Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Betsy Russell, Max Martini, Benito Martinez, Nick Gomez, Jon Mack
Directed by Tripp Reed
There must be a mandate at Syfy that they have to make at least three times a year an original movie about treasure seekers in a jungle or on an island or in the desert or whatever remote locale unwittingly unleashing a mythological or supernatural creature and the relic they seek, typically a bladed weapon of some sort, is the key to slaying the beast or sending it back to whatever ethereal prison from which it came. Syfy continues to fill their annual quota with Mandrake, about treasure hunters-for-hire finding a fabled bejeweled dagger from an ancient burial ground in a jungle, upsetting the natives and unearthing tree monsters that stab you or rip you apart with their vines. Were those vines or tree roots? I'm not sure. I just know this is probably the most you'll ever see women get menaced by monstrous tentacles in a movie without it turning into hentai.
Formulaic to a fault, Mandrake centers around a square-jawed good guy just wanting to get home to his family, a female anthropologist there to do all the 'splaining, and a wealthy bad guy with a one-track mind willing to throw others under the bus (Or would that be "into the tree" in this case?) in order to get the priceless artifact he seeks. I'd call it a "dime a dozen" Syfy movie, but as I stated moments ago, really more of a three times a year Syfy movie.
Predictability and cliché wouldn't be a big problem for me if Mandrake was more fun to watch than it is. This is another underwhelming example of a Syfy monster movie that just doesn't have the budget to pull off the movie they're trying to make in a satisfactory enough manner. The tree monster visual effects are solid by Syfy standards, but there's just not enough of it. That relegates the action to mostly characters spouting off dry exposition as they skulk about the swampiest jungle I've ever seen (the jungles of Shreveport, Louisiana where the movie was shot) waiting for killer trees or angry natives to attack. This was the bane of b-movies fifty years ago and it proves doubly true today.
Max Martini ("The Unit") initially gave me hope that he might be playing more of a bad ass than the typical Syfy movie hero. Heading him growl out lines like "If it's got a heartbeat I can kill it," "I don't speak jungle," and "I don't believe in fairy tales, dude" in a deep voiced gruffness while running about the jungle with a machine gun had me wondering if he was basing his performance on Jesse Ventura's Predator role. His testosterone-infused swagger soon gets lost in the shuffle and his character becomes just another bland good guy with a gun in a Syfy movie.
Anyone familiar with Benito Martinez's work on "The Shield" as the politically ambitious David Aceveda knows he's a pro at playing a scoundrel willing to work angles to his favor and save his own hide at all cost. His role here has him descended from conquistadors and more than willing to live up to his ancestry's reputation for destroying lives in order to gain possession of an ancient dagger with a large ruby in its handle worth an untold fortune. Just when the script began taking him in an intriguing direction - he begins reverting to a primal mentality much like the natives he's stealing from leaving us to wonder if he's losing his mind or under the influence of something supernatural, nothing comes of any of it. Just the standard rich douchebag concerned only with his own well being and eliminating anyone standing between him and his treasure.
Of interest to Saw fans is the appearance of Mrs. Jigsaw Betsy Russell. She doesn't even have an actual character. She's just playing a person, a person there to fill in some gaps and end up in peril.
Martini and Martinez - sounds like the name for a new CBS cop show - make do enough with their roles to make you wish there had more focus on them than on Russell and the other female anthropologist, and the other anthropologist, and the other anthropologist, and the other varying guns for hires.
I leave you with this image from the movie. It gave me a chuckle. With movies like Mandrake it's the little moments that count.
2 out of 5
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