Knight at the Movies Archives
Brendan Fraser returns in a perfect Saturday matinee movie, a charming French spy farce is replete with homoerotic undertones
Brendan Fraser, after an absence of several years from action blockbuster movies is back this summer with not one but two
anticipated entries in the overstuffed genre. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the fourth installment of the Mummy series
arrives at the end of July and Journey to the Center of the Earth has just opened. The latter is yet another big screen version
of the Jules Verne novel which goes heavy on the 3-D effects and light on the bone crunching action sequences. The expensive
budget and trailer might lead you to think this is something for adults more than kids – a quest adventure along the lines of the
National Treasure movies, say – but the opposite is true. But that turns out to be a good thing. If I could get in my way back
machine and order up a movie to perfectly suit my 11 year-old sensibilities it would contain every element to be found in this rip
roaring Journey. What we have in director Eric Brevig’s debut feature is nothing short of a terrific Saturday matinee, something along
the lines of In Search of the Castaways (which it resembles).
Even from a much older perspective, the movie, with its endless silly but endearing 3-D effects won me over completely and tapped
into my unsung youth and all the beloved Harryhausen pictures. Though not nearly as memorable as the 1959 James Mason-Pat
Boone-Arlene Dahl version with its iconic Bernard Herrmann score, this Journey never drags, lays on the special effects, and has an
innocent vitality missing in a lot of other action films of its ilk. It also has a nice, lush score by Andrew Lockington that at moments
makes one forget Herrmann’s work – and that’s saying something.
Best, however, is the boyish, earnest Fraser in the title role. He’s the perfect leading man to helm such a picture (as he is The
Mummy series) and it’s great to see him back in action. He’s not a great actor – far from it – but with such a sunny, winning
personality he’s a performer that movie audiences can root for. There’s also a certain deftness, a fleet of foot feeling to his
onscreen persona that shines through in these big budget pictures (he showed darker qualities to good effect in Gods & Monsters
along with tremendous sexiness).
The movie finds Fraser playing Trevor Anderson, a distracted scientist who goes in search of his missing brother. Trevor brings along
his 13 year-old nephew Sean (played by Bridge to Terabithia’s Josh Hutcherson) in the hunt for Sean’s father. Led by Hannah, their
comely and very competent guide, the search takes the trio into the earth’s core. Once they arrive at the earth’s center the special
effects kick into high gear (as do even more 3-D shots) along with the requisite chills and a certain amount of thrills. Like a theme
park ride, the whole thing zips along from set piece to set piece and wraps up in a race to the finish line 92 minutes.
Though this Journey has been de-sexed – there’s no hunky, shirtless Pat Boone, no Norse blond hulk, no sensual Arlene Dahl or
James Mason – there’s still plenty of visual splendor to pass the time and you get to keep those nifty 3-D glasses to boot at the end
of the ride. Nice bonus.
I thought after the okay but not great Get Smart that I wouldn’t have much use for another spy spoof anytime soon. But a French
twist on the genre, OSS 117: Cairo, Next of Spies, in spite of its hamstrung title, has made me revise my opinion. The film is
the first distributed by Music Box Films, an adjunct of Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. The movie is set in the 1950s (but looks and
sounds like the James Bond of the 1960s). The “OSS 117” of the title refers to Hubert’s (Jean Dujardin) spy designation (a variation
on “007”). Hubert is a cross between Austin Powers and Inspector Clouseau but like those two bumblers, his shark skin suits and
phony bravado somehow make him an irresistible chick magnet. Hubert is sent to Cairo to pick up where a fellow agent left off after
being murdered. In the movie’s first of many homoerotic references each time the agent’s name is mentioned Hubert daydreams
wistfully about a day on the beach frolicking and wrestling with him and then snaps back to reality with a smile on his face. Later
Hubert tells a gorgeous brunette accomplice (in the Elizabeth Hurley role) that his revolver (which he holds at crotch level) has
“Unsealed lots of lips of both men and women” as he threatens her.
The homoerotic subtext is continued in the racy dialogue during a sequence in a steambath in which Hubert seems to enjoy his
rubdown a little too much. When Hubert is trapped inside a pyramid with some Nazi’s they taunt him with gay slurs about his love for
“wieners,” purposely misinterpreting remarks Hubert made in the sauna. He emphatically denies any gay proclivities (and beds the
requisite female beauties) but the point is referenced again and again for comedic effect throughout the movie with Hubert each
time denying any gay bent – but given the homoerotic beach scene reverie – too strongly perhaps? Regardless of Agent OSS 117’s
true sexual nature (perhaps a sequel will flesh this out), OSS 177: Cairo, Nest of Spies is a gently amusing and a stylish addition to
the spy spoof genre with an engaging cast and suitably silly performance by Dujardin. In French with subtitles.
Light as a Feather:
Journey to the Center of the Earth-OSS 117
7-11-08 Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*I originally wrote about OSS 117 in my 6-25 WCT column when the film played in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre but didn't post
my review at KATM that week so here it is now and here's my Journey review as well.