Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Terminal Island

Seven years before MAGNUM, P.I. premiered on CBS, Tom Selleck and his co-star Roger E. Mosley appeared together in TERMINAL ISLAND. The director is Stephanie Rothman, who made this highly entertaining drive-in picture for Dimension Pictures, the studio she helped found with her husband, producer Charles S. Swartz, and former Roger Corman colleague Lawrence Woolner. She, Swartz, and Jim Barnett (DEATH AT LOVE HOUSE) also wrote the screenplay, which offers an unusual feminist spin on the usual women-in-prison tropes.

In addition to Selleck and Mosley, the cast is packed with familiar faces, many from television, that provide the loony premise with credibility. After the death penalty is rescinded in California, convicted murderers are sent to an island to serve their life sentences. There are no guards or walls, and the prisoners (male and female) are free to set up camp, grow their own food, and fend for themselves.

The prisoners have split into two camps: one sadistic, led by the vicious Monk (Mosley) and Bobby (Sean Kenney, the crippled Captain Pike on STAR TREK), in which the women are used as sex slaves, and one peaceful, led by A.J. (LAND OF THE GIANTS’ Don Marshall). Phyllis Davis (VEGA$), Marta Kristen (LOST IN SPACE), Barbara Leigh (THE STUDENT NURSES), and Ena Hartman (DAN AUGUST) are the women who escape to A.J.’s team, which spurs guerrilla warfare between the two sides.

The oddly structured script starts from the point of view of the Hartman character, but switches its focus to Kenney and Marshall, and finally ends on a hopeful note with Selleck as the hero. The schizophrenic music score by Dimension’s Michael Andres (with uncredited work by Jerry Styner) rarely fits the action, though it admittedly matches Rothman’s comic-book tone. Styner’s bizarre country song performed by Jeff Thomas under the opening titles does neither except lead the audience to expect a parody.

Certainly, Rothman is seeking a tongue-in-cheek tone. Her direction isn’t clever — it would be difficult to be, considering the short schedule and grueling location work — but it is colorful and sharply paced. Filmed on location in Malibu and on the nearby Paramount Ranch, TERMINAL ISLAND is silly fun with generally good acting and plenty of action.

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