Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Film Review: HARLEQUIN (1980, Simon Wincer)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Everett De Roche. Starring Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Broderick Crawford, Carmen Duncan.
Tag-line: "Can anyone survive?" What? That makes zero sense in context with the film.
Best one-liner: "FLIM FLAM AND HOCUS POCUS!"

Released as 'DARK FORCES' in the U.S., HARLEQUIN is an Aussie supernatural thriller from director Simon Wincer (D.A.R.Y.L., QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, FREE WILLY) and writer Everett De Roche (ROADGAMES, RAZORBACK, LINK).

I can see you want to get down to brass tacks– 'Is it good?,' you wonder. Well, let's not speak in absolutes. I don't think the Wolfe would want it that way. A better query might be, 'Does it hold your attention?' And the answer is... not really. 'So why three stars?,' you ask. Well, allow me to paint you a colorful picture. David Hemmings (who, by all accounts was wrecked, juiced, and well-sozzled for real during filming) plays a politician who tries to uphold his dignity and keep his family together in the midst of his son’s terminal illness. There's some kind of government corruption/conspiracy going on, and since it involves an aged Broderick Crawford (ALL THE KING'S MEN) the film doesn't feel the need to present it coherently, as if the audience will recall the political framework of that previous film and just apply it to this one.

"You there, Hemmings?"

"Yeah...just hanging out with the Wolfe."

"We've got your flask, Hemmings."


Just when you think it's going to be an unsalvageable snorefest, however, we get THE WOLFE. The Wolfe, played by Robert Powell (THE ASPHYX, Mahler in MAHLER, the unfortunate RAF dad in TOMMY), singlehandedly swoops down and saves this movie from the shitter.

(It should also be noted that Mel Gibson originally auditioned to play The Wolfe.) The character Powell plays is basically "Rasputin" combined with "David Bowie in the 'Ashes to Ashes' music video." Thus, in a movie that I think is trying impart a weighty political message, the show is stolen by telekinetic Chinese Checkers,

crazy eye makeup, and an outfit that can only be described as "Leather daddy Klaus Nomi meets Siegfried and Roy at a biker rally."

Powell's levitating sequences and accomplished, real-life sleight of hand even prefigure Bowie in LABYRINTH. He's got black-polished nails with little mystical symbols painted on them in red. He vociferates- with extreme sincerity- lines like "FLIM FLAM AND HOCUS POCUS!"


–and the aftermath of flim flam and hocus pocus.

He dresses as the eponymous Harlequin and brandishes a giant bum paddle.

He spits 80's lightning and dangles a kid over a coastal precipice- for real!

Three stars...for the WOLFE.

-Sean Gill

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