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March 29, 2013

Movie Review: Ashanti (1979)

by Peggy Christie
Based on facts. Those three words (along with based on a true story) fill me with dread. These days Hollywood takes a lot of liberties with "the truth" in order to sell a film and though the movie I'm reviewing did take place over 30 years ago, I have a feeling La-La- Land was just as guilty then of embellishments as it is now.

That said, however, the truth of slavery still existing in Africa in the 20th century was very real. Hell, it exists in the 21st century in many countries across the globe. What surprised me is that people thought it all went away after the US Civil War.

 Ashanti is the story of married couple David and Anansa Linderby, an English and American doctor, who work for the World Health Organization, who are stationed in Africa to administer vaccinations to the local tribes. While taking a break for a quick swim to battle the heat, Anansa is kidnapped by slave traders along with a dozen other locals. When David realizes what happened, he will do anything in his power to get her back.

Luckily for him, a fellow Englishman named Brian Walker has all the connections David will need to find his wife and, hopefully, get her back safely. The first is a mercenary, an arrogant and slightly racist American who tries to help but only seems good at grumbling and bitching about the Brits. The second is a man named Malik. Years earlier his wife and children were kidnapped and sold into slavery by the same man, Suleiman, who has taken Anansa. He will help David but mainly just to exact revenge on this slaver who ruined his life.

These two strangers embark on a journey across the Dark Continent, each with their own motivations driving them forward. After a stumbling start, and then missing the slave caravan with Anansa several times, the two men finally catch up with Suleiman and exact their justice.

Yay! I mean, yawn. Yawn is what I meant.

I don't think I can remember watching a more low key revenge film. Ever. The cast was packed with acting greats: Michael Caine, Rex Harrison, Peter Ustinov, William Holden, Omar Sharif. But aside from Holden playing the angry American, which came off more as constipation crankiness, the entire cast could have been doing an instructional read-through for hanging wallpaper. And despite Beverly Johnson bragging in the "extras" about Ustinov telling her she had real talent, she sucked ass as far as I'm concerned. Even the scene where she's supposed to be drugged was just awful. Don't models have real world experience with drugs? Or am I being a bitch?


Michael Caine played David Linderby and a less passionate response to a spouse's kidnapping would only be possible if he died while filming. Even when his character FINALLY accepts that slavers were responsible, he strolls about with that British attitude of, "oh, dear, my poor wife has been kidnapped and isn't this all such a bother with us being in the desert and all?"

I think the character of Malik, played by Kebir Bedi, was the most interesting of everyone. Malik had years to stew over the death of his wife and disappearance of his children at the hands of Suleiman. So whenever he and Linderby encountered other slave caravans or slavers, the rage he mostly manages to keep in check bursts out. I truly pitied the man (and yeah, I cried a little for him, too).

Another problem I had with the film was the insertion of what I can only compare to a Laurel and Hardy routine involving Michael Caine and a camel. Completely inappropriate and pretty much the only comedic scene in what was supposed to be a heavy flick. The music didn't fit either. If I'd closed my eyes (and I should have done that in the first place) I could have sworn I was watching a Bond film.

So many other details irked me. Caine, Harrison, and Holden all had the same clothes in one scene. Was the wardrobe budget blown on flying these people to Israel to film? Peter Ustinov played Suleiman, the Arab slaver. Um, what? I don't remember folks from the Middle East having pale skin and blue eyes and shitty accents. Hiring Beverly Johnson. According to her, she didn't get the role originally. But her husband at the time did what powerful men do and she got the job. What the fuck does that mean? Did he pay someone to hire her? Blackmail them? Have the original chosen actress thrown down a flight of stairs, what?

People, there are so many better revenge films out there that will have you sitting on the edge of your seats, ottomans, Barco loungers, settees, milk crates, and sitz bones that you can completely skip this one.

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