Australian action hero Errol Flynn gets a swashbuckling but wearily cartoonish biopic based on his pre-fame days.
Thomas Cocquerel stars in In Like Flynn.
Thanks to the phrase that gives this biopic its name, Errol Flynn has long been immortalised not just in cinematic history, but in general vernacular. Post-film text on screen explains that “in like Flynn” arose from the actor’s charm, allure and effectiveness with the ladies; however the entire feature is an ode to both his appeal and his legend. Charting the exploits that preceded Flynn’s successful foray into acting, it’s a bright, breezy and affectionate romp through a real-life figure’s larger-than-life backstory, painting him as equal parts Indiana Jones, Casanova and Danny Ocean. That said, the feature is also as broad, overdone and formulaic as that description intimates, even if it is based on Beams End, Flynn’s own memoir.
Before he swashbuckled his way across cinemas as one of Australia’s first major action stars abroad, In Like Flynn has its namesake (Thomas Cocquerel, Celeste) escort a filmmaker (Dan Fogler, TV’s The Walking Dead) and his crew through the jungles of New Guinea. Hijinks ensue, and so does an offer of the ‘if you’re ever in Hollywood…’ variety. Upon returning to Sydney, Flynn’s thoughts reside squarely with getting his hands on Guinean gold, although he’ll need a ship to do so. After fleecing thugs for the cash needed, tussling with a Chinese pirate (Grace Huang, The Osiris Child) to procure a boat, and recruiting his pals – brawling Canadian Rex (Corey Large, who also co-wrote the script and produces) and prim-and-proper Englishman Dook (William Moseley, The Royals) – he’s on his way onboard the Sirocco, albeit with the vessel’s brooding original owner Charlie (Clive Standen, Vikings) joining the crew and towing along his own woes.
Under the guidance of veteran Australian director Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander and its sequel) and writers Large, Steve M. Albert (The Ninth Passenger), Marc Furmie (Terminus) and Luke Flynn (Errol’s grandson), Flynn and his friends embark on a rollicking caper. This ragtag group are soon sailing up Australia’s east coast, and stopping in Townsville for run-ins with a questionable local priest and mayor (David Wenham, Romper Stomper) and one of Flynn’s former sweethearts (Isabel Lucas, Chasing Comets), all on their way to potential riches and glory. Hurtling forward with a gleeful glean, In Like Flynn treats the details like a pulpy fantasy more than a tale steeped even the slightest part in reality. Of course, when it comes to Flynn, his sensational reputation and his enduring fame because of it, massaging the myth is the entire point.
Purposefully over-the-top as it may be, In Like Flynn ducks its intended marks more than it inspires sparks; Mulcahy may be aiming for a boisterous good time like the Flynn-starring classic Captain Blood, but the flat, template-like raucousness of the Pirates of the Caribbean series oft proves more fitting. Glossy, busy, frantic and tongue-in-cheek are all traits that suit the material, yet even when the film’s liveliness is infectious, the entire production still feels thin and weary. While embellishing an already self-exaggerated origin story doesn’t call for nuance or depth – conversely, it calls for almost pantomime-esque theatrics, which are delivered in spades – charisma and exuberance can only work so much magic.
That was rarely the case for Flynn himself. Accordingly, courtesy of both its highlights and its flaws, he’d likely approve of Mulcahy's “mostly true” account of his early days. Writing two other tomes based on his experiences – 1946’s romantic-leaning Showdown and 1959’s posthumously released autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways – he was as committed to slinging outrageous stories about himself as he was to starring in spirited adventures, and it’s in those footsteps that In Like Flynn happily follows. Cocquerel inhabits his swagger with flair, in what may be a bridge to bigger things; however ultimately this matinee-style effort wades rather than splashes or swims. It’s a yarn about a yarn, but it’s also wholly enamoured not just with its subject, but with the act of spinning his cartoonish larks into something to smile and wink about.
Rating: 2 stars ★★
In Like Flynn
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Australia, 2018, 98 mins
Release date: October 11