The Island (1980) / Adventure-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Michael Caine, David Warner, Jeffrey Frank, Angela Punch McGregor, Frank Middlemass, Jeffrey Frank
Director: Michael Ritchie
Screenplay: Peter Benchley (from his novel)
Review published July 30, 2006
You can lead Michael Caine (Dressed to Kill, The Italian Job) to water, but you can't make him act. At least, if the films he's done anywhere near it is any indication. You think he turned in a turkey when he appeared in Jaws: The Revenge? The Island might actually rival that as the worst in his career. Looking at his filmography, it's astonishing that many of his bad films, and there are astonishingly many for someone of his talent, have to do with being on a ship or island for a length of time. The Magus, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and doomed just from the title, Water, are a few other turkeys one can mention, and it gives the impression that Caine selected his scripts based on whether he'd like to vacation there than if the film might be good.
In The Island, Caine plays a reporter named Blair Maynard, who travels with his 12-year-old son out to a remote area of the Caribbean to look into the reasons behind the disappearance of some boats there. Soon, the two find themselves abducted and at the mercy of a motley crew of murderous pirates that are dwindling in number because they no longer can have any children. They keep the children of the people they slaughter and brainwash them, including Blair's son, Justin (Frank), who disowns his father in favor of the pirate leader, Nau (David Warner, Time Bandits). Meanwhile, Blair is kept alive so that he may conceive a child with the sole remaining woman in the pirate clan, although he knows his death is imminent unless he can get off the island alive.
One can't blame Caine alone for this fiasco, as there is too much other talent involved that could have saved the film. First, there is director Michael Ritchie, a veteran who had made such decent films as Downhill Racer, The Candidate, and The Bad News Bears. Then, the film is adapted by Peter Benchley (Jaws, The Deep) from his own bestselling novel. Ennio Morricone (The Witches, For a Few Dollars More) provides the score, and while not one of his most memorable, it should have given the right atmosphere for the action. Lastly, they had plenty of money to make a decent film, with a budget of $22 million, which was quite a lot of money back in 1980.
The problems are multitudinous, and in fact, it would probably be easier to list the things the film does well, since they are so few. First, the story is a stinker to begin with, and only a complete rewrite into something more engaging could have made it at least semi-tolerable, which wasn't likely to happen with Benchley adapting his own novel. There is little more to the story than Caine getting away from the pirate camp, then getting recaptured and threatened all over again. Once, maybe twice, ok. After the fourth time, it starts to get funny. After the eighth, you're probably get to the point where you're hoping they just kill him.
Next, the ocean never looked so ugly, with terrible cinematography from a long-time pro, Henri Decae (The 400 Blows, The Boys from Brazil). Is the ocean really brown? It looked more like they were all sailing on Nestlé's Quik than the deep blue sea.
The pirates are completely miscast, looking like they've never been in the sun, and David Warner is far too slight to be the captain. Peter Pan could have kicked his ass single-handedly, and that's without even having to fly. The rest of the pirates were cast according to how many teeth the actors were missing, and whether or not they could laugh hysterically every time someone were maimed or killed. But the worst casting has to go to whoever cast the kung-fu guy that gives the pirates a fight. He looked like a bloated Henry Winkler just back from ballet class, with the moves to match.
The Island is wasteland of ideas, poorly executing each element, and following each feeble scene with another and another, until finally slapping us all in the face with a laughably awful finale. It's a waste of $22 million, some decent actors, and worst of all, our precious time. Rent Lord of the Flies, Mad Max, Waterworld, or even The Beach if you are absolutely in the mood for a film like this. The Island is about as painful to watch as Captain Hook with jock itch.
©2003 Vince Leo