Midway through his tenure playing a certain suave secret agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Roger Moore was probably itching to do something different—which might explain why he attacks the leading role in this entertaining British thriller with ferocity noticeably absent from his acting in the 007 movies. Portraying an eccentric operative named Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (two lower-case letters at the beginning of the last name, thank you very much), Moore upends nearly every aspect of his James Bond characterization. Instead of a nightlife-loving rake, ffolkes is a recluse who prefers his cats to the company of women, and instead of being a charming sophisticate, he’s a tactless snob. Furthermore, rather than being a superhero capable of doing virtually anything, ffolkes is a specialist in just one tactic: underwater commando attacks.
Thus, when three oil rigs located off the English coast get overtaken by terrorists, the British government knocks on the door of ffolkes’ castle—literally, because he lives in a decaying stone edifice—asking for help. Thereafter, the movie delivers tightly coiled excitement as the commandoes sneak onto the oil rigs with stealthy weapons like harpoons and knives, seeking to thwart the baddies before hostages are killed and the rigs are demolished with explosives. Written by Jack Davies from his own novel Esther, Ruth & Jennifer (the code names of the oil rigs), this picture was released as North Sea Hijack in the UK during 1979 before creeping onto American screens in early 1980 with the new title ffolkes. Although it didn’t do much business at the box office, it found a welcoming home on pay cable—and, as it turns out, ffolkes is nicely suited for home viewing.
A brisk, workmanlike thriller with an entertaining mixture of bitchy banter and high-seas action, the movie has just enough zing in terms of production value and star power to feel like a major motion picture, but it’s so contained and straightforward it might as well be the pilot for a TV series. In fact, Moore is such a delight as ffolkes that it’s a shame no further adventures featuring the character were filmed: By the end of the movie, the character is so solidly established he could have swam the high seas for years afterward, foiling evildoers who dared to sully the world’s waters.
Much of the credit for the picture’s Saturday-matinee vibe goes to director Andrew V. McLaglen, whose previous collaboration with Moore, The Wild Geese (1978), was another escapist winner. McLaglen and Moore are aided an efficient supporting cast, led by Anthony Perkins as the main hijacker—with typical aplomb, he weaves humor and perversity into a woefully underwritten role, and the dirty looks he and Moore exchange in their fleeting moments together are worth the price of admission. James Mason adds gravitas as the military official supervising ffolkes’ team of frogmen, while B-movie fave Michael Parks appears as Perkins’ principal henchman.