Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY (1988)

You gotta love the Italians! Much like the aforementioned Cannon outfit, they were quickly churning out carbon copies of any film that hit it big. In fact, they’d been doing reproduction productions longer than Golan and Globus, starting with peplum films in the 1950s and spaghetti westerns in the 1960s. And they were smarter in that they didn’t waste millions doing it. By the time the late 80s arrived, the Italian film industry was in downturn but companies were still kicking out knock offs.

One such outfit was Fulvia Film. Founded by Fabrizio De Angelis (aka Larry Ludman), Fulvia is probably best known for providing funds for Lucio Fulci’s horror films in the early 80s. But De Angelis wanted that pasta money so he provided the film world with a wide variety of imitation movies including post-apocalyptic flicks, shark flicks, Vietnam flicks, and karate kid flicks. Given his propensity for imitation, it is surprising that he entered the Indiana Jones sweepstakes so late in the game with RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY (1988).

IVORY opens with mercenary Mark (Christopher Ahrens) busting his buddy Capt. “Sugar” Rogers (James Mitchum) out of a Far East prison. Relaxing in their kimonos (*shudders*), our leads soon find themselves hired by Lee Chang, an old Lo Pan-looking mofo who wants them to procure a magic ivory tablet that is inscribed with his family names. “It is of no value for you occidentals,” Chang says before telling them it is located in a jungle area that roughly translates into “hell from which no one returns.” Sounds promising! Convinced by hundreds of thousands of reasons, the treasure hunting team soon heads into the jungle with native guide Tao. The mission gets off to a bad start when they encounter rebels and Tao turns on them and our heroes are strung up and tortured. D’oh! But Tao pulls a double cross and kills the rebels. Crafty one, this Pao.

Anyway, they find the temple, which is guarded by guys in strange monkey masks who seem to be impervious to bullets and grenades. They sneak in and – as cinematic law dictates – find everyone in mid-ritualistic sacrifice of an attractive young lady. The leader is a guy who – I kid you not – looks like he is wearing a European Father Christmas mask (see pic). Our soldiers of fortune quickly snag the ivory tablet and save sacrifice fodder My Lai (Clarissa Mendez). The cult leader throws up some mystical hocus-pocus to try and stop them, but lovable Sugar sees right through it (“It’s just some kind of bullshit, man!”) and they bolt to the rendezvous point. Arriving at the waiting helicopter, they are double crossed by Tao, who splits with the treasure. Yes, this makes him a double-double crosser! Naturally, a guy named Sugar does not take double crossing lightly and our trio trek back to Chang’s place. Seems Chang’s ulterior motive was to rule the world (sucker) and the tablet will allow him to be immortal. Our trio attack the compound guarded by ninjas and My Lai is shot in the chaos. As she lies dying, she informs Sugar that only he can stop Chang because he is the “sacred keeper of the celestial peace.” Yup, apparently God left that little detail on the shoulders of a forty years plus alcoholic named Sugar!

Running a scant 84 minutes (including 3 minute end credits), RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY is a pretty weak effort on all levels. Director Tonino Ricci (under his Anthony Richmond pseudonym) is definitely second string when it comes to Italian exploitation directors. If you can’t get Fulci, D’Amato, Castellari, Margheriti or even Mattei, I’m sure you can get Ricci. He delivers so-so exploitation films that never match the delirious heights set by his contemporaries. I believe his name translates properly into Fred Olen Ray. Not a lot happens here and you end up digging for your own entertainment. For example, the ninjas seem to brandish automatic weapons at one point but later only have swords when it comes to the final fight. Surprisingly, the best part of the film is when they lay on the Indiana Jones shtick thickest and I wish they had done more of it. Yes, I’m admitting I wish this rip off ripped more off. Even the title is a riff since the original Italian title is PREDATORS OF THE MAGIC STONE. The temple bit is the best portion of the film, thanks mostly to the set design by Mother Nature. Yes, the highlight of this film for me is some real life caverns.

Actually, I take that back. I think Mitchum is pretty damn enjoyable, but in a train wreck kind of way. He proved to be the highlight in the wild HOLLYWOOD COP (1987) and steals what show there is to be stolen here. You’ll laugh when he says “call me Sugar” to the villain when they first meet. And take note of all the times he is seen onscreen with a drink in his hands. I’m willing to wager that ain’t prop alcohol. In fact, he sounds/looks wasted a lot of the time. But this makes his line delivery funnier and he always seems to be mouthing off. I’m sure 90% of his dialogue is off the cuff. Physically Mitchum looks pretty rough. His face is so bloated, haggard and puffy here that he looks more like a member of the Keach family than the carrier of the Mitchum family name. I’m sure his brother Chris was very disappointed to see his brother’s cinematic output in the 80s and lack of Lanky White Kung Fu on display. He does get to throw out some boxing hooks in the final showdown though before he makes the lead baddie disappear in a puff of smoke. How? Because he is the keeper of the celestial peace! Co-lead Ahrens is pretty much a stiff here, but I can forgive him because he went on to be the villain in Bruno Mattei's SHOCKING DARK after this. Also, take a gander at the art for this flick and tell me how that is supposed to be either of these guys.

If you have any interest in seeing this, IVORY can be easily found in the Video Asia MERCS set. It is pretty amazing as this bootleg outfit took a Japanese VHS release complete with glitches and forced Japanese subs and just put it onto disc. For James Mitchum completists only!

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