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Reveling in the exploits of a legendary Lothario who is a most unlikely subject for a celebratory biopic during the current #MeToo era, comeback-kid Russell Mulcahy’s In Like Flynn triumphs as a disgracefully entertaining romp that packs an unexpected emotional wallop.
Chronicling the adventurous late youth of golden-age Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn, the handsomely mounted production is inevitably brimming with boozing, brawling and bedding. But while rising Aussie star Thomas Cocquerel is suitably dashing as his notorious countryman — whose name, 59 years after his premature demise, remains a byword for bawdy offscreen excess — the real breakout here is British actor Clive Standen, comprehensively stealing the show in a flashy supporting role.
A stirring return to the limelight by mercurial director Mulcahy more than a decade after his previous theatrical feature, the Queensland-shot crowdpleaser bowed quietly at a small event in the northern state in late June and is set to open wide Down Under via Umbrella on Oct. 11. Reportedly slated for a hundred-venue U.S. theatrical release in January from Blue Fox, the rousingly executed, fast-paced throwback to simpler filmmaking days certainly deserves to be experienced on the biggest of screens. But it poses a tricky marketing challenge in terms of target demographics, and may only properly connect with its audience(s) further down the line via streaming, download and DVD.
The breezy script — credited to four writers including the subject’s grandson Luke, who also executive produces — is based on the Tasmania-born Casanova’s long out-of-print seafaring memoir Beam Ends. Published in 1937 in the wake of Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Flynn’s box-office double whammy of collaborations with director Michael Curtiz, the book recounts a hazardous expedition from Sydney to New Guinea with three mismatched mates in search of rumored gold.
An action-heavy prologue depicts Flynn’s shenanigans in the Guinean jungle, where his matinee-idol looks and devil-may-care bravery attract the interest of a small Hollywood crew headed by Joel Swartz (Dan Fogler, underused). Deliberately echoing the worlds of Indiana Jones and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, plus even older forebears, this section reveals Mulcahy in arrestingly confident, muscular form. Palpably responding to the pulpy material, he shows absolutely no sign of rustiness.
During Mulcahy’s protracted hiatus from cinemas since 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, the hugely influential maestro behind myriad seminal pop-videos of the 1970s and ’80s — plus cult favorites like Razorback (1985) and the first two Highlanders — hasn’t been idle. The Melburnian’s output included straight-to-video private eye spoof Give ’em Hell, Malone (2009) plus 39 episodes across the six seasons of MTV’s Teen Wolf (2011-17).
With the aid of slick cinematographer Peter Holland, editor Rodrigo Galart and composer David Hirschfelder, Mulcahy now socks over a frenetic, retro-styled yarn (wipe-transitions abound), punctuated with incident, crunchingly cartoonish violence and unbridled derring-do in the classic Boy’s Own adventure vein. Cumulatively impactful, it’s a hell of a return to form.
Not really a portrait of Flynn per se, the screenplay — co-written by Large and Flynn Jr with Steve M Albert and Marc Furmie — works effectively as an astute examination of how his world-famous louche-but-lively persona (“I have a genius for living. It’s the consequences I’m not so versed in,” he quips) was forged by his wild experiences. His close camaraderie with manly men is emphasized; Women are generally glamorous secondary figures here, though Isabel Lucas (as fiery femme fatale Rose) and Grace Huang (piratical/criminal mastermind Achuan) certainly have their moments and are no mere window dressing.
Arriving in a dynamic, rough-and-ready Sydney in 1930, with the iconic Harbour Bridge under construction, the ambitious 21-year-old Flynn — already catnip for the ladies — soon goes about plotting his return to the tropical north. He recruits his chums Rex (co-writer and producer Corey Large), a two-fistedly brawling but amiably dependable Canadian, and a foppish, callow Englishman mockingly nicknamed “Dook” (William Moseley).
Flynn impulsively commandeers the Sirocco, a small fishing boat whose actual ownership causes them major trouble from various quarters including a peskily persistent Achuan. It’s at this point, 20-odd minutes in, that Standen’s bulkily grizzled sea-dog Charlie — the craft’s proprietor — suddenly barrels onto the scene with gale-force intensity. Clearly modeled on Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws (a film of which Razorback was a semi-remake) with his sweaty nautical attire, extravagant facial hair and forbidding demeanor, Charlie’s bearish charisma variously calls to mind Oliver Reed, Tom Hardy and even a young Gerard Depardieu.
Blowing his game co-stars almost literally out of the water, the swaggering Standen (who played the Liam Neeson character in the two seasons of NBC’s tepidly received Taken prequel and earned stronger notices for a demanding role in MGM’s Vikings) arguably sails close to the edge of ham at times. But his extravagantly larger-than-life persona always feels as organic and authentic as his wind-blown, sun-blasted, drink-bloated appearance; puffing on an oversized pipe or just hulking around the deck, Charlie looks like he’s wandered in from a Melville-era whaling print.
As In Like Flynn progresses — including a protracted and ill-advised stopover in port which allows popular Oz actor David Wenham a bit of mustache-twirling villainy — Charlie’s tragic backstory gradually comes into focus. This yields touching results amid quiet moments of genuine pathos. And after what’s been largely a fizzy, tongue-in-cheek affair, an abrupt climax hits surprisingly somber notes — only partly leavened by a coda glimpsing Flynn’s subsequent leap to Hollywood prominence.
Will Cocquerel be the next Down Under heartthrob to follow the Tasmanian Devil’s pioneering footsteps? Also currently prominent in Ben Hackworth’s Queensland-shot Celeste, the likable Sydneysider has been anointed in certain quarters as “the next Chris Hemsworth,” although he’s facially closer to Armie Hammer. He’s certainly fetching enough sporting Brandoesque undershirts and/or when topless; at a rangy 6-foot-2, he is the same height and build as Flynn, and he nails the well-traveled young fellow’s Anglo-Australian accent. But while Cocquerel may be the alluring face and chiseled torso of In Like Flynn, it’s Standen who excitingly emerges as the ensemble’s ragged, gloriously beating heart.
Production companies: ILF AU, 308
Cast: Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen, Corey Large, William Moseley, Isabel Lucas, Grace Huang, David Wenham, Costas Mandylor
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Screenwriters: Steve M Albert, Luke Flynn, Corey Large, Marc Furmie (based on the book Beam Ends by Errol Flynn)
Producers: Corey Large, James M Vernon
Executive producers: Felipe Dieppa, Jeff Harrison, Luke Flynn, Joan LeSeur, Gary Ousdahl
Cinematographer: Peter Holland
Production designer: Nicholas McCallum
Costume designer: Glenn T
Editor: Rodrigo Balart
Composer: David Hirschfelder
Casting directors: Jessica Kelly, Ben Parkinson
Venue: CinefestOZ, Busselton, Western Australia
Sales: Blue Fox Entertainment, Los Angeles (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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