Sunday, 9 August 2009

Raiders of the Magic Ivory (1988)

Cråppen desk lamp: $17.95
Available in black or ivory

Have you ever been watching one of these cheap Italian jungle war/adventure movies and thought "Yeah, this movie is okay, but it really needs more walking." Or maybe sometimes you're confused by basic storytelling, such that two contiguous scenes will show the heroes in different locations and you'll wonder "How the hell did that happen?" Well, have I got the movie for you! Raiders of the Magic Ivory packs in more footage of jungle walking, river boating and cave exploration in it's 80 min run time than all 7 hours of Apocalypse Now Redux. No instance of our heroes moving from point A to point B was deemed too unimportant to commit to celluloid.

Sure, all of this hardcore walking action may be enough to satisfy some people, but director Tonino Ricci knows that without some shootouts and a desperate jungle mission to tie it together it's all just empty thrills. It begins with Mark (Christopher Ahrens) busting his buddy out of a South American prison. His comrade-in-arms is named Sugar (Peter Mitchum) which leads to some pretty confusing instances of people shouting "Come on, Sugar!" "Hurry up, Sugar!" or "Call me Sugar." Sugar may have been trapped in a pit for several months with only a curiously well-groomed mouse for company, but when Mark tells him he "stinks like a latrine" he still manages to lay him out with a right hook. That's how you know these guys are destined to be BFFs.

Cut to our two heroes lounging by the pool and I'm sure there's nothing more than these two manly men would like to do better than lounge around in their fruity silk robes for the rest of the movie, but their mission has only just begun. The rescue was funded by Lee Chang, a Fu-Manchu-ish Chinese stereotype played by a white guy in makeup and probably the least convincing Asian since Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. Chang wants them to retrieve a magic ivory (plastic) tablet from a death cult in a jungle on the North Vietnamese/Cambodian border called the Hell From Which No-One Returns. Sounds nice. They're offered $250,000 to do so, under the condition that they bring along Chang's creepy manservant Tao (Franklin Dominguez).

Naturally they have a few run-ins with the local military, but luckily the soldiers' tactics seem to be modeled after the British military strategy of WWI ie sending waves of troops headlong into a hail of gunfire. After commandeering a boat from a bunch of skeletons, they eventually they find their way into the monks' "temple" (a cave). Descending to the inner sanctum, they discover the monks, dressed in their finest potato sacks and Halloween masks, in the middle of a ritual sacrifice. They led by a guy with a bushy white beard in a bright red robe that I like to call Bathrobe Santa. When they interrupt the ceremony with a shotgun blast and rescue the sacrificial victim, Bathrobe Santa uses his spooky black magic powers to summon a few floating spectral monster heads that do precisely dick. Sugar replies "It's some kind of bullshit, man" and walks right through them. You know, these black magic powers are failing to impress.

Once they've escaped they get a chance to talk to the girl they rescued. Luckily she speaks perfect English, enabling her to spill out a headache-inducing level of exposition nonsense. She is named Me Lai and she is the Keeper of the Celestial Peace, the only one with the power to neutralise the dark magic bestowed by the tablet. If you're Chinese this is probably old hat to you, since according to Me Lai this stuff is known by all Chinese people. As they travel to the extraction site they are attacked by more cultists who swarm them en masse and are mowed down like so many paper targets. Unfortunately at the last minute they are betrayed by Tao, who steals the tablet and escapes in their rescue helicopter. This forces Mark, Sugar and Me Lai to battle their way back to civilisation by stealing a truck and murdering about a thousand soldiers. I assume they are Viet Cong, but their uniforms are wildly off model and they are played by Latinos so who knows.

Once they get back to China, or wherever it's supposed to be, they confront Chang Lee only to have him escape and a bunch of ninjas to pop out of the woodwork (the 80s). Me Lai catches a bullet but before she dies she transfers her sacred powers over to Sugar and feeds him some Peter Pan bullshit about having to believe. They track Chang Lee to his private yacht, where Sugar and Mark battle Tao and some more ninjas. Eventually Sugar retrieves the tablet from Chang Lee and "renders him inoffensive" by turning him a smoking puddle of goo. A brief epilogue shows our heroes sailing away in a yacht with a couple of hot 80s babes. Sugar raises a brewski towards the camera and says "Here's to keeping the Celestial Peace!" Amen to that, Sugar. Amen.

If I close my eyes I can imagine the efficient, assembly-line process by which a film like this is made. Some producers think up a popular Hollywood film to rip off (Rambo and Indiana Jones in this case) and Dardano Sacchetti is given a few days to turn out a script (he wrote eight other scripts that year, a new personal best). Obviously nobody is going to watch a film made by a bunch of Eye-talians, so Ricci, directing under his Anglicised pseudonym Anthony Richmond, and a couple of American actors are flown out to a jungle in whatever third-world country will let them film for the cheapest. Sure you can't afford any real actors, but Peter Mitchum shares enough genetic material with his father (Robert Mitchum) to provide that coveted "vaguely familiar" feeling. Then bus in a bunch of confused locals for extras (ethnicity unimportant) and raid an amateur theater production of The Mikado for costumes.

Put together some awesomely misleading cover art for the VHS cassette and BAM! You've got yourself a movie that does the bare minimum to distract you from your miserable life for 80 minutes. Or as I like to call it, Keeping the Celestial Peace.

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