Awfully Good: The Shadow
The Shadow (1994)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen
Is there a plot?
Only Asian Alec Baldwin knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
What's the damage?
THE SHADOW left a mark on my young life, but only because I’ll never forget seeing Alec Baldwin as a shirtless Asian warlord with long fingernails named Ying Ko. Decades older I now understand that Balwin’s character Lamont Cranston was actually just pretending to be Chinese, but still…no.
That's the last time someone says "In your face!" to Alec Baldwin.
Based on the 1930s radio show, THE SHADOW is supposed to be a pulpy adventure tale, but the film version is also inherently cheesy to an entertaining degree. Director Russell Mulcahy, who started off so promisingly with HIGHLANDER, only to devolve in to direct-to-DVD dreck like THE SCORPION KING 2, actually seems well-suited to the old school material. However, the script by David Koepp is a mess of epic proportions. For some reason, the screenwriter injects the story with a bunch of unnecessary Asian mysticism that provides some of its biggest and weirdest unintentional laughs. (You can't name a talking knife Phurba and not expect me to at least chuckle.) Sure, there's supposed to be a supernatural element at play, but I don't think that should include laughing fire, Berrylium Spheres (before GALAXY QUEST!), Ghengis Khan's cranky nephew or Alec Baldwin ripping his face apart to display his inner Asian.
Tim almost had her until he yelled out "By Grabthar's hammer!"
Speaking of Baldwin, he's the other part of the equation that sadly doesn't work. Despite being younger and less pudgy, Baldwin misses the mark at every turn. He's laughable as the bloodthirsty Chinese warlord (literally…there's a shot of Asian Alec with blood all over his mouth). He's amusing as Lamont Cranston, man about town, who unfairly uses his telepathy and Jedi mind tricks to pick up women. But Baldwin is at his most hysterical when he's the titular hero thanks to his cheesy Shadow voice, red-scarfed cowboy costume, and seriously unintimidating cackling and one-liners. Not to mention that whenever Baldwin turns in to The Shadow, the upper half of his face somehow transforms in to that of his brother William.
William Baldwin often acts as a stand-in for his brother in exchange for craft services and a ride home.
I'd also like to call his physical prowess in to question. The Shadow has the mental powers, no doubt, but with Baldwin he's not physically threatening whatsoever. He can go invisible and taunt bad guys, but as soon as you see him, the superhero is about as imposing as Kim Basinger. Watching him double fist guns is pretty much the opposite of anything related to John Woo.
The Film Actor's Guild convenes for its annual meeting.
It's a shame because the movie does have a good bit of fun in it, the special effects are actually pretty decent given the time and the character definitely has potential. (Here's hoping Sam Raimi gets to make his version at some point.) THE SHADOW also has a shockingly impressive supporting cast, including a smoking hot Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, and Ian "Booyah" McKellen. And in what is surely some form of Eastern affirmative action, it features at least a brief cameo from every old Asian actor in Hollywood, including James Hong (Lo Pan!), John Lone, Al Leong, Sab Shimono, and that one monk from ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS. All we're missing is the immortal Bolo Yeung and you have yourself a party.
And with James Hong and Al Leong in the same shot, Hollywood fulfilled its Asian quota for the decade.
Alec Baldwin has weird dreams, cackles uncontrollably, speaks Chinese and more.
Alec Baldwin reenacts FACE/OFF with himself, gets laughed at by fire, fights a flying knife, and other cheesy gems.
Penelope Ann Miller wears a revealing nightgown and has a sexy dream. Me likey. (And see CARLITO'S WAY for the rest.)
Play Along at Home!
Take a shot or drink every time:
- The Shadow cackles
- Someone says, "The sun is shining, but the ice is slippery"
- Baldwin is late
- You spot legend Al Leong
Double shot if:
- Alec Baldwin speaks Chinese
Thanks to Chris and Phil for suggesting this week's movie!
Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.