A month ago if you had told me there existed a movie in which Donald Pleasence orders an attractive young girl to be tortured by having her nipples connected to a car battery and that said movie was kind of boring, I would have called you a liar to your face. Well it turns out that not only would I owe you a sincere apology but maybe a dinner, or at the very least a drink as such a film does indeed exist. Based on Coup d'Etat - A Practical Handbook by Edward Luttwak, POWER PLAY provides several moments of genuine tension and a venerable cast of players but proves to more of an educational tool than an entertaining ride.
Congested with corrupt politicians, an unnamed but clearly European country is about to face a revolution from within. Left to their own devices, the higher ups have focused all of their attention on self-preservation, giving little mind to the needs of its citizens, an offense that does not go unnoticed by the countries military officials. Ramblings of such discontent eventually reach the ear of Colonel Narriman (David Hemmings, BLOW-UP) who with the help of Dr. Rousseau (Barry Morse, ASYLUM) decide that the only way to bring about proper order is to stage a coup. Meeting in private, the men begin the furtive process of recruitment, deciding who can be trusted and calculating what obstacles will have to be dealt with. Thanks to such clandestine preparations it quickly becomes apparent that in order for their coup to be successful they will need tanks, more specifically, Colonel Zellar’s (Peter O’Toole, MAN OF LA MANCHA) tanks. While seen as somewhat of a wild card, Narriman is able to bring Zellar into the fold and none too soon as word of behind-the-doors military action is quietly spreading. Such talk eventually reaches the ear of Blair (Donald Pleasence, THX 1138), chief of the government’s secret police and the one man capable of throwing a very large wrench into Colonel Narriman’s plans.
As awesome as the idea of taking a tank out for a joyride sounds, simply watching someone take a tank out for a joyride is… not so awesome. And there in lies POWER PLAY's greatest fault. The film is 90% talk and 10% action, or at least it feels that way. Hemmings is great, Pleasence is skillfully menacing and O'Toole steals every scene he is in, whether he has lines to deliver or not, but watching them all stand around talking about a coup simple isn’t exciting. Even less exciting are the frequent montages of them all standing around talking about a coup. There are moments of honest tension and a blanketing sense that at any moment one wrong move or misspoken word could bring the whole affair down around them but there comes a point when you get tired of just hearing about a coup and want to actually see whether or not one can be pulled off. The film's finale does deliver in so much that a coup is eventually staged and with tanks rolling down cobbled village streets and planes blown to smithereens while attempting take off, it all looks very impressive, unfortunately getting their feels like an eternity.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Scorpion Releasing has done a commendable job in bringing POWER PLAY to DVD, both in its presentation and in regard to its accompanying special features. Dirt and debris are kept to a minimum and detail is sharp as is evident in the number of easily distinguishable character lines in both Donald Pleasence and Peter O’Toole’s brow. Coloring appears accurate with black levels emerging deep. Audio is on hand in English mono track and is likewise as clear.
Extras include a commentary track with director Martyn Burke that proves to be quite informative as Burke regales the ins and outs of what would be necessary to stage a successful coup, albeit one taking place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. How to deal with the local police and clergy, when to cut off communication and why it is vital to gain control of any outgoing transportation, in particular aircraft, are discussed in clear and understandable terms. Rarely pausing, Martyn also does a tremendous job of touching on nearly every aspect of the film, often pointing out which scenes where filmed in Canada and which were shot in Germany. “From battlefields to the camera” is a 15 minute on camera interview with Burke that allows the writer/director time to provide further insight into the film's cast and shoot and there is also a 3 ½ minute interview with actor George Touliatos, who briefly touches on his own upbringing in showbiz before recalling nothing but kind word for his co-stars. The film's original trailers as well as trailers for THE LAST GRENADE, VOYAGER, THE INTERNECINE PROJECT, SILENT SCREAM, GOODBYE GEMINI, THE GIRL IN BLUE, SKATEBOARD and THE FARMER help flesh out this release's special features. (Jason McElreath)
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