Friday, 15 February 2019

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 11:
The Quest

It is with a heavy heart that I must once again draw your attention to another film starring Roger Moore that is, in the words of Charles Dickens, a steaming mountain of cackapoopoo. Why Rog cursed himself with all this guff remains a mystery, although clues can often be found where there's an exotic location, a large paycheque and a minimal amount of effort involved. And so we journey to Thailand under the direction of none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme for The Quest, a martial arts extravaganza in which, sadly, the Muscles From Brussels at no point engages in hand-to-hand combat with the, er, Briton From Britain.
"I must warn you, I'm Roger Moore"

The Quest is the first slice of Rogertainment that isn't, strictly speaking, a Roger Moore film. It is, of course, a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. You can tell because JCVD's name is above the title and Rog's isn't - a state of affairs which our hero recalls in his autobiography My Word Is My Bond as a Judas-level betrayal. Quite right too: like most films we've covered on these pages, Roger Moore is the only thing that makes The Quest worth watching. Aside from his gimlet-eyed turn as a Flashman-esque bounder, the film is an uninspired and laughably feeble excuse for a series of mixed martial arts fights, directed by its meat-slab star with all the panache of an actual slab of meat.

Van Damme opens his film with a truly stupid framing device. He's an old man in a bar (the old man makeup extends to a grey wig and a couple of wrinkles) who beats up a generic gang of punks despite the encumbrance of his age and hairpiece, then drifts off into a misty-eyed reminiscence of that time he met Roger Moore in 1925 and fucked him out of his above-the-title credit. We see young JCVD in New York, in clown makeup for some reason - quite possibly in tribute to Rog's unforgettably dignified depiction of James Bond in Octopussy, where he put on a red nose and some floppy shoes to defuse a nuclear bomb. Van Damme isn't a suave spy though: he's Chris Dubois, a Fagin-like bum who hangs around with a mob of street urchins living hand-to-mouth and stealing to feed themselves. Also he is unbelievably ripped and a highly skilled fighter, but for some reason those qualities do not seem to have helped him find gainful employment as yet.
Consider Yourself... DEAD MEAT

A number of obvious questions arise from having an absurdly buff man hanging around on street corners with a pack of under-age boys who would do anything for food, but The Quest isn't about to address them. Instead, through a convoluted series of unlikely events, Dubois is forced to abandon his pre-pubescent pocket-picking pals and ends up a stowaway on a boat heading for the far east. Despite being shackled in chains by the crew for some time he remains unbelievably ripped, and his fighting skills are put to good use when his boat is boarded by pirates led by Admiral Lord Edgar Dobbs, aka Sir Roger George Moore KBE. Van Damme the director at least has the good grace to give Rog a terrific first shot (literally):
BOOM

A ruck ensues, and Dobbs notes that Dubois is "the best fighter I've ever seen," even though all Van Damme does in this sequence is kick a guy in the nuts then do a flip. Dobbs rescues Dubois only to sell him into slavery, and six months later their paths cross again in Bangkok while Dobbs is trying to get into the knickers of Carrie Newton, a sexy American journalist half his age. Classic Rog! This unlikely trio, along with Dobbs' bosun Harry and an American boxer called Devine, team up to get Dubois into the Ghang-ghen, a World Cup of mixed martial arts where great fighters from around the world compete for a large and frankly cumbersome gold dragon. Dubois aims to win the dragon to save his under-age Manhattan muppets from the streets, but Dobbs fancies the dragon for himself because he is, at heart, a right twat.

The remainder of this sub-Enter The Dragon / Kickboxer mash-up is a half-hour sequence of fights in which every competitor is a cringing racial stereotype: the Spanish fighter prances about like he's dancing a flamenco; the Brazilian entrant does a lot of fancy capoeira; the Scottish guy wears a kilt; a Japanese sumo wrestler is accompanied by a gurgling sound effect every time his flab wobbles, and a black man wearing assorted tribal gear is there to represent the "country" of Africa. And let's not forget those inscrutable orientals, all of whom are either villains, servants or accomplished martial artists.

Predictably Dubois wins the competition, but not the golden dragon; it turns out that the freedom of his friends and implied intercourse with the film's only female character (who serves literally no other purpose) were the real prizes all along. In his closing old-man waffle speech, Dubois casually tosses off the fact that he got the kids off the streets of New York anyway, rendering the entire story utterly pointless.
Although he does do the splits in mid-air so it's not a total waste of time

Throughout all this Roger Moore achieves the inconsiderable feat of being the best of The Quest's leads, and you have to wonder if one of the reasons he accepted the role was the implicit guarantee that he couldn't possibly be the worst actor on the show. Naturally more charismatic than, well, everyone, Rog twinkles as Dobbs: an absolute cad, an untrustworthy rogue, a liar, a thief, a mercenary and an opportunist. He represents the charming, smug face of the British Empire, smirking and smiling while doing dodgy arms deals, selling slaves and generally fucking everyone over for a few quid. Whether Van Damme intended this biting historical critique when he scrawled down his story in crayon is up for debate, but Rog seems well aware of it. He doesn't get much action beyond that early gunfight and a brief stint in a stolen German zeppelin (he did his knee in on location and spent much of the film in a cast), but he clearly relishes playing against type as an antihero.

In his memoirs, Rog describes Van Damme and The Quest's producer Moshe Diamant as the only two people in showbusiness he really dislikes (temporarily forgetting all about Grace Jones), meaning his appearance in the film of a man having a good time suggests he's a much better actor than he's usually given credit for. His scenes with Jack McGee as Harry, the Smee to Rog's Captain Hook, are relaxed and warm, possibly because McGee's on-set flatulence was a constant source of irritation to Jean-Claude Van Damme and amusement to Roger Moore. I don't doubt for a moment that a spinoff series of films about Dobbs and Harry's globetrotting twattery (preferably written by George MacDonald Fraser) would have been a colossal lark for Rog and a cinematic treat for the entire world. Alas, it was not to be: the remainder of his acting career would consist of cameos in films that people only watched while under eight years old, or drunk, or both.
"I say old chap, have you recently launched a
stink-rocket from your hidden underground base?"
"Mm-hm"
"Brilliant"

So it's a workmanlike but welcome Rogerformance, one that just about makes The Quest worth watching but hardly a shining example of our magnificently-eyebrowed hero's finest work. After making this ill-advised disaster headlined by actors of limited talent, Rog would leave crass incompetence behind him by moving on to (*checks filmography*), uh, Spiceworld: The Movie. But that's another story.

Rogerating:

Bonus fun: at the very end, it turns out that old JCVD has been reading from a book entitled The Quest by Carrie Newton, who it turns out was good for more than just a congratulatory shag to reinforce the hero's masculinity after all that oiled-up, semi-naked grunting and grappling. With apologies for the low resolution (I wasn't about to buy The Quest on Blu-ray), I encourage you to read the first page of this book, as presented in the film, to the end.

2 comments :

  1. Wait until you get to see The Sicilian Cross...

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  2. Dead roght! " I don't doubt for a moment that a spinoff series of films about Dobbs and Harry's globetrotting twattery (preferably written by George MacDonald Fraser) would have been a colossal lark for Rog and a cinematic treat for the entire world." I though the very same the first time I watched the movie there was a really great chemistry between McGee and Rog and it was opportunity lost

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