“Not at all what you’d expect from the sleeve, yet by no means terrible.”
The word is, Miramax made this in order to keep their rights to the Modesty Blaise series active: I imagine a clause reverted them back to creator Peter O’Donnell, if unused within X years. Tarantino wanted to direct it, but couldn’t find the time, hence this stop-gap directed by journeyman Spiegel, who’s familiar with Quentin cast-offs, having also directed From Dusk Till Dawn 2. Shot in 18 Romanian days, the limitations of time and budget are clear [save admittedly copious flashbacks, the movie is almost all set in one location], but given them, it’s by no means a disaster. The main failing is the lack of action; we don’t see alleged jet-setting, goddess of kick-butt Blaise do much at all until the last few minutes. This may be because Staden looks as if she’d struggle to move forward in a stiff breeze; seeing her trading blows is unconvincing, and the fight choreographer should have focused on speed and/or agility instead. Though in terms of presence and steely gaze, she does fit the part well.
I remember the books from my youth, and the huge disappointment I felt when I saw the 1966 camp abortion starring Monica Vitti [there was also an 1982 TV pilot, with Ann Turkel, which I haven’t found]. This “origin” story is an improvement, at least taking the characters seriously. Blaise is trapped in a casino by a robber with a grudge against the owner (Waldau), and as they wait for the guy with the safe combination to arrive, she trades stories of her past for the freedom of the other hostages, Arabian Nights style, almost. I’d be somewhat curious to see the original cut, which apparently ran nearly two hours. Now, it’s barely 70 minutes between Bond-esque opening and closing credits, yet is still pretty talky, Blaise and her mentor (Pearson) meandering between the Balkans and Morocco.
That’s not a necessarily a bad thing; the short length, and decent performances from the two leads, help make it very watchable. However, expect hardcore action, rather than a psychological character study, and you’ll be very disappointed. Indeed, even fans of the series may mourn, for example, the lack of Blaise sidekick, Willie Garvin, a lynchpin of the books and comic strips. All this does support the whispers it was indeed no more than a holding tactic by Miramax, but on its own terms, we enjoyed this. With some minor tweakage, we’d have interest in Modesty’s further adventures. Whether Tarantino is the best person to direct them…that I’m less sure of!
Dir: Scott Spiegel
Stars: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Fred Pearson, Raymond Cruz