Thursday, August 4, 2016

Swaze Fights the New Cold War

Review: Icon (2005) with Patrick Swayze, Ben Cross, Peter Bergin

I was excited to see the re-outing last night of a TV-movie made in 2005, starring Patrick Swayze, and adapted from Frederick Forsyth’s excellent Icon. Okay, it would be broken up by commercials, but—Patrick Swayze! And Fred Forsyth!

After playing a drag queen in To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar in 1995, Wesley Snipes stepped into the ultra-macho Blade Daywalker character. (Then he stepped in a pile of problems with the IRS. But that's a different horror story.)

After To Wong Fu, John Leguizamo went right back to playing (or voicing) complex oddball characters in movies and on Broadway. Leguizamo's meat had always been those supporting parts.

But Patrick Swayze almost vanished for several years following his drag-queen turn. After so many sweet, sensitive—but essentially masculine—starring roles, the sweet sensitive Vida Boheme of To Wong Fu may have been just a bit too close to the edge.

Oh, he got cameos and supporting roles. Donnie Darko, for example, has a great Swayze moment or two. He appeared in a couple of films as a dance instructor. But I’d heard Swayze really wanted to play bad guys, and those roles didn’t seem to mesh with his Latin motion.

Then came Icon. To start with, the “icon” of the film and that of the book are totally different. The movie never really develops the icon idea, in fact. But Swayze gets to play Jason Monk, a somewhat-bad guy, a secret agent who abandoned his Russian wife and child in that country when he was “made” by really-bad guy Anotoly Grishin (Ben Cross of Chariots of Fire and Exorcist: The Beginning). The novel thoroughly explores the troubled past and poor decisions of Monk; the movie reduces them to the single sin of abandonment. We also don’t get to see the reasons behind the CIA double-cross that is central to the plot; it just happens.

The best bad guy in the film is a Russian Presidential candidate, vaguely post-Putin. Igor Komarov (excellently played by Patrick Bergin) runs a pharmaceutical firm, and has secret yearnings to commit genocide. They’re not secret enough, though. When his company is burgled and a vial of a nasty super-Ebola bug is taken, the game is on. Swayze is unable to track down the thief before the virus is released, but with the help of his daughter and a comely Russian KGB agent (sorry, that’s FBS now, I think), he manages to stop Komarov.

There are a couple of other wonderful casting choices. Jeff Fahey plays a slimy Russian campaign manager, using US-style spin-and-dodge to help his man Komarov win at any cost. And Joss Acklund, who usually plays a nasty fellow, or at least a genial boob, is the good-guy candidate General Nikolayev. Together with Swayze and Bergin, they keep the film from descending to a hopeless waste of air-time. Barely.

So my recommendation is, if you’ve read the book, don’t expect the film to match it. If you’re a Swayze fan, it’s definitely worth the time. If neither is true, skip the movie. Buy the book.

Liner Notes:

DrPat is a Swayze fan, in case that wasn't clear. I enjoyed him as the sensitive romantic, and dug all the bad guy roles of his later career—right up until his terminal outing in The Beast on TV, which I watched at the time it originally aired. Like nearly everyone, I was stunned when Patrick Swayze died in September 2009.