Our review of In Like Flint (Blu-ray), published March 11th, 2013, is also available.
Flint's back in action…in danger…in the Virgin Islands…where the bad guys…are girls!
That just about says it all, doesn't it?
Facts of the Case
Secret agent Derek Flint (James Coburn, reprising his star turn in Our Man Flint) is summoned back into service by former boss Lloyd Cramden (Lee J. Cobb, the original owner of the Shiloh Ranch on TV's The Virginian), head of the shadowy government organization Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage, for anyone who wandered in since the previous Flint movie). Cramden's convinced that things are not quite right with President Trent (familiar stock player Andrew Duggan, perhaps most recognized as the actor who portrayed President Dwight Eisenhower in practically every TV movie about 1950s politics) after an odd incident on the golf course that left Cramden with three minutes he can neither remember nor account for. With his incredible knowledge of almost every scientific discipline—he's added hypnosis and cetacean linguistics to his repertoire since the last film—playboy Flint is the one man Cramden believes can get to the bottom…of the mystery, that is.
The plot Flint uncovers involves a group of wealthy businesswomen who have for years been secretly brainwashing the housewives of America using beauty salon hairdryers that secrete subliminal programming into the ladies' minds as they fluff. Their aim? To overthrow masculine-dominated society and install big-haired bikini babes as the new sheriffs in town. (Stick with me here, folks—this was 1967, remember?) The cabal's top agent (Jean Hale, The Oscar), posing as a cosmetics representative, has lured Flint's trio of resident gal-pals to a posh ladies-only resort in the Caribbean, called "Fabulous Face," for mental makeovers. The girls prove uncommonly resistant to suggestion, however, due to their powerful attraction to Flint. As it turns out, Fabulous Face is also the place where the kidnapped President Trent is being stashed, while an actor named Sebastian (Duggan again)—his features surgically altered to match the Commander-in-Chief to a T—rules the White House in Trent's place.
Of course, you know our man Flint isn't going to allow this state of affairs to continue. So after a fact-finding mission to Moscow, where he hooks up with double-agent-slash-ballerina Natasha (Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig in a brief cameo) and effects a narrow escape from the KGB, the world's greatest spy makes his way to the Virgin Islands (on a Cuba-bound plane, disguised as Fidel Castro) to nip the nefarious überfeminist plot in the bud (so to speak), rescue his damsels in distress, defeat the doppelganger President, and—oh yeah—save the world from nuclear destruction by an orbital space platform manned (so to speak) by voluptuous female cosmonauts. (I know, you're wondering where that last part came from. Trust me—you'll just have to see the flick for yourself.)
Watching In Like Flint immediately on the heels of its popular predecessor Our Man Flint raised a question in my mind: who is this guy, and what has he done with Derek Flint? For indeed, the Flint of this lame, limp sequel is not at all the man of the original film. The title character of Our Man Flint is the consummate Americanized spin on the 007 motif—a tough, stylish superspy with charisma to burn. The title character of In Like Flint looks like the same fellow, and is even played by the same actor, but he's undergone a radical personality shift during the year-and-a-half between movies. This latter Flint is, by comparison, a wimp. He's low-key, laid-back, and amazingly deferential toward Cramden, whom he could barely tolerate in the first picture. Gone almost entirely is the gritty charm, the brassy bravado, and the jittery energy that made the character so compelling. You can't take your eyes off Coburn in Our Man Flint; in the sequel, you can scarcely hold them open.
I had to check twice to verify that the same writer (Hal Fimberg) scripted both films, and so the credits say. But whether on his own or at the behest of the beancounters at Fox, Fimberg fumbled a number of the details this go-around. For example, Z.O.W.I.E., previously shown to be an international intelligence organization, is now a U.S. government agency that apparently runs the manned space program (what? and why would the head of such an agency have his office in the White House?). Numerous other little bits and pieces simply don't add up. (Okay, it's not a serious film. But still…)
Schlockmeister Gordon Douglas, who in the mid-'60s was raking in the bucks babysitting Frank Sinatra through a series of mediocre action flicks (Robin and the Seven Hoods, Tony Rome, The Detective, Lady in Cement), has to take the brunt of the blame for the failure of this picture to ignite. Douglas's obvious, paint-by-numbers direction emasculates the Flint character. Where Coburn played his hand brilliantly in the first film, he's apparently being told to tone it down this time, and the transition from cool and cocksure to calm and casual is definitely not an improvement. Douglas makes Flint come off as too human when he should be heroic. With the meal ticket—Coburn—so tightly reined in, the movie around him can't take flight, so it simply plods along through its increasingly silly plot (if plot is indeed the word) until it ends, much too late.
Perhaps the filmmakers thought that the only appeal of Our Man Flint was its comedy. If so, they thought incorrectly. Our Man Flint works because, though it's clearly a satire, it takes its derring-do more or less seriously and Coburn plays its main character with a straight face. Here, scribe Fimberg and director Douglas appear far too much in a hurry to get to the next joke or sight gag, and as a consequence we completely stop caring about Flint and what happens to him. (Coburn is also off camera for thuddingly lengthy stretches of the picture, while Cobb and the gaggle of actresses run about doing pointless bits of business. At times I thought the title of the flick had changed to In Like Cramden.) The worst thing that can occur in an action film is for the audience to lose rooting interest in the hero. I lost it pretty early during In Like Flint.
Again hoping to make bank on the back of the latest installment of the Austin Powers franchise this summer, Fox has released In Like Flint (along with Our Man Flint) on DVD with an attractive new transfer. To my eye, the sequel actually presents even cleaner than the original, and avoids most of the minor digital artifacting and print defects apparent on the first Flint DVD. The colors are warmer here, less fluorescent and garish, and both blacks and whites show up with greater clarity.
Unfortunately, a similarly irritating and harsh mono mix can be heard on both discs. In Like Flint sounded a tad less shrill to me, but I'm not certain whether my ears simply adjusted to all the bright treble or if this track is actually better balanced than the other. Fans of jangly, jazz-based movie scores from the '60s will appreciate Jerry Goldsmith's music; a fair number of the main thematic elements from his Our Man Flint score repeat here.
Both Flint DVDs include the trailers for both films, as well as trailers for Raquel Welch's Fathom and Monica Vitti's Modesty Blaise. The latter two items should be viewed with a box of Triscuits or Wheat Thins handy, because crackers make a nice accompaniment to cheese. And speaking of cheese, In Like Flint stands out on your DVD rack in an Amaray case that's the color of Wisconsin longhorn cheddar—extra sharp.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's one thing to say, as Our Man Flint does, that a character in a film is sufficiently skilled in the art of dance to teach ballet in Moscow. If, however, you plan to show the character exhibiting this skill in the sequel, it might be appropriate to (a) hire a double for the dance sequences or (b) hire an actor who's actually studied ballet. In In Like Flint, James Coburn and Yvonne Craig inflict upon the audience the most embarrassing and painful exhibition of the balletic arts this side of Top Secret!. When the KGB arrives in the next scene, I thought they were going to arrest the two actors for impersonating dancers without a license. That rumble you hear is Rudolf Nureyev turning a pirouette in his grave.
In Like Flint demonstrates the reason why sequels get a bad name. Derek Flint, as defined by James Coburn in Our Man Flint, is a character worthy of a second opportunity to shine. Too bad this was it.
If Flint you seek, stick with the original. Skip this senseless, clueless, and colorless rehash.
The Court finds everyone involved with In Like Flint guilty of perpetrating a fraud, and sentences them to two weeks under a hairdryer that whispers instructions on how to make a decent sequel. We're adjourned.
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