Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lance Baker, Nick Offerman, Jonah Blechman, Pat Healy, Suzy Nakamura, Rachel Singer, Stephanie Ittleson, Daisy Hall, Caveh Zahedi, Guinevere Turner
Written by: Scott King
Directed by: Scott King
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 86
Date: 24/01/1999

Treasure Island (1999)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

An 'Island' Unto Itself

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Treasure Island on DVD.

It sounds really good from the description. Treasure Island is a black-and-white movie, filmed in San Francisco, based on a 1950's pulp novel called The Man Who Never Was. It starts out even better, with chapter 6 of a fake serial involving Nazi bad guys, then fake newsreel footage from World War II. The opening titles look just like a 1940's film and even the music is authentic.

Then the story starts and it all goes downhill from there. The plot involves two government workers who are doctoring up a corpse to look like a spy, complete with phony invasion papers. It sounds like a good idea, but the movie gets all existential and pretentious about it. One of the agents has threesomes with his wife and other men, and the other is a polygamist who is busy courting his third wife. In addition, the corpse itself gets up and walks around, trying to convince the two men that they're really homosexuals.

For some reason this heady brew won the Special Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Then, it was smartly placed on the shelf for a year. Why it didn't stay there is beyond me. My theory is that people watch this movie and they don't want anyone to know that they really didn't get it, so they pretend they've seen something incredible. It's really all just wanky performance art.

Some folks may think about seeing Treasure Island because it's "shot in San Francisco." But, as I remember, there are only two or three exterior shots. One is a completely anonymous street somewhere and the other is a silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge that could have been faked. The fact is that everyone involved in the film is from Chicago and it's not likely that they flew the entire cast and crew to the Bay Area on a shoestring budget just to shoot a bunch of interiors and possibly one exterior. The moral: don't believe the hype.

Treasure Island doesn't have a credited director, though Scott King is top billed as writer and cinematographer. He's as good as any to blame for bringing this deformed product into the world. I would like to point out that the wonderful and lovely Guinevere Turner, from Rose Troche's Go Fish (1994), makes a small appearance as a dime-a-dance girl. Her brief time onscreen was a welcome respite to the misery of the rest of the movie.

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