AKA Deadly Forces, The Minister’s Magician
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DIRECTED BY: Simon Wincer
FEATURING: , , Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford
PLOT: Senator Rast’s cancer-stricken son is healed by a stranger with supernatural abilities, but the magician’s presence in the politician’s household leads to friction with behind-the-scenes malefactors.
COMMENTS: The modern Western world is no place for honest magic, but is instead a morally murky landscape riddled with assassinations, machinations, trysts, twists—and deadly medicine. This is the world of Nick and Sandra Rast; the former a prominent politician, the latter a wealthy daughter of an ambassador. Despite their luck and luxury, they are cursed with a leukemia-stricken son, one who is soon to leave this world despite his father’s power, his mother’s care, and endless blasts of radiation. Th birthday party for the wheelchair bound boy, hairless from chemotherapy, is glum. But a the party clown brings laughter, and summons thunder with the prick of an invisible needle.
The boy’s survival is only in question for the film’s first ten minutes or so, as director Simon Wincer conjures a miracle (the first of many) in the form of Gregory Wolfe, faith-healer, probable sorcerer, and donner of flamboyant costumes. Harlequin is a flashy story which unfolds deliberately, as all manner of tricks springing forth from Gregory (who may well be a charlatan) are met with skepticism and underhanded calibrations. The countervailing forces—or, to un-mince words, forces of evil—work under the close direction of “Doc” Wheelan (a grubbily dangerous Broderick Crawford), who have conspired for some years to launch, maintain, and advance Nick’s career. There are a none-too-subtle undertones of ancient versus modern and belief versus technology, but Wincer raises enough doubts about Wheelan to make the viewer suspect that he, too, may be more than his collection of cryptic remarks, pitch-black sedans, and well-armed thugs. Even beyond all the mischievous shenanigans from Gregory, I became deadly curious what angle “Doc” was coming from.
Harlequin magically dodges the fate of being judged merely by what it could have been. (It could have been a feature starringand .) But Simon Wincer’s mystical oddity is the kind of political thriller I have not seen before: a (then) contemporary suspense ride which takes the prospect of true magic seriously and in stride. Robert Powell’s performance falls somewhere between ‘s immortally cynical Withnail and ‘s immortally flamboyant Frank-n-Furter—generally for the best, but not always. And the film shows its age at times: the hairstyles (often) and the score (occasionally) scream vintage “soap opera.” But is never sloppy. By the finish I found myself talking to Nicholas Rask on-screen as he pondered a fateful decision. And I feel no shame having become wrapped up in this intermittently hokey ride. By the time I realized who this film was actually about, I also realized the dark and whimsical interlayering of good and evil had enchanted me.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“A bizarre mix of rambling theology and mysticism mixed up with modern day political nastiness, Harlequin is an interesting and multi-layered film that will probably alienate as many as it will captivate. It’s a genuinely odd film.” — Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)
(This movie was nominated for review by Parker Weston. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)