Literally starting off with a bang, Dead Men Tell No Tales squanders that explosive beginning (and most likely its entire budget) as it places our hero, who’s on the lam from a pack of ruthless killers, into a building slated for demolition for much of the movie, senselessly turning him from a man on the run to a man sitting on his ass in some rubble.
But like anything, if it’s done well enough, even being trapped in rubble can be just as exciting as rolling out of a speeding car moments before it plummets off a cliff and explodes with all your friends on board. Like when pro photographer Larry Towers and his gal pal Midge were bemoaning their inability to escape the building and a pack of rats appeared! Two rats to be exact, but if you’ve ever seen a rat in person, you know that any amount over one rat constitutes a pack!
Ever more exciting than two disinterested rats nosing around the area, was the close encounter they had with Bobby Brady himself! The unexpected appearance of The Brady Bunch‘s Mike Lookinland as Bud, the kid playing around the construction site who ultimately helps rescue Larry is the second most jarring thing about Dead Men Tell No Tales. The first of course being the absurdly bushy dime store detective kit mustache Christopher George sports for the first act.
George is know for his roles in such genre favorites as City of the Living Dead, Cruise Into Terror and Pieces. What he is not known for is having some kind of giant old west mustache. Thankfully it turns out to merely be an excuse for him to shave it off in order to change his appearance.
All of this is necessitated because Larry is spending his time in Los Angeles where everyone thinks he’s a man named Vic Jacobi and trying to kill him. Out in L.A. to discuss a job with a travel magazine, Larry instead finds himself trying to locate Vic so that he can figure out what’s going on and go back to New York without being hunted down.
Hooking up with Midge, an actress who knew Vic, Larry’s investigation is cut short when they are forced to take refuge in an urban renewal zone and spend most of the rest of the film there, doing nothing but talking. Midge eventually escapes, but Larry just ends up trapped in a different part of the building, this time with one of the would-be killers. But all this sitting around shooting daggers with his eyes at the bad guy gives Larry valuable time to think. And to have flashbacks!
Little by little, he begins to remember things and piece together what must have happened. Even the borderline awake viewer will immediately suss out the plot twist as soon as Larry has his first flashback. You don’t want to believe it really is that simple and mundane, but it is.
Once the ho-hum solution is revealed, there’s nothing left to hold the viewer’s attention, but there’s still several scenes left to play out! (The movie acts like we should be shocked when it’s revealed who was behind the attempts on Larry’s life, but what else was the only other name male actor hired to do in this movie? Were we really supposed to believe it was to only appear in a few flashbacks as his unremarkable friend?)
Initially intriguing but ultimately sputtering into the quite dull and pedestrian, even the climax aboard a boat involving a shooting lacks any sense of urgency, the characters listlessly wrestling over the gun for a few slack seconds.
Christopher George with his growling voice and perpetually insincere smile is the only one making an effort and provides the only watchable moments. Laugh-In vet Judy Carne as Midge doesn’t impress and utterly fails to make the case that she deserved to be a star. No else even registers except Lookinland, but not for reasons that benefit the film. (The entire subplot with him, his friends and their families is unnecessary padding and feels like it’s from an entirely different film!)
Completely lives down to the worst expectations you can have of a early 1970s TV movie, even to the point of having a generic car chase featuring large, ugly colored cars.
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