[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
Eccentric heroes, and movies featuring eccentric heroes, must have the courage of that eccentricity in order to persuade audiences to accept and honor it. Roger Excalibur ffolkes is nothing if not an eccentric — so why do the wetsuits on his underwater demolition team read FFOLKES FFUSILIERS instead of (obviously!) ffOLKES ffUSILIERS? Really, my dear chap, it won’t do. Except, all right, let it go this time; for ffolkes is an engaging-enough high-adventure item in its bumptious, low-grade way. The storyline is blithely silly: A squad of piratical types masquerade as journalists in order to get aboard a supply ship that services Her Majesty’s North Sea oil derricks; they mine the ship and two of the billion-dollar rigs, then threaten to blow everything up if the Government doesn’t come across with an empire’s ransom. Can our boozing, woman-hating, cat-loving, rug-tatting hero save all the innocent souls at sea and trounce the blackguards before zero hour? Forget we asked. Now, Andrew McLaglen is not a director we look to for a graceful and witty touch, but he’s a no-nonsense pro, and there’s something funny and charming about the way he brings this assignment off. The film winks a lot at the audience but it never quite rolls its eyes. McLaglen delivers the action-and-suspense goods without either ignoring or pleading the preposterousness of the narrative enterprise. Roger Moore’s ffolkes is, if anything, less subtle than his James Bondâ€”but he’s much more fun, and the amusement he generates isn’t tainted, at the level of character-concept or botched performance, as Moore’s 007 is. Tony Perkins hasn’t ventured so broad a characterizationâ€”he’s the lead hijackerâ€”since Mahogany, but this time the joke is intentional and the character’s hysteria is more interesting. The laboriously terse and emphatic dialogue, and reading thereof (shocked ship’s officer: “He’s dead!'” Perkins, crisply: “Well, that was his decision”), has little to do with authentically stylish generic playâ€”still less to do with the classical plain-speaking of Howard Hawks types, or the bravura stylization of a Walter Hill; its clippedness proceeds out of a sense of obligation, not existential/professional expertise. Similarly, the way shots and scenes are jammed hard upon one another is brutish, substituting forcible insistence on forward momentum for smooth and persuasive realization of same; McLaglen depends excessively on the hard-working music score to do the job that his shooting and editing ought to cover. Brutish doesn’t quite catch the calculated nasty streak that accounts for a couple of killings whose coldbloodedness does not sit well with the larky quality of the adventure surrounding them, and that also finds expression in the callous homosexual innuendo in the characterizations of Perkins and his chief cohort (Michael Parks wearing bottle-glass spectaclesâ€”and in excruciating agony, it would appear). It’s a measure of McLaglen’s careless opportunism that he can’t bring himself to balance the scales by raising an eyebrow over the misogynist ffolkes and all those rubber-clad men sharing his fortress headquartersâ€”though there is a bit of a tease about his character at the beginning when an official commissions ffolkes to put himself in the position of someone wishing to sabotage the oil rigs, just to see whether it can be done, and we wonder for a while whether Perkins & co. might be ffolkesfolk turned renegade … or not, as the case may be.
© 1981 Richard T. Jameson
ffOLKES (aka NORTH SEA HIJACK)
Direction: Andrew V. McLaglen. Screenplay: Jack Davies, after his novel North Sea Hijack. Cinematography: Tony Imi. Music: Michael J. Lewis.
The players: Roger Moore, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks, James Mason, Faith Brook, Jack Watson.