Saturday, January 29, 2011

Escape to Athena (1979)

Escape to Athena should be a tasty wedge of cheese, based solely on the eclectic cast and the fact that helmer George P. Cosmatos (The Cassandra Crossing) knows how to make entertaining trash. Set during World War II, the movie features Sonny Bono, Claudia Cardinale, Elliot Gould, David Niven, Stefanie Powers, Roger Moore, Richard Roundtree, and Telly Savalas as guards and inmates at a German prison camp on a Mediterranean island. The muddy screenplay, based on a story co-written by Cosmatos, tries to weave together a plan to derail an impending Nazi onslaught, a quest to liberate oppressed locals, and a scheme to steal ancient relics—while still leaving room for comedy and romance—but in trying to play every possible crowd-pleasing note, Cosmatos creates an absolute mess. Not only are the ample charms of the cast wasted, but sumptuous location photography by British DP Gilbert Taylor, of Star Wars fame, is squandered on inconsequential and occasionally nonsensical scenes. Miscasting and tonal inconsistency are the biggest problems. Moore, clearly eager to try something different between 007 movies, plays a stately Austrian commandant who resents his Nazi superiors, but he gives an atrocious performance: His accent is pathetic, and he tries to come across as likeable and menacing at the same time, so his work is indecisive and sloppy. Bono is such an intrinsically ’70s figure, sporting the same shaggy shoulder-length hair and drooping walrus moustache he wore in his countless TV appearances with Cher, that he’s a walking anachronism. And the scenes featuring Elliot Gould as a fast-talking American showman, complete with straw boater hat and vaudeville hucksterism, are decidedly unfunny. Making matters worse, some of the top-billed players, notably Cardinale, Niven, and Roundtree, get lost entirely because their roles are underwritten and lack distinct impact. It’s true that a few of the action scenes are passable, and Powers is appealing-ish as a showgirl using her wiles to make the best of a bad situation, but neither of these elements feels compatible with the other. Despite its obvious eagerness to please, Escape to Athena is so undisciplined that watching the cavalcade of lame humor, random stars, and sporadic action eventually becomes numbing.

Escape to Athena: LAME

1 comment:

Guy Callaway said...

With his cinematic disasters, Grade sure proved that money can't buy everything, including taste.