movie film review | chris tookey


1998 - Warner Brothers. Photo by David Appleby . - all rights reserved
  Avengers Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
2.64 /10
John Steed..... Ralph Fiennes , Emma Peel.... Uma Thurman , Scottish nutter... Sean Connery
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Directed by: Jeremiah Chechik
Written by: Don MacPherson

Released: 1998
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 90

A mad genius who has gained control of the world's climate (Sean Connery) is trying to make the world pay for its weather. Two secret agents (Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, pictured) set out to thwart him.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The Avengers went down in history as the first film ever to be released simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic without a press screening.

Not unnaturally, many of us have been intrigued as to why. After all, film companies have shown stinkers like The Saint, which survived a critical mauling to pull in respectable audiences on its first weekend. How on earth could The Avengers be worse?

When we saw it, we knew. The Avengers is such a turkey that Warner Brothers would have done better to hand over its distribution to Bernard Matthews.

How does one give an in-depth review to something with the weight, charm and sophistication of a used handkerchief?

The premise is quite promising. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell what happens to it, or why. The whole script appears to have been assembled by an untalented, 11 year-old Martian, handed a series of clapped-out ideas from other movies, but utterly unable to cobble them together in an intelligible or logical manner.

The film entitles Jeremiah Chechik, the director, to take his place among the cinema's pantheon of numbskulls. His previous epic, Diabolique, a remake of the French film classic, was rightly called "a masterwork remade by cretins". This is even more dismally incompetent.

The TV series The Avengers was not, perhaps, a masterwork; but it had consistently ingenious plots, a nice sense of its own silliness, and a pair of charismatic leads (especially in Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg) with a gift for ironic, urbane comedy.

Looking back at old episodes, I was struck by the wit of the screenplays (especially those by Philip Levene), the way the show managed to be sexily suggestive without being smutty, and the skill with which the art directors and production managers made a small budget go a long way.

This film has none of that.

Even normally reliable actors give the worst performances of their lives. Sean Connery puts the cause of Scottish nationalism back a hundred years with hamming that would have got him booed out of the White Heather Club.

Ralph Fiennes as John Steed meanders through it all, looking mildly bewildered and disdainful, like a Methodist minister at a papal orgy. He betrays no sense of humour, still less any sense of Uma.

This is understandable since Uma Thurman, struggling to maintain an English accent as Emma Peel, gives the sort of performance that has one examining her anxiously for termite damage. I do not exaggerate when I say that it is the worst performance I have ever seen in the cinema - all the more abject when one compares her to Diana Rigg in the role.

Chechik's direction and Don MacPherson's script are ideally suited, in that both lack any idea of subtlety, humour, charm, elegance, excitement, suspense or sympathy for the original series.

Their idea of a terrific joke is to have the English characters drink lots of tea. This is so hilariously funny that it becomes a kind of humourless running joke - though the word "running" implies a pace that the film sadly lacks.

When action sequences do occur - infrequently - they are beset by risible special effects, poor direction and actors who look incapable of athleticism.

Eddie Izzard, an actor with the grace and physique of a collapsing sack of potatoes, is ludicrously cast as the chief heavy. The final showdown betwen Fiennes and Connery is both unexciting and distasteful - it looks as though Stan Laurel is mugging a sad old pensioner.

I wish I could report that The Avengers is amusingly bad. It is not. It is a colossal bore, like someone's idea of sadistic revenge on moviegoers stupid enough to flock to anything with a recognisable brand name.

So now you know why they wouldn't show this to the critics.

It is no accident that the last films to receive this treatment were three of the worst films ever made. Caligula (1979) was probably the least erotic sex movie of all time. The Scarlet Letter (1995), kept from the British critics after the American ones had slaughtered it and its star Demi Moore, ended up - like its heroine - ostracised by the community.

Then, there was The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), barred from the critics over here because, as one of the film's spokesmen said, British hacks "can be very negative, very vitriolic". That didn't stop them showing it to Barry Norman, but he didn't like it either.

The Avengers is, by a comfortable margin, the worst film of the four.

The lesson is clear. A distributor who keeps his movie from the critics has an unsellable product, and is trying to tempt enough suckers to see it on a first weekend on the strength of star names and publicity campaign, in an effort to recoup some of his investment before adverse word of mouth can get around. This film is an insult to cinema - and to the audience.

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