FORMULA, THE(director: John G. Avildsen; screenwriter: Steve Shagan/from the novel The Formula by Steve Shagan; cinematographer: James Crabe; editor: John Carter; music: Bill Conti; cast: George C. Scott (Lt. Barney Caine LAPD), Marlon Brando (Adam Steiffel, Chairman Titan Oil), Marthe Keller (Lisa Spangler), Robin Clarke (Major Tom Neeley), John Gielgud (Dr. Abraham Esau, Director Reich Energy), G.D. Spradlin (Arthur Clements), Beatrice Straight (Kay Neeley), Richard Lynch (General Helmut Kladen /Frank Tedesco), John Van Dreelen (Hans Lehman, Prefect of Police Berlin), Calvin Jung (Sergeant Louis Yosuta LAPD Tactical Squad), Alan North (John Nolan, Chief of Tactical Squad LAPD), David Byrd (Paul Obermann, Chief Engineer Berlin Power & Light Co.), Wolfgang Preiss (Franz Tauber, Swiss businessman), Ferdy Mayne (Professor Siebold); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Steve Shagan; MGM; 1980)
“Only Marlon Brando in a small role as a daffy oil tycoon gives the film some spark.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
There’s no excuse for this thriller about international intrigue over shady dealings by oil cartels being so toilsome since Steve Shagan adapts it from his own best-selling 1979 novel and is also the producer. Only Marlon Brando in a small role as a daffy oil tycoon gives the film some spark. John G. Avildsen (“Rocky”/”Save The Tiger”/”The Karate Kid”) directs in a clumsy, heavy-handed and inept way, keeping things unnecessarily muddled and tiresome. It’s too bad the film bombs because it hit the nail on the head of how revolting the big oil tycoons are in their greed, ruthlessness and lack of concern for the world. In this one, the evil giant oil companies chose to suppress the formula for making synthetic fuel, which would reduce the price of fuels, so they can continue to make huge profits by creating an artificial oil shortage.
In 1945, during the last days of the war, German General Helmut Kladen (Richard Lynch) is sent to Switzerland without an escort with a truck full of secret files containing information on the German discovery of a formula for the manufacture of synthetic fuel. The general is captured in a snowy field by the Americans and the major in charge, Tom Neeley (Robin Clarke), strikes a deal with the general in his cynical belief that in the future big corporations will use these secret documents as part of their commerce. The film suddenly moves forward 35 years later and ex-police chief of the LAPD, Tom Neeley, is executed gangland style in his luxury Beverly Hills mansion, making it look as if he’s a cocaine dealer. This brings his friend, the world-weary divorced Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott), of the LAPD, to head the investigation. Barney treks to Berlin and soon discovers a link between oil magnate Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando) to manipulate worldwide fuel prices and the mysterious murders of several people (such as Neeley’s estranged American widow (Beatrice Straight) and a utility engineer named Obermann (David Byrd) who was Neeley’s German contact). It’s all connected to a secret project called Genesis– the film’s McGuffin, the Nazi code name for its discovery of synthetic fuel. In Germany, Barney meets the inventor of the formula Dr. Abraham Esau (John Gielgud) and encounters a mysterious female spy posing as a model, the pretty niece of Obermann, Lisa Spangler (Marthe Keller), who wants to get her grubby hands on the valuable formula.
It turns into a tedious police procedure tale with the relentless and overweight Barney globe-trotting around the world conducting endless interviews of dull suspects, while the action remains on hold. The only scene worth a lick is the climax, that has a confrontation between the dogged honest cop Scott, defender of the consumers, and the flaky disreputable oil magnate Brando (received three million dollars for being in three scenes), a defender of unethical business because it’s good for the bottom line, who utters the film’s most meaningful line in a bizarre but fitting way: ”Milk Dud?”
REVIEWED ON 8/30/2008 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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