After the huge success of Jaws and its sequel, producers Richard Zanuck and Peter Brown decided that the best way to keep their success afloat was to take another novel from Jaws author Peter Benchley and make it into a movie. This time around Benchley adapted the novel into a screenplay himself and the team hired successful director Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears) to take the helm and Ennio Morricone to provide the score. The result did not fare well as the movie sank at the box office and was savaged by critics upon its release. I have always wondered about this movie as I knew it had a bad reputation but it has an iconic poster where an island is depicted in the background while the foreground has a tattooed hand emerging from the water holding a dagger. I also knew this movie somehow involved pirates and the Bermuda Triangle. Both subjects interest me so when Scream Factory decided to save this one from obscurity and include it in their catalogue, I figured that the gift of time may have given this flick a new life. Although it is not as bad as I was led to believe, I can certainly understand how mainstream audiences expecting another Jaws would be disappointed.
Michael Caine stars as Blair, a newspaper reporter who drags his tween son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) on an assignment to investigate the disappearance of a number of boats in the Bermuda Triangle. After a plane crash, they meet a somewhat crusty doctor who lets them use a fishing boat to pass the time until they can head back to the mainland. Blair and Justin are attacked by a little girl and a scrawny bearded man and they find themselves bound on an island camp and surrounded by a group of people who look like pirates. As it turns out, these are real pirates who have managed to maintain an existence on an uncharted island for hundreds of years under the radar of the modern world. They sustained the colony by robbing passing boats (hence the mysterious disappearances) and by inbreeding. They decide to keep Blair and Justin alive so that Blair can impregnate the only fertile pirate woman (Angela Punch McGregor) and they can brainwash Justin in the hopes that he will become the heir to the pirate leadership position currently occupied by Nau (David Warner). The rest of the film consists of a number of failed escape attempts by Blair, attacks on various vessels by the pirates, and a finale that is visceral and shocking.
Not a lot happens in this flick but then again I never found myself clockwatching. Blair is constantly trying to come up with ways to escape so there is always underlying suspense to keep the viewer engaged. The problem is less with the plot and more with the characters. The only person that you can relate to is Blair. The pirates are all set up as threatening but you don't get to know any of them an an emotional level and they all kind of blend together (with the exception of Nau). Even the woman, who seems like somewhat of an ally to Blair, does not have any motivation to do so. She doesn't seem to be falling in love with him and she does not seem like she has a burning desire to join regular civilization so when loosens his shackles, it may just be a lapse of judgement as opposed to an act of defiance. I couldn't figure it out. Justin is another mystery: he just entering his rebellious phase and has an interest in guns but he turns on his dad very quickly considering that I thought they had a decent relationship.
The island itself is certainly a beautiful location and the scenery is stunning but much of the action is confined to the pirate camp with the occasional excursion. The scene where the group raid a schooner crewed by drug smuggling yuppies was quite a set piece especially when it is revealed that one of the yuppies knows kung-fu. The sight of a 70s dude (who likely listens to disco) wearing short shorts and taking on various pirates using martial arts manoeuvres is worth the price of admission alone and is likely the scene I will remember most. Although this flick did not quite live up to the promise of the cover, I would say that it is a decent watch particularly if you enjoy b-movies. Some of the things that happen (Justin's eyes pried open, McGregor's see-through top, kung-fu yuppie, mass slaughter) seem out of place for a more general audience but made me perk up as it made me realize I could not predict what was going to happen next. I didn't love this flick but I certainly didn't hate it like the majority of critics. Look for Zakes Mokae (Dust Devil, The Serpent and the Rainbow) as the bicycle cop. (Josh Pasnak, 1/20/15)
Directed By: Michael Ritchie.
Written By: Peter Benchley.
Starring: Michael Caine, David Warner, Angela Punch McGregor, Jeffrey Frank.