High Road to China (1983)

Oh, Tom Selleck…so NEARLY Indiana Jones. It’s weird to think that Selleck was Spielbergs first choice for the iconic role of the globe-trotting archeologist. Harrison Ford (the one TRUE Indy!) was a mere runner-up. If it hadn’t been for Magnum P.I., Indiana Jones would’ve been a lot different. But not necessarily bad, as this Indy clone (one of many) proves. Selleck stars as Patrick O’Malley, a former WW1 Ace now running a run-down flying school in Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey), circa 1920 . He is sought out by a high society ‘flapper’, desperate to locate her missing, millionare father before his company declares him dead; for greedy financial reasons. She hires the roguish drunk to trace the old mans last known path, with her annoyingly in tow. What unfolds is essentially a flying road trip in which toothless danger and adventurous hijinks ensue…usually involving one-dimensional racial stereotypes who can’t shoot straight to save their lives…which they usually lose. To be fair, Selleck mostly nails the character, an inebriated lout haunted by a “slaughter” of an aerial dogfight against German boys in The Great War. He plays the character with an easy charm that helps mask how ‘flat’ O’Malley is on ‘the page’. I wish I could say the same about the female lead, an ‘actess’ named Bess Armstrong…who I’ve never heard of and after this, I’m not surprised as to why. She sucks. The ‘character’ is a shrieky, demanding child of a woman who has no problem physically assaulting Sellecks character when she’s displeased…which is often. I despise violence against women but even I was mentally urging O’Malley to send her ‘straight to the Moon, Alice!’ I kept hoping that she’d take a stray round…or a stray grenade…but instead, the two somehow inexplicably fall in love. Given the established, bitchy dynamic between the them, it made NO sense that this would happen. None. He had more believable chemisty with his trusty mechanic Struts! On the plus side, a good deal of the flying scenes are well done, in a grand sort of way that is, at times, ‘stumbled’ by shoddy ‘blue screen’ work. This flick also nostagically reminded me of action films of the 80s where slews of indigenous, faceless villians could be gunned down and blown up by heroic Americans, with impunity…and we’re actually expected to cheer. Oh, what a time THAT was! All in all, this was most definitely riding in on the 80s phenomenon that WAS Indiana Jones and it kind of succeeds. Kind of. The script just lacks depth, wonder, grit and balls.


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