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Overall Rating
1.86

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad85.71%
Total Crap: 14.29%

1 review, 1 rating



High Road to China
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by Jack Sommersby

"Solid Selleck; Mediocre Movie"
2 stars

One of those contrived Hollywood products that could have used more thought at the typwriter and ingenuity behind the camera.

If ever there was a movie that warranted widescreen framing, the 1920s-set action-romance High Road to China certainly is it. Taking place in England, India, Afghanistan and finally, yes, China, with the characters traveling by two WWI biplanes, and also with two huge battle sequences thrown into the mix, the proceedings cry out for 'Scope format. But the director, Brian G. Hutton, whose unimpressive resume consists of Where Eagles Dare and The First Deadly Sin, has chosen the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which wouldn't necessarily be detrimental if he possessed a true eye for expressive camerawork, but the compositions are often awkward and boxy, as if he were filming a TV series rather than a big-budget motion picture. Further handicapping matters is the cinematography that's unaccountably soft-focused and washed-out even when the locales would seem to be positively bursting with ripe color. The movie looks dreadful, and the lackluster screenplay only accentuates these deficiencies. Which is a shame because Tom Selleck, in his first starring role in a motion picture, shows both charisma and talent. (It's well-known he was Steven Spielberg's first choice for Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but due to contractual obligations for his just-average TV series Magnum P.I. he had to turn it down. Maybe he thought when accepting this script that any big-screen adventure was better than none at all.) With confidence and style he plays Patrick O'Malley, a boozy war-hero of an aviator who's hired by spoiled London society girl Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) to locate her long-lost wealthy father and bring him back to England so he can sign some papers so his greedy business partner Bentik (Robert Morley) can't have him declared him dead and take over the company, which will leave poor Eve, who wears more expensive jewelry than the Queen of England, completely broke. O'Malley is far from her first choice for the mission, but she only has twelve days to get her father in court, and he's the only one with an airplane to rent; and he's not exactly eager for the mission, until her offer of sixty-thousand pounds changes his mind. There's Eve, an aviator herself, taking one plane, and O'Malley and his trusty friend/mechanic Struts (Jack Weston) in the other. On their tails are an array of bad guys at the employ of the dastardly Bentik; and along the way there are other disagreeable sorts like a ruthless Khan and his army thrown in for good measure. And wouldn't you know, after many insults and arguments, our hero and heroine eventually fall in love.

In case it's not blatantly apparent, the movie tries to function as an airplane version of the 1951 John Huston classic The African Queen. But not only was the writing and directing considerably better there, stars Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn had genuine chemistry, as opposed to Selleck and Armstrong who just don't manage to click. Armstongļæ½s attractive, and she certainly tries, but she doesn't have much variety and sex appeal; what we get are standardized actor's choices that lack inspiration -- scratching-the-surface value, not much more. She was effective in a supporting role in Alan Alda's The Four Seasons, but in this much bigger part her reserves are spent by about the twenty-minute mark. Selleck, on the other hand, gives a finely modulated performance chock-full of understatement: he's willing to play O'Malley as a bit of a bastard but with a kind heart lurking underneath the brawn and bluster; and he has a wonderful drunken scene where a remorseful O'Malley rejects any notions of bravery in his having shot down fifteen pilots in one day during the war because the enemy was left with nothing but inexperienced eighteen-year-olds to send up in the air. Selleck looks great in his rumpled period clothing and displays wonderful comic timing, like in the scene where one of his beloved planes has been destroyed by Eve's pursuers ("Look at my Dorothy!"); effortlessly commanding the screen while still staying within the parameters of the character, he keeps the movie centered and lived-in -- no small task given how crassly the character has been conceived. Things improve a bit in the last twenty minutes, when Eve's eccentric father (Wilford Brimley) is found, at a rural mountainside fortress, where he's the proud leader of some peasants at conflict with a brutal warlord; this adventurous rascal, long deadened by soulless capitalism, has finally found his calling in a humanitarian cause, and Brimley gives the man a vivacious jovialness that gives the movie some charge. It's also in this subplot that Hutton, for once, doesn't flub the action sequences, though the staging still isn't as acute as we'd like -- he just doesn't have a film sense for visual fluidity. (At least he was smart in employing the masterful composer John Barry: some of the scene segues are lovingly punctuated by the lush score, particularly the last one with a plane doing slow-motion aerobatic stunts over the closing credits.) High Road to China could have used more energy, deftness, but Selleck and Brimley do give it some appeal.

For better Selleck fare, check out "Lassiter" or "Runaway."

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23898&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/17/12 09:01:47
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User Comments

7/24/12 Mick Gillies oh dear sooo bad I fell asleep 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Mar-1983 (PG)
  DVD: 17-Apr-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
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