Thursday, June 02, 2005

Swaze Fights the New Cold War: Frederick Forsythe's Icon


I was excited to see 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!

I've been a bit worried about Mr. Swayze. After playing a drag queen in To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, Wesley Snipes stepped into the ultra-macho Blade Daywalker character. John Leguizamo went right back to playing complex oddball characters on Broadway. But Patrick Swayze vanished. After so many sweet, sensitive, but essentially masculine parts, the sweet sensitive Vida Boheme of To Wong Fu may have been just a bit too close to the edge.

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

Then there's 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 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 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 worth the time. If neither is true, skip the movie. Buy the book.


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