We have my friend Vicky to thank for this review – when I showed her a list of the SyFy Channel original movies I’d yet to review, this one leapt out at her. For good reason, I mean, “Aladdin and the Death Lamp” is a badass title, but for those of us who live in the cinematic gutter, we know a great title is no guarantee of a great movie. Perhaps there’s an “Uncanny Valley” style thing for movie titles, where normal ones are okay, then wacky ones are good, really wacky ones…drop into a pit of misery!…then the really really really wacky ones emerge victorious on the other side.
I miss the old-fashioned genies, who would just hang out, wearing sweet robes, granting three wishes. Blah blah “closer to the original legends” blah blah, we see four magicians fighting an evil jinn (which is a really good special effect, by the way, it feels like it has some weight and exists in the world of the movie), while at the same time getting a voiceover which fills the uninitiated in on the myth. Vanquished and trapped in a lamp – why is it always a lamp, I wonder? – we then leap forward in time to where our hero Aladdin and one of his buddies are doing a spot of tomb-robbing.
Rather than finding the lamp straight away, they find a book that leads them to the lamp, and this book intrigues salesman / murder enthusiast Abdul, as well as Aladdin’s foster-siblings and –father, so there’s all manner of shenanigans out in the wilderness. Can they control the jinn? Stop it from opening its portal to the jinn dimension and unleashing a torrent of murder on the people of Earth?
I first became aware of director Mario Azzopardi from “Highlander: The Series”, one of those cheesy shows from the 90s I adore. Knowing he’s one of those Canada-based guys who’s directed a ton of TV, I then started paying a bit of attention to the backgrounds, and noticed how…let’s be polite…it doesn’t look remotely like the Middle East. Not even a bit. It looks like rural Canada in the spring, and it’s so awful it draws you out of the movie at times. But as we try to be a bit positive about SyFy’s TV movies, one thing they have done is got an almost entirely non-Caucasian cast, which is an event so rare in mainstream movies that it deserves an approving mention.
Now, if it had been a good non-Caucasian cast, we’d have been onto a real winner. But before we get going, a sad RIP for Aladdin himself, Darren Shahlavi, who died suddenly in January 2015 of a rare heart condition. He was born in my part of the world before going off to Hong Kong and then Hollywood, doing stunt work and acting, and while he wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, he gave a little movie like this his all. Complimenting him is Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica), but basically everyone else in this movie sucks, with wooden line readings and bizarre facial expressions aplenty – special criticism to Eugene Clark as father/mentor Khalil, who takes (admittedly, not great) dialogue and mangles it so it resembles more a close cousin to English than English itself.
Like so many SyFy movies, that second act is a real problem. I like the characters and their introduction – you sort of believe Aladdin is a driven guy who’ll ignore good advice, the moral quandary his friends are in rings true…then there’s a ton of wandering about the forest as the lamp and control of the jinn is passed to and fro among the cast. When the plot gets going again, it picks up, but that mid-movie lull is a killer.
And before we leave the rich world of SyFy for another day, the jinn himself. Later on in the movie, it seems to need people to make a wish before it kills them. Okay, I have no problem with that. But at the beginning of the movie, it’s killing people willy-nilly, and the end too. Stick to your own damn rules!
It’s a fun title and a great potential backdrop (I love that rich world of adventure you can get from that medieval / Middle East setting), but wasted on this.
Rating: thumbs down