Shitty Movie Sundays: Tuareg: The Desert Warrior, or, Let’s Cancel Mark Harmon!

Tuareg: The Desert Warrior movie posterAfter a 3-plus year absence, Shitty Movie Sundays hall of famer Enzo G. Castellari is back! Today’s film showcases Castellari’s most prominent skills. The film takes place in the desert, things blow up, and when they do, it’s filmed in glorious slow motion. Castellari knew what he was good at, and it wasn’t storytelling.

Mark Harmon (that’s right, Mark Harmon) plays a North African Tuareg, one of a nomadic people who span the Sahara. This is the type of role that Harmon couldn’t take, much less be offered, today. It would be considered an egregious case of whitewashing. And, if the project had managed to get made, all those involved would have to spend at least a week apologizing on Twitter before the mob moved on to the next outrage. But, in 1984, this type of casting decision could still be made, especially in Italy and Spain, which were free from Hollywood politics.

In my mind, having a white guy play a Berber tribesman only adds to this flick’s shitty movie creds. It’s icing on the cake that Harmon made only a token effort to disguise his SoCal accent, taking on an inflection reminiscent of stereotypical Native Americans. It’s possible this isn’t his fault. He may have been told his voice would be dubbed in post, or that the film wouldn’t be released in an English-language version at all. Or, he just gave a performance of stunning ineptitude. Or, it’s no different than any other Mark Harmon performance. It’s up to the viewer’s imagination.

Directed by Castellari from a screenplay by Alberto Vázquez Figueroa and Vicente Escrivá, adapting Figueroa’s novel, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior follows Gacel Sayah (Harmon), as he seeks justice for a wrong done to his tribe.

Tuareg takes place in an unnamed North African country, and was shot in the Tabernas Desert of Spain.

After a short intro delving into the desert life of the Tuareg people, two men, suffering from dehydration, wander into Gacel’s camp. Tuareg tradition states that these men will be helped, and they will be under the protection of the tribe as their guests. That doesn’t stop an army unit, led by The Captain (Antonio Sabato), from forcibly removing one man from the camp , and killing the other. This treatment of his guests really sticks in Sayah’s craw, and he begins a film-long escapade of destruction and death. It turns out that the surviving guest (Luis Prendes) is a former president of the country, making the Tuareg’s bloody swath something of a problem for the current ruling regime, but Sayah doesn’t care about the politics of it all. The former president was his guest, and that is all that matters. He reminds his antagonists of this, again and again and again.

How the rest of this movie plays out doesn’t matter. What’s most important is whether Castellari gave viewers plenty of action. In that, I’ve seen films of his that had more. A little more exploding stuff, a little more gunfire, a little more slow motion shots and spurting blood would have been cool. And flamethrowers. The burden of watchability, then, is shared with this flick’s acting. Are the performers inept enough, with just the right soupçon of torporific deliveries, to make the film compelling on its own? Yes. Yes, they are.

It all starts at the top with Harmon. He’s so wrong for the part it feels like a joke. He’s a surfer brah in brownface. There is more than enough enthusiastic crap from the rest of the cast to float this dog, but it’s Harmon that carries the film. Not in a good way, mind you. I mean he carries this film simply on schadenfreude alone. His failure is our enjoyment.

Tuareg: The Desert Warrior, is not the most watchable shitty movie Enzo G. Castellari has made. In many ways, it’s like Castellari-lite. He went more for storytelling in this film over action. That’s too bad for us, but the general absurdity of this film is more than enough to vault this flick into the top half of the index. Tuareg lands at #154, displacing The Giant Claw. If one is into shitty Italian cinema, there are other flicks to get to first.

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