Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writers: Luca Biglione, Sandro Cecca
Stars: Vik C. Ryan, Eleonora Albrecht, Maximiliano Hernando Bruno
One of the more curious side effects of the publicity surrounding the release of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 was the return to action of Enzo Castellari, the director of the 1978 film upon which it was based (the correctly spelled Inglorious Bastards). The resulting production, Castellari’s first film for sixteen years, was entitled Caribbean Basterds even though it had no other connection in theme or content to Tarantino’s work; a touch of chutzpah which recalls his remaking Jaws as The Great White and outdoing Mad Max in the video stores with The Bronx Warriors. It’s a low budget film, produced by Venice Film, a company that had previously specialised in documentaries, and it was shot on the Isla Margarita, just off the coast of Venezuela. Whereas Tarantino had stars like Brad Pitt and Micheal Fassbender, the best known actor in Castellari’s film is John Armstead, an ex-pat American actor who turned up in several not particularly good Italian films in the 1980s.
Roy (Vik C. Ryan) and Linda (Eleanora Albrecht) are siblings who spend much of the year in the Caribbean, living a life of luxury thanks to their father’s profitable trade as an arms dealer. Roy, however, is beginning to develop ethical qualms and has become disillusioned with working for daddy. Unfortunately he has few transferable skills – kickboxing, weightlifting and bad hair hardly being prerequisites for most occupations – and so he decides to start afresh as a pirate, roping in his sister and her boyfriend Jose (Maximiliano Hernando Bruno) for the ride.
At first they target their father’s dodgy associates, dressing up in white jumpsuits and masks like the droogs from A Clockwork Orange (which I seriously doubt any of these dipsticks would ever have watched), from whom they also steal a predilection for sexual violence and bad jokes. But then they ramp up their activities stealing a huge stash of cocaine from some dangerous looking drug dealers. Unfortunately in doing so they manage to upset the dealer’s boss, the island’s most violent criminal kingpin, who sends out his numerous men to get rid of them at any cost.
Unsurprisingly, Caribbean Basterds resolutely fails to match up with the previous work of the director. This ain’t no High Crime or The Big Racket, heck it ain’t even up to the standard of The New Barbarians (in which a load of people in daft clothes drove around a quarry in souped up golf buggies). This isn’t, however, really Castellari’s fault and the film has moments in which his skill is evident, most particularly the ornate action sequences which arrive more regularly as the running time progress. It’s not, for sure, as bad as it could have been with another, less talented filmmaker at the helm.
However, even Castellari can’t really do anything with a script this bad. Written by TV specialist Luca Biglione and occasional director Sandro Cecca it has some decent ideas but doesn’t realise them in any way. The first half – which is essentially a portrait of disaffected youth and features most of the pseudo Clockwork Orange activity – seems to belong to a different film to the second, more traditionally Castellari-ish half; it is also far less effective, with Castellari seeming uncomfortable with this dialogue heavy, slow moving part of the film.
Another major problem is the sheer vileness of just about every character. Normally Castellari’s films feature a protagonist you can root for, no matter how dubious their motivations or creed (and that’s part of his skill, pulling the audience into supporting characters who commit unsupportable acts). Roy, Linda and Jose are just horrible; spoilt, incestuous brats with a taste for violence that matches their empty heads. I guess you could say they’re akin to the young criminals of Anonymous Avenger, but the whole point was that they were the villains in that film and you couldn’t help but cheer when they were summarily disposed of.
Then there’s the dialogue; not one word uttered by any of the actors is in any way convincing, although this is not helped at all by the fact that none of the actors can actually act. I’ve written many times before about the absurd habit Italian filmmakers seem to have developed for shooting in English – despite it not being their native language – rather than relying on dubbers or subtitles. It’s no wonder actors have problems when they don’t really understand what they’re saying and are unfamiliar with the words coming out of their mouths. But in this case some of the actors are English speakers, and they’re just as bad as everyone else. Vik C. Ryan never seems to have been in anything much else; maybe he was chosen for his athletic prowess, which wouldn’t be unusual for Castellari who helped make stars out of former stuntmen such as Giancarlo Prete and Massimo Vanni. Unfortunately he’s just a dreadful, and Eleanora Albrecht and Maximiliano Hernando Bruno aren’t much better.