Lionsgate // 2010 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // April 22nd, 2011
The root of all evil.
"Part plant. Part animal. All bloodthirsty." That's the official tagline listed on the back cover of the Mandrake DVD, and to be honest, it made me cringe a little. As far as the film's synopsis is concerned, it mentions a group of adventurers accidentally unleashing a hungry beast by stealing a bejeweled dagger from an ancient burial ground. That made me cringe even more. Finally, after sitting through the first 20 minutes of Tripp Reed's made-for-TV horror flick, I was getting close to throwing in the towel for good. I did my best and gave Mandrake a fair chance, but oh boy, is this a tough one to sit through.
The synopsis didn't lie though. In the film, Max Martini stars as McCall, a fearless soldier accompanying a team of passionate explorers on their quest to retrieve an ancient dagger hidden somewhere in a jungle. While finding the thing is the easy part, it's dealing with the terrifying consequences of stealing it from its resting place that quickly poses a big problem for everybody involved with the expedition. You see, removing the dagger from its sacred resting place revives an old curse and releases a giant plant monster hungry for human flesh. Imagine what happens next.
While I'm more than willing to go a tad easy on mediocre special effects and forgettable acting (this film has plenty of both) when it comes to TV movies, I simply can't make any exceptions for disastrous storytelling. Mandrake is cursed with an awful script that pretty much ruins the entire film, and there's simply no excuse for such a major screwup. Superficial characters and so-so action sequences aside, all this feature has to offer is a lousy, repetitive cat-and-mouse game between a group of eager adventurers and a weird plant monster. Not very exciting.
Horror films following a group of humans hunted down by a giant monster can of course be a lot of fun to watch, but Mandrake lacks all the ingredients of a solid thriller. While the setting of the dense jungle provides a few opportunities to generate a suspenseful atmosphere merely through the film's location, the monster McCall and his team have to deal with isn't particularly threatening. The plot remains pedestrian while the movie's pace hits lots of bumps along the way, and it takes our heroes forever to figure out a way to defeat the plant beast. Some of the killings result in a little bit of gore, but none of this is mind-blowing. The effects are average at best.
Mandrake lacks a decent story and suspense, but what's the deal with the characters and cast? Sadly enough, not one of these people is particularly interesting. Martini's character McCall sure is a badass when it comes to fighting and all that stuff, but the dude is so brainless, you'll forget about him pretty quickly. Also starring is Betsy Russell. Although she looks pretty good in this, her character is just as shallow as the rest of them. Additionally, she's stuck with some of the film's cheesiest lines (and there's plenty of those as well). I could keep on sifting through the remaining actors, but I'd only repeat myself.
Despite everything else collapsing pretty early, Mandrake doesn't look all that bad in terms of technical aspects, and Lionsgate offers a pretty clean, sharp 1.78:1 widescreen video transfer boasting a solid picture quality. Audio is presented in either 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo, and the former sure does the job adequately. If you're looking for special features on the DVD, you'll be disappointed; this one's got nothing to offer in that department.
Mandrake is not the worst horror flick I've seen lately, but it doesn't have any merit either. The terrible script is obviously the film's biggest weakness. The lack of consistent suspense, the bad acting and the so-so special effects eventually make things only worse. You won't miss much by skipping this one.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated