Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Next Man (1976)

          While primarily a suspense film about a diplomat being targeted by a femme-fatale assassin, The Next Man slips in a few provocative ideas about the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East. It also features an authoritative performance by Sean Connery as a man who tries to change the world with his wits, rather than his fists, even though The Next Man is one of several pictures in which the Scotsman is incongruously cast as an Arab. While it would be fabulous to report that this picture pulls its disparate elements together in a compelling way, The Next Man is, sadly, meandering and unfocused.
          The set-up is simple enough: Amid a climate of rampant political assassinations, Saudi Arabian ambassador Khalil Abdul-Muhsen (Connery) stirs up international controversy by suggesting during a speech at the United Nations that Israel should become a member nation of OPEC, the Arab-controlled oil-production consortium. Meanwhile, he’s seduced by sophisticated beauty Nicole Scott (Cornelia Sharpe), who is actually an international assassin tasked with killing him.
          The big problem with the movie is twofold: First, viewers learn Nicole is an assassin before she even meets Abdul-Muhsen, so there’s no mystery about her motivation, and second, once she becomes sexually involved with the ambassador, she has countless opportunities to kill him that she does not exploit. Particularly since Abdul-Muhsen’s enemies perceive his continued existence as a threat, it makes no sense that the conspirators would delay the inevitable, especially since the trite subplot in which Nicole grows to love her target never rings true.
          The fault for the ineffective romance angle lies partly with the script, since Nicole is presented as such a cipher we have no way of gauging which feelings are true and which are deceptions, and partly with Sharpe’s performance. A long and lean blonde with piercing eyes, Sharpe was understandably successful as a fashion model, but she’s lifeless as a dramatic actress.
          As directed TV veteran Richard C. Sarafian, who helmed a number of pulpy oddities in the ’70s, The Next Man has a few effective scenes, like a siege on Abdul-Muhsen’s vacation home in the Bermudas, but the lack of credibility in the main onscreen relationship, combined with the awkward juxtaposition of talky political scenes and violent action sequences, steer The Next Man way off course. Connery’s charisma, the offbeat subject matter, and Sharpe’s beauty make the picture watchable, but just barely.

The Next Man: FUNKY

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