In a perfect world there would be a bleak first draft of this movie. It has all the elements for a harrowing tale, a drunken uncle, a boy trapped in the seedy, dangerous world of Hollywood, forced to fight by the aforementioned drunken uncle, vicious gangsters, and Don "The Dragon" Wilson. This is the film we'd have got if Lars Von Trier directed*. Instead, we get the main Merhi himself (that's Joseph, not Jalal typo fans) with his co-conspiritor Richard Pepin is not far behind, making a family movie about one kid's dream to kick people in the face. And a dream is just a wish... coming true. Whatever that means.
The kicking people in the face part should not be suprising, as Magic Kid was written by Stephen Smoke, writer/director of Final Impact, a Lorenzo Lamas movie about kicking people in the face (I know that doesn't narrow it down much). The kid part is a little more unexpected, as PM Entertainment are more known for their action films than wholesome family fun, though wholesome family fun this indeed is, as much as Captain Ron at least.
Our Hero, and (presumably) the Magic Kid in question, is Ted Jan Roberts as Kevin, Vague Martial Art expert and youngster (though older than he seems to be playing in the film). After becoming champion at the Vague Martial Arts Championship of Spokane by defeating a kid in Rex Kwan Do trousers Kevin is packed off with his sister Megan, played ably by Shonda Whipple, to visit their uncle Bob, an agent out in LA. Fans of mid-ninties sci-fi will recognise Bob as Stephen Furst, Vir on Babylon 5, and in my mind one of TV's go-to guys when you need someone rotund and nervous. Interestingly, Furst went on to direct Magic Kid 2, which is unavailable in the pound shop, so far.
Bob has promised Kevin that he'll introduce him to Don "The Dragon" Wilson, to whom Bob gave his start many years ago. Kevin is a huge The Dragon fan (proving that the film is set in an alternative universe where people other than Lloyd Dobbler are obsessed with Don Wilson), and sleeps with a slightly disturbing picture of Don doing a bit of Bruce Lee pose on his night stand. Megan has been promised a meeting with "soap star" Tony Hart**, though I think I'd have pushed for the whole deal and asked to meet Morph as well. Of course, when the pair arrive in LA they discover that Bob is a drunk and an inveterate gambler, who mostly seems to be an agent for clowns, and is heavily in debt to some (comically inept, of course) mobsters. Then, as little as you may expect it, martial arts ensues.
The martial arts is really quite good, and usually setup with an entertaining lack of pretence. Practically any situation seems to have a chance of resulting in some Beefy Guys kicked in the face by Kevin. This could be Megan being hit on by some obnoxious surfers (where is Swayze when you need him) while Kevin is inexplicably fishing, Bob enjoying a game of pool against some undesirables who don't want to pay up, or just a good old fashioned trio of gangsters in fancy dress. In terms of raw martial-arts-per-minute, this film is definitely good value. The physicall kicking-in-the-face is well done as well, Ted Jan Roberts clearly being a talented martial artist, with the final fight against hordes of mooks, which also features The Dragon, featuring some impressive double kicks and big sweepy roundhouses, and throughout the fighting is complemented by decent editing which doesn't obscure the moves too much.
On top of the regular family fun of TJ kicking people, there are some nice bits of non-martial arts acting, with some decent scenes between Bob and his girlfriend/assistant***, and of course with the Goofy Goons. There's also a beautiful advert for Universal Studios, as Bob tries to redeem himself by taken the kids on all the rides. Presumably this is how they got permission for shooting some of the At A Film Shoot type stuff at Universal, or some other such deal, but I'd advise taking the opportunity to make a cup of tea, stretch your legs, or drain The little Dragon, as the movie continues shortly.
Being basically a kids movie, it's hard to critique the plank like qualities of the acting, though TJ takes his performance to hardwood levels, with some excruciating descriptions of the True Ninja Way, plus a slightly creepy monologue at the start of the film. Shonda Whipple makes a reasonable job of a nothing role, and Stephen Furs tsweats and stammers his way through the film with consumate ease. Other than Bob's, the best lines seem to go to the comic relief mobsters (Mobster: "Where do goons live? Laguna!", Boss: "When your iq reaches double digits I'll give you a payrise."). Joseph Campanella makes a great, drily sarcastic godfather, and Bill Huffsey does a good job as the lead clueless wise guy. Much of the rest of the cast is there to get kicked in the face by Kevin, but throw in some quality stuntmen acting, and on one occasion a Ninja Turtle level californian accent.
Overall, Magic Kid isn't a bad family-oriented martial arts film, a genre not overly known for it's acting powerhouses anyway, and would make a reasonably entertaining matin? movie. I have no idea why the BBFC decided it deserved a 15 rating over here, as it's a PG in the states and that seems like a fair recommendation. I notice that Magic Kid 2 was submitted at the same time (2004) and received 3 seconds of cuts, so I'm guessing there's a fight move that falls under their repeatable behavior watchlist - probably headbuts or ear claps. I'm hoping it wasn't as part of their restriction on "portrayal of violence as a normal solution to problems", as the movie does clearly show that while most problems can be solved with violence, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and hustle some bikers at pool.
By the way, in case you watch to the end (which I recommend, if you're already watching it) I think you'll see it also confirms my theory that putting a "where are they now" dragnet style ending on a movie is never, ever, a bad idea.
* I think we all know that's a lie.
** OK, it was Tommy Hart. But Morph goshdarnit!
*** I tried to check the name of the actress on IMDB, and I think it's Sandra Kerns. It's never good when your prime piece of IMDB trivia is that you're not related to someone though. Unless you're Adam Baldwin.
Ah literature. While I haven't technically read anything by Mark Twain in really quite a long time, I have seen his apperances in those episodes of Star Trek when they go back in time and Whoopi Goldberg is there, which I think makes me more than qualified enough to judge Arye Gross' Californian re-imagining of Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, in the way more radical The Prince And The Surfer.
Gross is best known as an actor, for some definition of "best known" anyway, but on this film he's (mostly) behind the camera - this is his first, and so far only, directorial credit. Being that he's somewhat of a Hey, It's That Guy himself, it is no suprise that the film is packed out with similar familiar faces, but often unfamiliar names. Timothy Bottoms presumably had his name taken off the final credit roll, but plays the Surfer's dad, Johnny, C. Thomas Howell appears as a wacky security guard (warning: it's krazy komedy!), the always fantastic Vince Schiavelli plays the prince's manservant Baumgarten, Robert 'Freddy' Englund plays evil Minister Kratski, Allyce Beasley (who played a gnome in Everquest 2) makes an apperance as part of the royal staff, and Ayre Gross himself turns up as the other wacky security guard (caution: kooky).
The leading roles are filled by Sean Kellman, whom I have never heard of, and possibly neither has anyone other than Mr and Mrs Kellman, as the two titular roles, the up and coming Linda Cardellini as Mel, the Prince's love interest, and the not-up-and-coming, perhaps-peaked-with-this-film Katie Johnston as the Surfer's love interest, Lady Galina.
While I'm sure everyone is familiar with the plot, everyone is probably not familiar with the tubular inSURFpretation writer Gregory Poppen (who cameos as a steering wheel lock wielding driver) has fashioned. The prince is Prince Edward of Gelfland - heir apparent to a monarchy with economic problems. The Queen, a distinctly and inexplicably american Jennifer O'Neill, takes her son and his betrothed on a trip to the USA, hopefuly to broker a trade deal to save their country. At the same time, over in the States, Edward's doppleganger, "Cash" Canty, is hanging with his buddies, riding his board, and robbing magically disappearing coffee and news papers (continuity may not be this movie's strong point). Cash dreams of becoming rich, and getting out of the rut he and his friends find themselves in. Edward dreams of seeing America, and experiencing life with the common people. Unfortunately Cash hasn't got the cash, and Minister Kratski wont allow Edward out of his hotel.
Eventually, Edward manages to get the chance for one slow limo drive by of the beach, with the Princess Galina, his bride to be. As they argue, Galina decides to throw caution to the wind and stick her head out through the limo's sunroof. Of course, this happens just as they pass a skate park where Cash is hanging out. Intrigued, Cash skates up to the limo and skitches a ride into the royal resort, and mananged to evade the security. While looking for the princess, Cash ends up in Edward's room and on noticing the resemblence, a plan for both of them to get what they want is born. Little do they know that the evil Minister Kratski has a plan of his own, to make himself rich with the help of a group of scheming theme park developers who want to turn Gelfland... into Golfland.
I think it's fairly clear that this is a movie for the kiddies, and should therefore not be held to the same standards that we, as adults, would demand from our cinematic entertainment. That said, it is pretty unreasonable for a movie that has Surfer right there in the title to not actually feature one single instance of surfing. At one point you see a couple of surfboards, and late in the film Cash's dad runs towards the sea with just his trunks and a surfboard, but I think that's a pretty poor effort. Given that there were some I'm Gonna Git You Sucka like stunt doubles used for some of the skateboarding scenes, it would have seemed reasonable to do the same with the surfing. To be fair though such scenes may be left forgotted on the cutting room floor, as I noticed on the credits there was one "Gail Trout" who was credited as "Female Johnny Double". Now Johnny was indeed the name of Cash's dad, Timothy Bottom's character, but I can't think of an instance, apart from the aforementioned, and not shown, surfing, where he would require a double. Especially a female one. Unfortunately Gail Trout does not have any other credits to her name over on IMDB, and there's something fishy about the google results for her name (boom boom), so her role shall remain a mystery.
There are some stand out elements of this movie though, primarily Erik Lundmark's casio keyboard score. While clearly made with a very limited amount of time, and money, I feel it is one of the few movie soundtracks that really help move the film along. This is mostly achieved by the DUHN DUHHHNNNN everytime we cut to a shot of Robert Englund's evil Minister Kratski, and the tinkly happy piano-a-like trills as Queen Abby finds love in the arms of Johnny. The laugh a minute gag fest that is the banter between the incompetent security guards at the resort actually finds its mark every now and again as well, mostly thanks to some good timing rather than funny lines. As could be expected really, most of the actors put in a decent job, including Katie Johnston. It does seem a shame that she's not done anything bar a couple of TV episodes since The Prince and the Surfer, but for all I know she's in some big broadway show. Or drunk in a gutter. Either way.
There is a new crop of DVDs in at the pound shop, with some bigger names than usual. Admittedly Sean Kellman isn't one of them, but there are far, far worse kids movies that are aired to defenceless children every day. The evil cues, Vincent Schiavelli, and Sean Kellman's attempt at both a posh and a surfer-dude accent are entertaining enough that I'd have no problems saying this is worth a pound. Interestingly, the Paul family that produced the movie have some other quality adaptations to their name, films with wonderful titles like "The Princess & the Barrio Boy", "The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer", which appears to feature Erik Estrada AND inline skating, and "The Karate Dog", which probably isn't an adaptation, but will probably will be adapted out of Jon Voight's CV.
Thanks to the miracles of modern design, Matt LeBlanc is on the cover twice.
Eddie Izzard, how do you choose film scripts? While I may never know the answer to that question, I am willing to guess it's not by reading them. From The Avengers to Circle, Ed can't get enough of being... but Eddie Izzard was pretty good. In All The Queen's Men he doesn't even achieve that, but it should have been so right! Men in dresses, WWII era cabaret, Nazis, it's got it all and Eddie should have fit right in.
However, it all goes wrong, and it does so from the very begining with a voice over that could induce cringes right through the armour on a shiny new Sherman. Immediately afterwards we're treated to Matt LeBlanc, as the last-name-only-agent O'Rourke, engaging in a daring (for some definition of the word daring) escape from a German base, complete with an Enigma machine. This includes a tank chase, one of those rare cinematic entites that would take an exceptional amount of skill to make unenjoyable (though it's no GoldenEye). This cannot last, of course, and we are rapidly brought into the movie proper after enjoying the sight of an incompetent British office destroying the Enigma.
One of the interesting artistic choices that the opening indicates, and is repeated throughout the movie, is the lack of subtitles on the sections conducted in german. O'Rourke doesn't actually speak german (because, you know, he's a hero) to be fair, but usually in these kind of situations the german speaking sections are quite brief. This is not so in All The Queen's Men.
Anyway, we quickly reach the movie proper, where, obviously, O'Rourke is asked to go back to germany and get another Enigma machine. To aid him a crack team is put together, consisting of Temporary Major Archie, an administrator sent to keep O'Rourke in line, and played by the vastly over qualified James Cosmo, Johnno, a young (and shockingly, naive!) codebreaker who speaks 27 languages (including german) played by David Birkin, who was the kid that played the young version of Captain Picard in that one episode that time, and finally Eddie Izzard, playing the cross-dressing, bi-sexual former lieutenant Tony, who also speaks german. The target is the the source; the very factory that builds enigma machines.
So far, so mediocre, but now is the time for the movie's big punch. Y'see the war machine has sucked the fatherland dry of its chaps, so all the staff at the factory are women. In order to blend in O'Rourke and his team are going to have to go disguised as women. Comedy uranium. Once the undercover pongos parachute in to Germany, they quickly realise the factory was a fake, but decide to meet up with their local contact and try and find a way out. Their local contact turns out to be one of the best bits of the film, the very lovely love-interest Nicolette Krebitz as Romy, a librarian and allied agent who keeps copies of all the banned books in her loft.
Of course, the forward thinking appeal of ATQM would not be complete without a love interest for Eddie Izzard's Tony as well. It seem that Tony's ex-wife, Paloma, is in the country performing a little opera to uninterested german troops, which means that her driver, Tony's lover and the cause of his seperation from Paloma, is there too. Franz, played by german action Oliver Korittke, is a fairly inconsequential character, though well performed, who mostly sustains interest though a rather spiffing punch that at various times gets applied to most of the cast.
At least one of the four writers must have had a real dedication to the soldierly arts of the screenplay though, as All The Queen's Men comes with a full clip of clich?s, from the secret agent who always works alone to the pompus commander, all drawn from the great hollywood clip-art character file. The jokes don't fair much better, with some quality drag classics finding their way in, such as during O'Rourke's encounter with the marvelous, though only in the film for two scenes, Udo Kier, as General Landssdorf.
Udo can't hold a candle to Matt. BOOM BOOM.
Having received an invitation to one of the General's famously wild parties, Matt LeBlanc, disguised with the finest plaster board make up and wig, and Romy ditch their (well, Romy's) dates and make their way over to the General. Landssdorf turns round and is presented with a very attractive woman and Matt LeBlanc in a dress. I wonder who in the class can guess which one he has the hots for? Of course, Udo spirits O'Rourke upstairs to his boudoir, and decides to show off some naughty pictures from his safe, the one containing the very secrets that Our Heroes require! Matt punches him in the face, and rifles through the papers. When the general wakes up, he looks as if he's about to call the guards, but instead just asks Matt to hit him again! Ah S&M, what classic japes haven't you given us.
The movie is not devoid of plus points. The production is very nice, there are some decent locations and a very nice title sequence, but then again this is a movie with a proper star, not your average B fare. There are some amusing moments, especially with Eddie Izzard, such as his remark after Franz describes him as bi-sexual in a thick german accent: "Yes, I'm bee-sexual, I have sex with bees". The love story between O'Rourke and Romy is actually quite effective, though the one between Franz and Tony feels somewhat flat. At one point, James Cosmo is captured and tortured in front of Romy, in a suprisingly effective scene. Of course, it doesn't last long, but it's that hint of the daker side of the film that adds real colour, from the bombed out city much of the film takes place in to the motherless child that latches on to Archie.
Disappointingly though the performances of the two main names, Izzard and LeBlanc, is not really up to par, in a movie that sorely needed a strong lead. Eddie seemed less relaxed in the role than even in Avengers, and that was much more of an embarassment. Matt puts in a Joey standard performance as well, really not seeming to look far beyond the character that he was, at that time, playing every week. In fact, the movie would have probably worked better with more Tony than O'Rourke, with Tony fulfilling the role Johnny Depp dominated Pirates of the Caribbean with. That's a comparison I wouldn't have predicted making just after watching this film.
The very ending scene sums things up well though. It's a weird, static shot of LeBlanc and Krebitz leaning against a door way discussing getting their nasty on with reference to whatever they are staring at. It's not very funny, and is a decidedly dull shot, but Nicolette looks fantastic in a WWII uniform with a skinny tie, and vague innuendo is Matt's fort?. All The Queen's Men is no Kelly's Heroes; it really doesn't work at all. Eddie Izzard completists will probably want to give it a viewing, everyone else should probably give it a miss. The DVD on Amazon has a making of feature and it is possible that the one I got from poundland did too, but I certainly didn't feel like checking.
You can tell this is an old poster as the big names on the front are actually the leads.
Most of the movies that find their way onto these pages are of the action variety, partially because of the fact that there exists a market for direct to video action movies, and partially because action movies can often skate by on a particularly thin veneer of acting ability. To kick off 2005, we have 1992's Spotswood, or The Efficiency Expert in the US, an Australian comedy that follows in the Aussie tradition of telling solid stories and producing entertaining, clever films with great attention to detail.
Thankfully, given the nature of the movie, there are some decent actors in the mix. First and foremost is Sir Tony Hopkins as efficiency consultant Errol Wallace. The next most-likely-to-be-credited is Russell Crowe, but this is one of Russell's earlier movies and his part is a fairly small one. Other Aussies fill up the majority of the roles, of course, including Toni Collette, who debuted in Spotswood, Ben Mendelsohn as the engagingly awkward Carey, Bruno Lawrence, Alwyn Kurts and a whole host of notable australian stand bys. The film was directed by Mark Joffe, who most recently helmed Billy Connolly's The Man Who Sued God.
Spotswood is a good, if not spectacular movie. It's not a great film, I suspect it will make very few people's favourite movie lists, but there is nothing massively wrong with it, which is a distinct achievement. It is a comedy, primarily, but with enough drama to satisfy someone who's not particularly interested in a chuckle. It takes it's time to let the characterisations mature, but does so with a reasonable feeling of pace, and it's a local movie, but one with international appeal. You don't have to be from Australia to appreciate this movie, you just have to be from somewhere that has experienced modernisation, and that's pretty much everywhere.
The conflict in Spotswood is the modern versus the traditional, with the representation of each being a mantle that is shifted between several characters throughout the run of the movie. The film is set in the early sixties, and Anthony Hopkins and John Walton are business consultants in the final stages of streamlining, via the sacking of several hundred workers, the running of an Australian factory as part of a condition of sale to an American company, with part of the proceeds of the sale as an incentive. They are hired to consult on a small moccasin making business by the owner, Mr Ball, which Errol Wallace attends to, leaving his partner to finish up. Despite Ball's assertions, Wallace (Hopkins) soon discovers that the business is surviving only by selling off chunks of property around the factory. His efforts to modernise the production process meshes poorly with the relaxed, eccentric methods and expectations that the workers have developed, apart from with the bratty and ambitious executive Kim Barry (Crowe). In contrast to the factory being sold to the Americans the workers do not respond militantly to the changes, doing their best to make Wallace welcome. While all this is going on, young second generation factory worker Carey (Ben Mendelsohn) attempts to use his new position as Wallace's temporary assistant to woo the boss's daughter, Cheryl, who is far more interested in Kim, while being completely oblivious to his friend Wendy's feelings for him. As the staff start to feel this pinch of Wallace's changes they see the Carey as an implicit part of this, and of the break up of the extended family that the workers had formed.
One of the strengths of the film is the singular feel it creates. The browns and yellows of the set design and lighting, the 60's wardrobe, hair and makeup, and the writing all create a fantastic image of the world of Mr Ball's shoe factory, and its conflict with the cold environment of Wallace's home and his relationships with his wife, and consultant partner Jerry Finn. The two threads of the story line, following Carey and Wallace respectively, weave in and out smoothly, both struggling with the same central message of change, but change for the better. The main problem with the plot is the predictability. There is little chance of anything in this movie suprising you, which dampens the pace, nullifies any possibility of suspense, and hurts the tension between the key elements.
Overall, other than a superb slotcar racing scene, the memorable moments in Spotswood are all character driven. Hopkins' performance is mannered, subtle, and everything you'd expect from an actor of his stature, but what is perhaps more suprising is the depth of quality in the cast, as there is hardly a badly delivered line or misplaced gesture to be seen. Spotswood is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, it's probably a little too gentle in it's humour for some, and a little too contrived for others, but I think it's at least worth a watch. I'm fairly sure that you can get this one on a two-films-on-one-disk with Wet Hot American Summer, which is an absolute steal. Of course, if you can't find it it is on Amazon for slightly more.