Judge Mike Pinsky reviews this movie about a girl named Jane and a lost city, possibly Dubuque.
"And you—you're a woman, man!"—Jungle Jack Buck (Sam Jones)
If you feared that the British sex farce died with Benny Hill and the Carry On films, look no further than Jane and the Lost City, the much anticipated Hollywood blockbuster adaptation of the beloved British comic strip. Well, okay, remove the words "much anticipated," "Hollywood blockbuster," and "beloved" from the preceding sentence. And underline the word "strip."
Facts of the Case
The year is 1940. Our brave boys in Britain battle the Nazi threat wherever they find it. The Colonel (Robin Henry, who played the role on a short lived UK "Jane" TV series), his faithful butler Tombs (Graham Stark), and his lovely assistant Jane (Kirsten Hughes) head off on a mission to darkest Africa in search of the legendary "Lost City"—it has no other name apparently, just Lost City—and its cache of hyperbolically large diamonds. In pursuit: Jane's nemesis, Nazi agent Lola Pagola (Maud Adams) and her henchmen. Will our heroes and their brave American friend Jack Buck (Sam Jones) find the diamonds in time? Will the director find enough excuses to show Jane in her underwear?
Every week, The Onion runs a feature called "Films That Time Forgot." Oh, how I wish this film had been so soundly forgotten. Based on a British cheesecake comic strip popular during World War II (and a forerunner to sharper satire strips like the French "Barbarella" and Michael O'Donoghue's "Phoebe Zeitgeist"), "Jane" was once what wartime critics would call a "morale booster." America had a few as well, from Milton Caniff's "Male Call" to those famous posters of Betty Grable. Jane would cheerfully battle Nazis and show off her underwear. Harmless fun.
Of course, that was in the 1940s. Somewhere along the way, like Mrs. Havisham's wedding cake in Great Expectations, the whole business became moldy and stale, and probably slightly toxic. And then somebody put it all on celluloid and called it Jane and the Lost City.
Here is an example of the level of humor (a word I use here only in its loosest sense): Jane bends over. The Colonel gapes at her shapely gams. Jane turns around and innocently remarks, "Admiring the view?" The Colonel looks flustered and pretends he is looking at a nearby ship. Wait a beat for the audience to laugh.
No laugh? Let's try again. The Colonel remarks to Jack, as they tramp through the underbrush, "Well, suppose we meet a lion." Jack responds, "Well, I'll tell you what you do, sir. You look that big boy right in the eye, and you outstare him. Works every time. Well, almost every time." Jack awkwardly feels his side (or at least I think so, since the camera is on the wrong side of the shot).
"Almost?" says the Colonel.
"Yeah," quips Jack. "Some lions are short-sighted."
Honestly, this movie doesn't even really have jokes: it sets up comic situations every now and then, pads them out endlessly looking for something funny, then, not finding a joke lurking anywhere, the film sullenly moves on. A mincing Nazi assassin tears out Sam Jones' chest hair as torture. A boat heads toward a waterfall, only to abruptly cut away. Then, the heroes are standing in the doorway of their hotel, soaking wet. All this actually sounds much funnier when I write it than it actually is on film—believe me, you can picture better comic timing in your mind. The film itself does not even have the benefit of Ed Wood-style improvisation to make up for its deficiencies in budget or acting. Or writing. Or directing.
And oh, the acting: the principals have as much chemistry as a tube of argon gas. Totally inert. Maud Adams cannot remember her accent half the time (assuming she is even trying). Sam Jones overemotes like he learned all the wrong acting lessons from his stint on Flash Gordon (a comic book movie which was at least funny in its campiness, as opposed to merely painful). A film like this might have easily been cheerful and cute, if the performers actually seemed like they were enjoying themselves. Take The Phantom for instance: Billy Zane seems to be having so much fun playing a superhero that his enthusiasm itself carries the film. Nobody in Jane and the Lost City seems to be having any fun at all. Every grin is strained.
How about the writing and direction? Equally bad. Director Terry Marcel is probably best known for the derivative Hawk the Slayer and plenty of forgettable television shows. Writer Mervyn Haisman penned some episodes of Doctor Who. Neither seems to have much of a grasp of what to do with material like this. They neither play it as straight adventure (like Indiana Jones, which this is conspicuously meant to cash in on) or as over the top satire. Every jungle movie cliché, from the insultingly infantile savagery of the African natives to the manly white hero who refers to the country as "my Africa," is recycled unselfconsciously. Instead, Marcel and Haisman seem more interested in how many more minutes it will take to show off Jane's underwear to the audience.
And what about Anchor Bay's packaging of this pointless film? Unfortunately, I don't even have much nice to say about this either. The film looks overexposed and washed out, giving the characters a grayish pallor in some scenes. In other scenes, the color seems to visibly distort. And a couple of times, there is major blocking—inexcusable for a new release. The sound is fine, assuming you really want to listen to the insipid dialogue. There is a theatrical trailer included, but beyond that nothing. No subtitles. Nothing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can think of nothing positive to say about this film. It is not inept enough to be funny, and even fans of the comic strip (are there any?) are unlikely to find any nostalgia here. The best I can say is that the disc makes a nice whizzing sound when you fling it. And I can put some better movie in the keep case.
Someone on Amazon described this film as "mellow" and praised its ability to put him to sleep. Why would you pay $25 for that privilege, when a bottle of Tylenol PM costs only a couple of dollars?
Well, on second thought, if you were forced to sit through this movie, you might be tempted instead to swallow the entire bottle of pills in protest. So forget I said anything.
Everyone involved in this movie, as well as whomever is responsible for Anchor Bay's shoddy production of this DVD, is sentenced to watch this film repeatedly until blood comes out of their ears.
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