Saturday, 15 August 2009

Casablanca Express

Title: Casablanca Express
Director: Sergio Martino
Released: 1989
Staring: Jason Connery, Francesco Quinn, Jinny Steffan, Manfred Lehmann, Jean Sorel, Donald Pleasence, Glenn Ford, John Evans

Rating: 2/ 5

Plot: In 1942 top commando Alan Cooper (Connery) is assigned to protect Winston Churchill (Evans), when a Nazi plot to kidnap him is discovered.

Review: Casablanca Express is really the blue print for how to make a film with major compromises, I mean if you can’t find any big named actors to play your leads? Why not just draft in their lesser known actor kids. Can’t afford a rousing orchestra score? Well who needs an orchestra when you have the mood setting sound of Synthesisers!! These really are just two of the money cutting costs which Martino incorporates into this film, which you kind of have to admire the balls on Martino and his directing choices, especially when you look at what he believes the audience would find belivable as a Winston Churchill clone, which it seems he too might have also had doubts about, seeing how he tends to shoot Evans either at distance or from behind.

The Italian war movie genre, is probably one of the least looked at genres when it comes to Italian cinema, especially with most cinema obsessive’s usually either concentrating on the Horror and Western genres, especially with both genres being home to more than a few notable directors such as Sergio Leone, Mario Brava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento aswell as Martino himself is probably best remembered thanks to the horror genre, in particular for “Mountain of the Cannibal God” (1978).

Strangely enough if you haven’t guessed already film isn’t a prime example of an Italian warm movie, unlike the grind house charm of Castellari’s “The Inglorious Bastards” (1978) which provided the inspiration for Tarantino’s own “Inglorious Basterds” (2009)

“Casablanca Express” it would seem, likes to view itself as a boy’s own adventure, with it’s quick pace and action scenes all being similar to that of war movies, like “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), especially when you look at minmal amount of humanization used for the Nazi characters, who are basically there to play the bad guys and provide target practice for our hero’s.

Connery’s its clear would have really liked to have been his dad and in this film, tries to play the character of Cooper with the same sort of boyish charm as Bond, which really doesn’t work overly well as you never once believe that he is ever in control of any situation he encounters, most of which ending with him surviving through blind luck more than any skill, a prime example of which being during of the early fights when he is ambushed by several bad guys, only to be saved at the last moment by Francesco Quinn’s American agent.

Connery with his well spoken British accent, constantly plays off British stereotypes, something which is also carried onto nearly every other character in the film, including an extremely cringe worthy moment, when one of the passengers, who is supposed to be a British officer complains to one of the station staff about, how they almost damaged his tea set! Thankfully most of these caricatures are killed off pretty swiftly when the train is hijacked by the Nazi’s, which raises more of a cheer than anything else. While on the subject of stereotypes it was kind of surprising to see that this was an Italian film, especially seeing how the American forces are basically the ones who are doing everything, even to the point at the finale where they are riding in on a train with a huge American flag flying, as they save the world once again from the Nazi threat. It kind of surprised me, even more when I discovered that it wasn’t an American film, which made me wonder even more so why Martino choose to portray the war in such an unbalance view, especially when it’s the British prime minister being kidnapped and all we send to save him is a bad James Bond clone!! Still I guess this could be to make up for the fact that the American Agent played here, by an equally uncharismatic Francesco Quinn has his character reduced even further, to the point were he becomes a mere bullet magnet, which might have been intended as a heroic death, but instead comes off more as a relief to the audience, that it is one less crappy actor we have to endure.
Seeing how Martino raided the Children of the stars academy for his main leads, it’s surprising that he chooses to keep the small amount of star power he does have in his cast, with Donald Pleasence and Glenn Ford relegated to supporting roles and spending the majority of the film, moving blocks across a large map, which is a shame as these are some of the best moments of the film and that’s again largely because we aren’t having to suffer Connery’s acting. Still for these brief moments that they appear in the film, they still manage to make the most of their roles and pull them off convincingly enough; even if you get the feeling that they could give the same performance in their sleep.
The Soundtrack as I mentioned at the beginning of this review is synthesiser heavy and I mean really heavy, seeing how every piece of music in this film comes from a synthesiser, which especially makes the seem a lot more dated than it is and certainly fails even on the basic levels to provide the intended mood, as every time the music kicks in it, draws your attention away from what is happening on the screen, pulling you out of the film watching experience and preventing you from immersing` yourself in the world which the film is set in.

“Casablanca Express” like so many of Martino’s other films is a light hearted film, which never really lives up to any potential it might have had, allowing itself to get bogged down with it’s numerous flaws, with only a handful of exciting moments, which are too few and far between, to really keep the viewers attention, especially when there are similar boy’s own adventures to be found, which do the genre better and only worth watching if you’ve seriously run out of things to watch or are a Martino completist.

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