Review by C.J. Bunce
When you think of the 1985 movie Fletch, you probably think of Chevy Chase’ s humorous, over-the-top take on undercover reporter I.M. Fletcher. But Fletch the movie was only loosely based on the award-winning mystery novels by author Gregory Mcdonald. Mcdonald wrote dozens of novels before his death in 2008. One of those is Snatched, a kidnapping story reprinted this year for the first time in 30 years by Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.
Originally published in 1978 as Who Took Toby Rinaldi? in the U.S. and Snatched in the UK, Mcdonald crafted a thriller about the botched kidnapping of the eight-year-old son of a Persian Gulf region ambassador to the United Nations as he readies a proposal with global impact before the U.N. The proposal itself is a bit of a Pelican Brief MacGuffin, but the real action follows a thug named Spike as he hides the abducted boy, Toby Rinaldi. Toby was on his way to meet his mother Christina for a visit to a Disneyland-esque theme park in California called Fantazyland. Key to the action and tension are the efforts and setbacks faced by Christina as she attempts to catch the kidnapper, despite her husband’s foreign security squad in the U.S. trying to keep the kidnapping secret.
Snatched is a great read. Its slow, simmering pace reflects nailbiters of the 1960s-1970s like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Charley Varrick, Magnum Force, or Bullitt. Many of the characters are intentionally frustrating. The characters are frustrated, and that is channeled to the reader page after page. Toby’s father is caught between the direct demands of his king and responsibility to family. The political factions behind the kidnapping plot–a small group of tried and tested, denizen mercenaries whose failure to communicate and coordinate because of their own personal distractions cause them to trip over each other as they attempt what might otherwise be the simplest of crimes. Despite Mcdonald’s Fletch character translated to the big screen, make no mistake: Snatched is not a comedy. It’s also low on violence, other than a little boy in jeopardy as the main plot point, which is handled deftly by Mcdonald.
The movie trailer. It’s the video “cover” you’re not supposed to judge a movie by. But sometimes a movie trailer gets it all exactly right–setting the correct expectation with viewers without over-hyping or over-emphasizing only the best parts of the film it is promoting. Take the trailer for Aaron Eckhart’s Erased as an example.
From the beginning, Erased (originally titled The Expatriate, but renamed for the U.S. release) appeared to be a blend of a summer action flick like The Bourne Identity (with Eckhart playing an ex-CIA agent on the run), the Robert Redford espionage thriller Three Days of the Condor (where one day all his co-workers turn up dead and his world upside down), and Liam Neeson’s Taken, since he has to protect his little girl along the way. Eckhart’s role also seemed to echo that of Ben Affleck’s role in Eckhart’s prior film Paycheck, since he appeared to create some future technology that leaves him to unravel what happened to his stolen life. Well, what you see is what you get. And it’s all very satisfying.
Aaron Eckhart is an under-rated lead. If you put aside the dud that was I, Frankenstein, Eckhart delivers an emotional performance every time. As adman Nick Naylor trying to save big tobacco in the brilliant Thank You for Smoking, as the guy that had us all wearing “I Believe in Harvey Dent” badges after his performance as Two-Face in The Dark Knight, after his almost unrecognizable performance opposite Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. And as the vile mastermind opposite Ben Affleck in the superb Philip K. Dick adaptation Paycheck. With Erased, a flick with a botched release schedule back in 2012 and 2013, he could have had his break-out role.
Last night the Syfy Channel premiered a new show documenting its 20 years of bringing science fiction and related programming to cable TV. The Syfy Channel 20th Anniversary Special chronicles the key landmarks of the channel going back to its inception in 1992 as a network of mostly reruns of classic sci-fi series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and the original Star Trek, as well as collecting and expanding upon series that didn’t make it on other networks, like Sliders and Andromeda. The 2-hour show is a great way to reminisce about all the good–and bad–TV that has sucked you in, featuring commentary by series creators and cast, and narrated by Lois and Clark star Dean Cain.
Actors Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Michael Shanks discuss the first big hit for the network originally called the Sci Fi Channel: the Stargate franchise, including Stargate SG-1, and spinoffs Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as the made-for-TV movies.
Then there were early series that didn’t last long, like USA Network series that moved to Sci Fi, like Good vs. Evil, The Invisible Man, Welcome to Paradox, and Mission Genesis.
Ben Browder and Claudia Black chat about the four seasons of the Australian production, Farscape, the next big series for the Sci Fi Channel. The renaissance of science fiction fans fighting for a series to return occurred with Farscape, resulting in Brian Henson bring a 4-hour mini-series event to round out and tie up the loose ends of the series.