Once again, SyFy Channel have made a movie that I imagine looked a lot better on paper than it did in execution. Adrian Paul, who’s a fine comedic leading man, as a heavily fictionalised version of Sir Francis Drake, with tales of derring-do as he takes on Spanish captain Don Sandovate – played by the Maori actor Temuera Morrison. Throw a few CGI creatures in there and that’s your recipe for a SyFy movie. But it ended up a bit…silly?
Drake is “the Queen’s Pirate”, rightly enough (they must have run out of time to talk about him being heavily involved in slavery) and as we join him he’s defeating Sandovate and stealing his stuff. Only Sandovate kidnaps his daughter, Isabella (Moroccan-born actress Sofia Pernas, in her movie debut) who’s also the girlfriend of Drake’s first mate, Easton (Wes Ramsey, doing a perfectly passable English accent). There’s a super-obvious “I’m going to betray you later” guy in Drake’s crew, as well as the world’s smartest fellow who regularly spouts deep philosophy in an Italian accent. So, all in all, things look good so far.
A Sultan then gets his magical overacting assistant lady to cause a storm to bring Drake to his castle and things go a bit off the rails. He wants Drake to go and find the Tree Of Life and bring back its fruit, because all his people are dying of some disease or other – if he returns, he’ll return all his treasure, multiplied by 20. So off Drake pops, pursued swiftly by Sandovate, and we’re then treated to a giant monster fights, trickery and backstabbing; Isabella escapes and is re-captured, and the Tree Of Life seems no nearer.
“Drake” is hampered mostly by its presumably very low budget. There’s a lot of boat-y CGI, and it’s really cheap-looking – perhaps they paid some company to do it, and had to use it based on their outlay, because there’s no other reason a film made in 2009 should look that bad. All the outfits look far too clean and new to belong to long-time sea dogs, and Sandovate’s is the worst of the lot, resembling nothing more than a kid’s set of toy armour. “My First Conquistador” perhaps? The beyond cheap snow effect at the end (as they track the Tree to the North Pole) is just par for this sad course.
If it’s anything, it’s a Middle Ages version of “National Treasure” (this observation was by my wife, as she’s reading this over my shoulder and demands credit), as our heroes consult maps, make surprising links from very thin premises, and go on wild goose chases. Plato apparently drew a map which not only features Atlantis but also the exact locations of every other famous mythical place, so they need to decipher that; they see the hidden words in normal texts, and so on. It’s kind of a fun idea but with one guy so amazingly smart, it ends up just being him explaining large chunks of the plot to the rest of the crew.
Of course, the main reason people would be watching this is Adrian Paul, and he doesn’t disappoint. He plays Drake as sort of a dick at the beginning, and it’s only when it’s revealed just how evil Sandovate is that you understand why. Otherwise, he’s channeling the spirit of Errol Flynn, crossed with his own lighter moments on “Highlander”. I like Adrian Paul, but of course your mileage may vary (and if you don’t, then there’s no reason to watch this movie) but I get the feeling he might be difficult to work with. Case in point – Drake’s accent. Despite Drake being English, and no-one really knowing what accent he would have had, therefore it being fine for Paul to play the part with his own also English accent, he goes for some weird mix of Irish and Cockney which I can’t imagine was the director’s choice. “Hey, Adrian, why not just use your own accent?” he might have gone, to which he got the reply, “nah, I got this. Don’t worry!”
I love that they tried going for the spirit of the old “Jason And The Argonauts” movies, with a lightly camp tone and lots of fun locations and monsters, but it didn’t quite work. Script not quite tight enough, budget too small, everything just a little off. I presume writer Rafael Jordan doesn’t remember a thing about this, as he’s written what seems like half of the last decade’s SyFy Channel movies – from “Lost Colony: The Legend Of Roanoake” (also starring Paul) to “Frost Giant” to “Stonados” to “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators” to “Crystal Skulls” – wow, did I ever hate “Crystal Skulls” – he’s prolific but sadly, on this occasion, uninspired. Director David Flores, on the other hand, is only responsible for a few other SyFy movies, having done “Invasion Roswell” and “Sands Of Oblivion” (which we loved).
I wish they’d had a little more time and money, because I love this sort of adventure movie. And it was set up for either a sequel or a TV series too, with most of the characters surviving and lots of locations to re-visit. A (slight) shame.
Rating: thumbs in the middle