Sunday, January 20, 2019

In Like Flynn: Before He was Wicked

He was one of the biggest stars of his era, but Hollywood has not been kind with its posthumous depictions of Errol Flynn. Probably the most sympathetic portrayal was Peter O’Toole’s Alan Swann analogue in My Favorite Year. However, Australia has not turned its back on its favorite son. The iconic Robin Hood is once again young, adventurous, and Australian in Russell Mulcahy’s In Like Flynn, based on the actor’s semi-autobiographical novel Beam Ends (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Flynn is not looking for gold in the Raiders of the Lost Ark-evoking prologue, but he learns the hard way a tribe of New Guinea natives is rather determined to protect their ancient store. He made the trek escorting a pair of Hollywood filmmakers hoping to record some authentic footage for their latest picture. That mission is certainly accomplished. Naturally, Flynn impresses, but he will be chasing gold of the mineral variety before seeking the kind offered by Tinseltown.

The na├»ve Flynn recruits a motley crew for his adventure, starting with Rex, a down-on-his-luck Canadian boxer. The Bertie Wooster-ish “Dook” Adams serves as navigator and salty old “Charlie” will try to keep them all alive. He is the original owner of the Sirocco, the boat Flynn liberates from the Chinese Triad. It is probably a mistake when Adams jettisons a crate of awful tasting “tea” overboard, but what’s done is done.

Technically, Flynn and the lads never make it back to New Guinea, but they find plenty of [mis]adventures in Australia. It was definitely wild country in the early 1930s. Although fans of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft might feel like the film fails to live up to its treasure-hunting promise, the serious third act turn of events should impress everyone else.

In the lead, Thomas Cocquerel cannot buckle swash the way Flynn so effortlessly did, but he is a genial, energetic screen presence. Clive Standen is appealingly grizzled as Charlie, channeling equal parts Robert Shaw in Jaws and Humphrey Bogart in African Queen, as well as any mortal man could. William Moseley’s Dook settles in over time, but Corey Large’s Rex almost never stops bickering and blustering. Even though Achuan, the Triad leader, is a bit of a “Dragon Lady” stereotype, Grace Huang plays her with a refreshingly modern sensibility. David Wenham also effectively plays against type as the cold, clammy corrupt mayor of Townsville.

Mulcahy has mostly been working in TV lately, but it is good to have him back helming features. Between Flynn and the cult-classic Razorback, you could make a case he is the ultimate Australian filmmaker. He again proves he has a knack for whipping up action and mayhem, while working within strict budget constraints. Flynn is no Highlander (still probably his best film), but it is appealingly old fashioned. Recommended for Flynn fans, In Like Flynn opens this Friday (1/25) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Music Hall.