Joe’s Blog

Death, Deceit & Destiny Aboard the Orient Express (2001)

October 5, 2011 2:25 pm


This train will be delayed due to plot failure...

This week I made one of the most life-changing decisions of my life, and cancelled my SKY TV subscription. On reflection almost £70 a month was quite a high price to pay to watch Modern Family, the odd football match and Lethal Weapon 3 every other night. But then I realised I would miss something that would almost make signing back up worth the money: Movies 4 Men.

For the uninitiated, Movies 4 Men is a non-subscription movie channel which shows, well, bloke movies. On any given day you will find long forgotten Westerns, cheap ass sci-fi rip offs (most Asylum films play regularly) and straight to video action movies. It was here I first discovered the joy of Skyscraper. And flicking through the guide a couple of nights ago I was overjoyed to see, just starting, was (as billed in the guide anyway) Death Aboard The Orient Express, listing Teen Agent himself, Richard Grieco, as its star.

Produced by Fu Manchu nut, and alleged pimp extraordinaire, Harry Alan Towers, Orient Express is a truly gob smacking mix of Agatha Christie, Under Siege 2 and Irwin Allen, produced on a budget doesn’t even stretch to a single shot of the REAL Orient Express.

This is what the Orient Express looks like:

The film thinks the Orient Express looks like this:

They don’t even paint the words ‘Orient Express’ on it!

Anyway, events take place on the eve of the millennium, despite being made in 2000, when everyone with a grain of taste had realised that movies set then would out of date as precisely a minute past midnight. A group of wealthy individuals (and partners/business associates/whatever) gather for a New Year jamboree through Europe to Istanbul. Oddly no one seems to know who invited them. This plotline always irritates the piss out of me, normally appearing in horror films, because not one single invitee thinks “I’m not going to a party if I don’t know who’s invited me”. Here, these are the sort of people who probably wouldn’t go to a party even if they DID know whose party it was, being mostly selfish rich business sorts who are far too busy for social occasions.

Obviously the lure of a posh train, and copious free booze and food is too much to refuse and they all duly turn up. And a motley bunch they are too: there’s a mobile phone salesman, a mobile phone manufacturer, a gymnast, the son of an Indian industrialist, a couple of women who could be con artists (I’m not really sure we ever find out) and an action movie star, Jack Chase! Seriously.

About two minutes after leaving the never identified station a bunch of bad guys shoot all the staff and, luckily all their uniforms fit them perfectly, and they take over the train, with one staying behind to prepare eight course dinners for everyone. Turns out this is our bad guy, Tarik, who tells everyone via a chunky widescreen TV that he has taken control of the train and wants everyone to pay him $50 million or he’ll blow it up.

Well, action star doesn’t take kindly to this and assisted by the gymnast, who he’s decided will be his love interest for this evening, he disarms all the bombs, saving one to blow up the train and the bad guy. Hooray!

You can probably fill in the rest for yourself. Or can you?

This really is an odd film. Not least because it features a truly once in a lifetime cast (who are all dreadful). First up is Richard Grieco as our star. Grieco was never a star in any sense, and is probably still best known for his role in 21 Jump Street where he played a guy who no one fancied because Johnny Depp was in it. Teen Agent is still probably his best known film, though he could have earned minor cult points for appearing in Asylum’s Thor rip-off earlier this year. Time will tell.

Amongst the support, former Bond henchman Gotz Otto appears as the gymnast’s ‘uncle’. For some reason he does a dreadful Marlon Brando in Godfather impression and loses a fight with Grieco by accidentally sticking an axe in his own back (!). His body is hidden and never mentioned again. Though the gymnast is so distraught she immediately sleeps with Grieco to get over it.

There’s a ‘before they were famous’ appearance from Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy, and B-movie experience support from Brit Nicky Henson and Yank Barry Flatman.

There’s also an Italian actress who spends most of the film in her bra.

But the real gem in the cast, is a future Oscar winner. Believe it or not, but the bad guy chef, is played by none other than Christoph Waltz! And… he’s… AWFUL!

To be fair, his first appearance is rather bizarre. He leads his henchmen onto the train, dressed as a chef, and wearing truly appalling latex make up that makes him look like Rondo Hatton. He spends the next hour dressed like this, cooking food, hidden away from everyone, so why does he leave the make up on? It’s worth noting here, that the film doesn’t actually take place over New Years Eve. No, it takes place over two nights and THREE DAYS! Three days, of Tarik cooking food, in heavy make up, in a hot kitchen, for his hostages!

The henchman perform their duties perfectly, if their duties were to be waiters and train staff for the hostages. They fetch them champagne and canapés (one even tends the bar) for room service; announce ‘dinner is served’ and always look the wrong way when Grieco is hanging upside down by a window outside the train.

There is a wealth a things this film could have done on a train, and it does very little of them. Of course there’s a fight on top of the train, but its pretty short. The main tension, if that’s the word, is derived from the ‘will they won’t they’ conundrum the hostages are put in. Some agree to pay up, others refuse, others have trouble raising the money. For some reason it’s the latter who ends up taking a tumble through a window to ‘teach you all a lesson’.

It’s a treat for blooper hunters though. There’s visible cables during the clambering around on the outside of the train scenes and inconsistencies in dialogue but the real treat was the crash mat bouncing into frame when one poor bugger is thrown from the moving train.

This truly is bottom of the barrel stuff. It’s initially quite entertaining watching a group of mildly familiar faces popping up, and you can easily waste half an hour trying to work out where you know them from. But once Grieco explains he knows how to defuse bombs because he went to ‘bomb school’ for his last film role, and he recorded his night of passion with the gymnast because ‘you never know when it might come in handy’ (and she STILL wants to be his girlfriend) you know you’ve entered a level of bad film-making in which man was not meant to meddle.

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