Let me disabuse you of the notion straightway that the titular treasure is anything awesome. As near as I could tell, it was mostly a bunch of crusty crap pulled up from the wreckage of an old ship. Various vases and pots that for all any of us know might have just been a bunch of leftover junk no one wanted. Did anyone confirm whether the ship’s manifest indicated it was on a voyage to the local shipyard’s giant yearly garage sale? Still, it was a bunch of baracled bric-a-bac a whole team of thieves were willing to kill for, so maybe it cleaned up real nice.
Dave Jones is spending the summer as any teenager in a 1960s Disney TV movie would – vacationing with his Uncle Max off the Italian coast, helping him out salvaging a sunken ship and getting mixed up with a bunch of murderous criminals in the process.
Max is a typical no-nonsense sort of guy so he spends the majority of the film telling Dave not to get involved in the mystery and to let him investigate it. And while you admire Max for behaving like a real grown up would, not needlessly endangering the life of his sullen nephew, you also can’t help but notice how completely inept Max’s sleuthing skills are in that the only thing he manages to solve is how to get the local police to throw him in jail for being the gang’s ringleader. If Uncle Max only had more time, he could probably deduce himself straight to the gallows!
Dave literally dives into the mystery as soon as he arrives, having to retrieve his flippers from the ocean after the pesky local kid Gus trips and drops them in the water. While underwater, he spots a dead man chained to the pier. The man was one of Uncle Max’s diver’s and it puts everyone on edge since there are no suspects. Then the salvage team notices that items from the shipwreck are disappearing from the ocean.
Uncle Max is intent on making this the worst vacation for Dave ever so he routinely has him away from the shipwreck (and the kick ass mystery Dave yearns to solve!) and instead giving Gus diving lessons! It’s probably only because Gus saw a diver making off with a piece of the treasure while practicing with Dave that Dave didn’t accidentally teach Gus how to get the Bends!
Confirming their suspicions that it was a diver who is stealing from them and not some killer shark wanting to decorate its underground lair, Max agrees to Dave’s plan to go on a stakeout and watch for the thieving diver to return to the site where he’s been stockpiling the treasure. It’s a plan designed to keep Dave safe as all he has to do once he sees the thief is to fire a flare gun and Uncle Max will roll in and save the day. But the plan didn’t account for one thing – the suddenly klutzy Dave slipping and falling into the ocean right in front of the bad guy! And you know what else wasn’t part of the plan? The bad guy trying to drown poor old Dave several times!
Gus alerts Max in time and the evil diver is apprehended. Though he is revealed to be a member of the salvage team, it brings Max and Dave no closer to solving the murder of the other crew member. Perhaps not surprisingly, the murder of a second crew member didn’t assist Max’s investigation that much either.
Max has a plan though! One that’s even dumber than putting his vertigo-prone nephew on stakeout along the rocky shore. He announces to his crew that’s he has sent a letter to the American consulate in Naples to run a background check on everyone. He tells the disbelieving police captain that he tipped his hand like that to flush out the bad guy (or at least the latest bad guy since there’s already one of his divers and an accomplice in custody).
Of course there’s really no need for Max to set up the mysterious villain this way since the villain will only show himself if he knows the background check will give him away and if that’s the case, you don’t need to flush him out because the documentation will clearly spell out who it is you are looking for. And while the police captain rightfully grouses about all this, shouldn’t it have been the police captain who obtained this information at the very beginning of the case from his American counterparts?
As is to be expected, all doesn’t go according to plan and Max ends up in jail, wrongly fingered as the ringleader leaving it to the dimwitted Dave to read the information right in front of the entire salvage gang thus allowing the bad guy to reveal himself and have everyone taken prisoner.
Despite the thieving and murdering going on throughout the film, there’s mostly a lot of talk and scenes of guys diving in their kinky red wetsuits, so it’s not surprising that the climax involves watching Dave hold his tied up hands over a bottle of dripping sulfuric acid to burn his ropes away.
None of this is all that exciting, with Dave marginally involved most of the time except for his failed stakeout and at the very end of things. We need more from our nosy kids than him sulking with Gus and waiting around for a letter.
The villains’ plan is the usually over-complicated scheme that they only seemed to come up with so that the movie had a story. Instead of stealing stuff from the dive site and murdering crew members, why not just steal everything all at once from the warehouse back on land where all the recovered items are stored? Up until all the murders started occurring, it was unguarded.
While The Treasure of San Bosco Reef is certainly more brutal that you would expect from a Disney movie broadcast in two parts on its Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color TV program, with two murders, the attempted drowning and stabbing of Max and Dave, and a shootout on the docks that left a guy falling into the ocean gutshot, it’s all done in such a sluggish manner without much in the way of action or imagination (No boat chase? No secret doors? No native love interest? No ghost pirates?) that it comes off as a bloated one hour episode of a 70s or 80s crime drama. Surely this sort of generic crime plot was handled in half the time with better characters on episodes of shows like Hawaii Five-O or Magnum P.I.
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