and his femme companion/lover, Jo-May Soon. They are, we’re told, Red Chinese agents. "With this wee box in their hands," Campbell burrs, "they’d have the power to turn the world into a black broiled mushroom." Which is exactly what the Chinese have always wanted. (Don’t believe me? See Doomsday Machine.) Merriwether and Soon are after the Red Dragon. Well, of course Chinese communist agents are going to chase after something called the Red Dragon. Really, what were we thinking.
There’s this really lame set-up wherein they need a seemingly innocent skydiving to ‘mistakenly’ land near Merriwether’s fortified abode. Her presence will activate a previously dropped listening device -- I won’t go into the details of this, but it’s pretty goofy – and then she can go on her merry way. Of course, that’d make for a less than meaty lead role, so I’m guessing things won’t go as planned.
Fathom accepts, of course, because this is a ‘60s spy film. Soon we’re treated to more ass-kicking Stock Footage & Bluescreen Skydiving action. However, the scheme quickly goes awry. (Told ya.) No one emerges from the house. Fathom investigates, and finds the house empty. She comes across signs of a very recent occupancy – a still-smoking cigarette, etc – as well as a spring-loaded corpse. According to numerous movies I’ve seen, standing a dead body against a door must be as easy as propping a bucket of water over one.
Because she’s a movie character, Fathom’s first instinct is to pick up the murder weapon. Suddenly Merriwether and Soon are behind her, photographing her in this incriminating pose. Franciosa is in full manqué Burt Lancaster mode, by the way. It struck me here that he’s to Lancaster what James Fransciscis is to Charlton Heston. See Beneath the Planet of the Apes if you don’t know what I mean.
Despite that fact that Fathom marshals all the acting ability of, oh, Raquel Welch, Merriwether shows signs of being convinced by her story. Soon the two are riding through the hillside on horses – hey, that’s the way they wrote it – and engaging in adversarial banter. Ho hum. Although I have to admit, if you ever fantasized about hearing Tony Franciosa saying the word "poppet" every two minutes, this is the film for you. Eventually they dump the dead guy off a cliff. The idea is that Fathom doesn’t protest because of the incriminating photos.
Merriwether drops Fathom off in town. Despite our fervid wishes, though, this doesn’t herald the end of the movie. Fathom starts off at a hotel, and here we get our third bout of someone asking how she got the name Fathom, with her giving a different answer each time. Great, a running gag. In another film this might actually have been clever, but here not so much.
Summary: Genial timewaster.
Plot: The ineptly campy adventures of an International Woman of Mystery.
I saw Modesty Blaise, recently released on DVD with a package of ‘60s spy stuff, under promising circumstances. First, I have a taste for such stuff, at least when it’s well made. Second, I’d just seen Roman Coppola’s CQ. That followed a young filmmaker in ‘60s Rome shooting a flick largely japing on this film. Indeed, the introduction of Modesty here and that film’s Agent Dragonfly are roughly identical. Unfortunately, CG proves too much like the picture it emulates. In the end, neither entertains as much as we’d hoped.
Modesty Blaise was part of the whole ‘60s Camp movement. In other words, it was a Euro counterpart to American television’s Batman series. Since Europe didn’t have our cultural history of superheroes, however, their Camp films were more likely to revolve around outlandish super-spies and baroque sci-fi adventures. Based on a comic strip – as was fellow Euro-Camp product Barbarella -- and subsequent series of novels, the film follows the adventures of a buxom and sexually voracious spy/adventuress.
As with the worst American comic book movies, the filmmakers here believed that the idea of a camp picture meant that niceties like coherent scripts were at best unnecessary and, if anything, actively counterproductive. So it’s no surprise that there isn’t much of a plot here. Basically, it’s almost two hours of garish sets, bad acting and episodic, er, episodes.
The middle quality is most aggressively provided by Italian sexbomb Monica Vitti in the title role. (Although for a sexbomb she looks a little too much like Barbra Streisand from some angles.) After a while, one begins to suspect she was hired precisely because she can’t act. Slumming actual thespians, meanwhile, include Dirk Bogarde, who sleepwalks through the picture as if channeling George Sanders, and young method actor Terence Stamp. The latter throws the film further off kilter by actually attempting to construct a performance out of the meager materials provided him. He fails, but at least he tried.
We first meet Modesty – who isn’t really very modest, get it? – lounging in her ultra-mod rotating bedroom. Again, it’s the entire room that rotates, not just her bed. Eventually she’s hired by the British Government, including a lecherous Minister (political, not ecclesiastical) and a malaprop-prone Prime Minister. Camp elements that provide less amusement than was apparently hoped include a mime who pleads with the villains for his life without speaking. Because he’s a mime. Get it? Then there’s Modesty’s theme song, which included lyrics like the following:
And so on.
The plot, such as it is, involves the villainous if oddly languid Mr. Gabriel (Bogarde) attempting to intercept a huge cache of diamonds intended for a Sheik. This is the British government’s payment to secure the rights to the Sheik’s oil, and if he doesn’t get it, blah blah. Modesty, a notorious thief/adventuress, is hired to stop him. It’s instructive to note that this MacGuffin is both prosaic enough to be boring and unwieldy enough to be stupid.
Modesty takes the job, calling on her knife-throwing sidekick Willie Garvin (Stamp) to provide support. The running gag with Garvin is that every time he’s about to get a bird in the sack, Modesty calls and interrupts him. Gabriel, meanwhile, comes equipped with a sexually perverse Femme Fatale named Clara Fothergill. She’s the one that kills the mime, after which he turns into a manikin and is thrown over the side of a cliff.
All in all, the film consists of whatever amount of incidents is needed to fill out the bloated running time. Cutting twenty minutes out would have been both easy and profitable. They could have started with the hideous musical duet bleated out by Vitti and Stamp. This provides a display of atonality so grating in its purity that it puts Lee Marvin’s singing in Paint Your Wagon to shame. Worse yet, there's a reprise of this during the film's horrendous 'comic' climax.
Modesty Blaise isn’t a complete botch, but it gets worse as it goes along. By the end it's as tiresome as the most annoying bits of Casino Royale. In sum, it's just not nearly as clever as it believes itself to be, and the results are more than a little smug. And if anything, the action stuff is lamer than the comic stuff. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) Mostly, though, two hours of such material is way too much. One suspects that the filmmakers had more fun making it than we do watching it, but only because they’d almost have had to. Fans of this sort of thing should probably give it a look just to be thorough. Still, the less you expect the less disappointed you’ll be. Rougher and goofier Continental fare, such as Italy’s Superargo films, remains more entertaining however. Still, the letterboxed DVD presentation is impeccable, so at least it’s pretty to look at.
If we learn anything here, it’s that the Brits are particularly ill suited to do camp. Camp calls for florid exaggeration. The English temperament, meanwhile, is more naturally inclined towards drollery and understatement. Thus the attempts to be exaggerated prove more tedious, if not downright painful, than witty. This is especially true of Bogarde’s scenes. Unfortunately, this all seems to have eluded the attention of director Joseph Losey. (Much of whose work makes one wonder if there shouldn’t be a ‘u’ in his name somewhere.)
In a long if generally unremarkable career, Mr. Losey provided more genuine turkeys than, er, eagles. (So much for that metaphor.) Most notable in this regard are two of Richard Burton’s more epic misfires – and boy, is that saying something -- the aptly named Boom! (1968) and The Assassination of Trotsky (’72). Mr. Losey also unwisely helmed a remake of Fritz Lang’s M, one of the greatest films ever made. You’d think folks would realize how little upside there is to such an endeavor.
Summary: May I suggest Our Man Flint instead? You’ll be much happier.
-by Ken Begg