Sunday, September 30, 2012

No Caine is an Island: "The Island" (1980)

Dapper Michael Caine plays reporter Blair Maynard. He begs his editor to investigate a series of boat disappearances off of Florida, and wins the assignment. He also wins his son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) for the weekend, and the two head to Florida.

What the duo does not know is the audience was treated to a bloody attack in the opening minutes of the film. The missing boats are not disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle, but someone is killing the people on the ships.

On the trip to Florida, we find out a little bit about Blair and Justin. Blair is divorced from Justin's mother, and Justin is into guns. Blair is not, but he allows Justin to purchase a pistol from a gun store in the state. Blair and Justin arrive and hire a puddle jumper to take them to a remote island to investigate the disappearances. Justin is angry that his father promised Disney World, and we learn Blair has let his son down before. The plane crash lands on an isolated island, Justin still has the gun, and the two decide to make the best of the situation. They rent a boat from the eccentric Dr. Windsor (Frank Middlemass), and set out for some sea fishing.

So far, this is the most excitement I have ever seen a magazine reporter have on assignment. A plane crash! Buy the kid a gun! Fishing! Break out the tequila and hookers, and you're gonna show the boy a weekend he will never forget.

The Maynard's boat is overrun by a scraggly group of people, and Blair kills one of them before getting knocked out. When Blair awakens, he and Justin have been tied up by a bunch of pirates and Blair finds himself in the middle of a trial for the murder he committed in self defense.

The pirates are led by Nau (David Warner), and he adopts Justin as his own son. Blair is sentenced to be in servitude to the murdered man's woman, Beth (Angela Punch McGregor). She is the only woman left on the hidden island who can have a child, and Blair is used as her stud. Once pregnant, he will die.

Blair spends the rest of the film trying to escape, and being recaptured. Beth begins to warm up to him, and Blair finds out Dr. Windsor is helping the pirates by hiring boats out to unsuspecting tourists so the gang will have victims. The pirates have been there for hundreds of years, developing their own civilization and language, which is mostly unintelligible to the viewer.

Justin is now completely under Nau's spell, and they raid a schooner, killing everyone aboard. Blair senses his days are numbered, and escapes with the help of Nau's rejected son Manuel's (Rikki Rincon) help. Manuel tricked him, Blair returns to the island (again) as the Coast Guard happens on the group. This sets the stage for the final bloody showdown between the Coast Guard and the pirates, and Nau and Blair.

"The Island" was made back when novelist Peter Benchley ("Jaws," "The Deep") could do no wrong. He wrote the screenplay for this, and Benchley the screenwriter comes up with too many conveniences from his own novel. Dr. Windsor points out that the pirates have not killed him or Blair because of fate. I am thinking it is because then we would not have a film. Justin jumps over to Nau's side faster than you can change a pair of socks. Blair's behavior to his son is loving and understanding, giving Justin the weakest of reasons to turn against him ("He didn't take me to Disney World, so I will kill him"?). Why give Beth Blair instead of any of the other men the pirates have come across? Saving the pirate civilization from inbreeding would be more important than Beth having justice for her dead man. Caine should get frequent flier miles for the number of escapes and recaptures he goes through during the film.

Michael Ritchie directs the film with professionalism, despite his background in comedy. Caine is always good in this very poor role. Jeffrey Frank is okay, but he is not given a character to play. He is told to be mad, and scowl for the rest of the film. All the pirates, including Warner, fade into each other and never make individuals out of their group. They are interchangeable. The worst aspect of the film is Ennio Morricone's completely inappropriate score. The pirate raids are bloody, yet the bouncy music makes you think you are watching an Errol Flynn film. As gore and carnage fly across the screen, horns and strings let you know that the murderous thugs are having a grand old time. Watch for an extended sequence where the pirates come across a judo practicing victim, and we suffer through some lame fight scenes before he is finally dispatched. The gore here is as strong as some slasher films from the 1980's, but its effect is lost with the jaunty score.

"The Island" is a notorious bomb in Caine's career, one of several. When he won the Golden Globe for "Cider House Rules," he mentioned he had made a lot of bad films in his career. This one could not have been far from his memory. (* *) out of five stars.