Hollywood Mystery

DATELINE HOLLYWOOD: The latest release from Pro Se Productions is a book I’m pretty excited about. HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY contains five stories from the Golden Age of Celluloid, where the stars get to solve the crime. Joining me on this journey to tinseltown are noted authors Mark Squirek, Christofer Nigro, Wayne Carey and Gordon Dymowski.

Hollywood MysteryMy contribution, THE POISON PEN, features William Powell and Myrna Loy neck deep in trouble at the famed Roosevelt Hotel.

When two bodies are discovered during a gala event, pandemonium breaks loose. When the police arrive on the scene, the clues point to three men all with airtight alibis. Which one is the killer?

Can Powell and Myra stay sober long enough to solve the crime?

Find out in THE POISON PEN – one of the great tales in HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY, available now from PRO SE PRODUCTIONS.

* * *

Hollywood, a land of imagination and dreams, where anyone’s star can rise and fall…and where the best actors and actresses ever portrayed characters of all kinds, including private eyes, cops, and other mystery solvers…

But what if the stars from the Golden Age of Celluloid actually ended up investigating real crimes, finding themselves in the crosshairs of danger while pursuing murderers and criminals through the studios and back alleys of America’s Dream Factory?

HOLLYWOOD MYSTERY is a collection of stories turning beloved Hollywood icons into detectives, turning over every rock and following every blood trail, hunting for the truth and hoping not to end up on the cutting room floor!

Click here for Amazon US.
Click here for Amazon UK.
Click here for Amazon AU.

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The Storm

The Storm CusslerTitle: The Storm
Author: Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
Publisher: Michael Joseph | Penguin
Published: 2012
Pages: 404
Series: The NUMA Files – Book 10

Since Clive Cussler became a brand, with at least five series on the go, I have had trouble keeping up with his output – or rather with the cadre of writers assembled to pump out each of the novels. That may not be such a bad thing, as the tales seem to be a bit hit and miss these days. The Storm is not the worst I have read, but it isn’t top tier Cussler either.

This adventure sees Kurt Austin, Joe Zavala, and the NUMA team investigating the disappearance of the catamaran crew researching temperature anomalies in the Indian Ocean. When the burnt hull of the catamaran is found adrift with no-one on board, Kurt and Joe, along with Paul and Gamay Trout, are dispatched to the Maldives to discover what happened.

Joining them on their quest, is Leilani Tanner, the sister of one of the missing catamaran crew. Their investigation leads them to a reclusive billionaire, Elwood Marchetti, who lives on a floating island. In the past, Marchetti designed a microbot colony to scour the ocean destroying garbage. However, his plan was never put into operation. But now it seems someone has stolen his design, and used it for nefarious purposes.

The villain of the piece is a power-crazed Bedouin named Jinn al-Khalif, who plans to change the face of the earth, by controlling the weather with his swarm of microbots. And of course, he intends to make a fortune by selling his services the highest bidder. Aiding Jinn in his scheme is his trusted adviser, Sabah, and Zarrina, a woman capable of practically anything.

The last few Cussler branded novels I have read have been slightly disappointing to me, and while it may be easy to say the co-writers aren’t ‘cutting it’, I don’t know if that is entirely true. Yes, there are unresolved plot threads, and some of the character motivations just don’t make sense. The thing is, I can’t be sure if they are poor writing, or if an over zealous editor has clipped a paragraph here and there, and in the process excised some key information that would have explained events more efficiently. Instead we get one passage where our hero, Kurt Austin seems like a complete dimwit, as he fails to comprehend what is right in front of his eyes. There’s another passage where Jinn becomes a mind reader. And don’t ask me what going on with the femme fatale, Zarrina. As it stands, her introduction doesn’t make an ounce of sense at all.

It may sound like I hated The Storm. I didn’t, generally speaking, it’s an entertaining action adventure tale, which displays a fair amount of creativity and imagination. And there were a few nice surprises thrown in. In closing, just a note for Egypt-o-philes, despite the cover art, this story doesn’t take place around the pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. However, Joe Zavala has a brief stopover at the Temple of Horus in Edfu, and quite a challenge before him at the Aswan Dam.

I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

David James Foster writes under the pen name James Hopwood. He is the author of the retro-spy thrillers The Librio Defection, The Danakil Deception, and The Ambrosia Kill. His short fiction has been published by Sempre Vigil Press, Airship 27, Crime Factory, and Pro Se Publications.

Writing as Jack Tunney he also scribed King of the Outback, Rumble in the Jungle, and The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly, books in the popular Fight Card series.

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The Four Legendary Kingdoms

Four Legendary Kingdoms Reilly
Title: The Four Legendary Kingdoms
Author: Matthew Reilly
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: 2016
Series: Jack West Jr. – Book 4

I have a love / hate relationship with Matthew Reilly’s novels. When Reilly gets it right, his books are the equivalent of a spectacular Big Screen Blockbuster movie; they are jaw-droppingly exciting and a great deal of fun. When he gets it wrong, they are can be genuinely cringeworthy. Infuriatingly, he can write 499 odd pages that have me hanging on his every word, and then on page 500, ruin everything and lose me in an instant – like his novel Temple – that ending was dreadful.

My favorite cringeworthy moment appeared in Hell Island (2005. Pan Macmillan), where the hero, Scarecrow, and his team take on an army of murderous gorillas. On page 100, readers were treated to this slice of penmanship…

As for the apes, well, they went apeshit.

Well, what may be sewage to a magistrate, is caviar to a psychopath. But that’s enough about the past. It would appear despite my grievances, I still keep coming back for more. Let’s see what The Four Legendary Kingdoms has in store.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms is the fourth book in the Jack West Jr. series, following on from The Seven Ancient Wonders (2005), The Six Sacred Stones (2007), and The Five Greatest Warriors (2009). While the aforementioned titles are archaeological adventures, in an Indiana Jones kind of way, 4LK is a different beast altogether. And although it exists in the same universe, and features the same characters, this is not so much a quest to locate ancient artifacts, but a violent no holds barred contest – a fight to the death between 16 combatants.

As the story begins, Jack West Jr. finds awakens in a cell, with a shaved head and no memory of how he got there. Before the fog in his mind has cleared, the cell door opens and a man with a bull shaped helmet, looking like a minotaur from Greek legend, charges at him with a knife. West kills the minotaur and walks from his cell to find himself in an arena with fifteen other men. West, along with these men, who have also tussled with a minotaur, is addressed by a man calling himself Hades. Hades explains they are the sixteen champions chosen to take part in the Hydra Games – a cross between the Labors of Hercules and The Hunger Games. During the competition, the champions must acquire nine golden spheres which have the power to save the world from an impending cataclysm.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Okay folks, the big surprise in the this story – and it’s been widely reported on the internet, so it’s not that big of a surprise anymore, is that Reilly’s other popular hero, Shane Schofield – AKA: Scarecrow – makes an appearance in 4LK as one of the contestants. I won’t say much more, but as I have already stated, this story is a fight to the death between 16 combatants, and as you can guess, in the story, West and Schofield face off against each other. Who wins? I’m not telling.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a bit of a departure for the series, and depending on what you’re after, it could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you want more of the same, it’s a bad thing. If you want things to get mixed up a little, then you may find this to be a breath of fresh air. For me, it didn’t quite work, not quite capturing the globe-trotting exploits of the best of jack West, nor the claustrophobia of the best of Scarecrow. It sort of sits in the middle. But, one thing it does well, is set up the next three books in the series, which I will no doubt read when they hit the shelves. Or maybe I won’t – like I said, I have this love / hate thing with Reilly’s books.

I’d give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

David James Foster writes under the pen name James Hopwood. He is the author of the retro-spy thrillers The Librio Defection, The Danakil Deception, and The Ambrosia Kill. His short fiction has been published by Sempre Vigil Press, Airship 27, Crime Factory and Pro Se Publications.

Writing as Jack Tunney he also scribed King of the Outback, Rumble in the Jungle, and The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly, books in the popular Fight Card series.

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Vengeance: Get Cutter

Get Cutter Cover

As a part of Pro Se Press’ innovative Single Shot line, the follow-up to my blood and thunder tale Cutter’s Law is now available. This second tale in the VENGEANCE trilogy is entitled GET CUTTER – and it’s BIGGER, BETTER and BLOODIER.

The series features Nathan Cutter, an Australian soldier whose life was turned upside down when his family became innocent victims in a gangland war. Written in the style of the men’s action-adventure stories of the 1970s and ’80s, such as The Executioner, this fast-paced story ratchets mayhem and excitement to new levels.

This story sees Nathan Cutter behind bars with a bounty on his head – and every inmate is looking to collect.

In the tradition of tough prison dramas like Escape From Alcatraz, Brute Force and Lockup, Cutter must fight to stay alive behind the bluestone walls at the one of the toughest prisons ‘down under’, the Ironbark Correctional Institution. Does Cutter have what it takes to survive?

Like a sharp jab to the midriff, Get Cutter will take your breath away.

THE VENGEANCE SERIES IS LOCKED AND LOADED

Get Cutter

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Firepower (1979)

FirepowerDirector: Michael Winner
Starring: James Coburn | Sophia Loren | O.J. Simpson | Eli Wallach | Vincent Gardenia | Anthony Franciosa | Billy Barty | Victor Mature | Jake LaMotta
Writers: Gerald Wilson | Bill Kirby | Michael Winner
Music: Gato Barbieri

Firepower is a late `70’s action film directed by Michael Winner, who is better known for the first three Death Wish movies, with Charles Bronson. While Bronson isn’t on hand here, two other Magnificent Seven alumni are present, James Coburn and Eli Wallach – which has nothing to do with this review really – just thought I’d mention it.

Just a quick note, the MRA Entertainment Australia DVD I watched appears to be cut. I cannot be sure, but there are some abrupt jumps in the more violent action scenes – particularly one with a machete, which I recall seeing some stills from many years ago. I may be wrong, but having watched director, Winner’s Death Wish films more times than I care to admit, I don’t believe he’s the type to shrink away from on-screen violence.

The movie starts with the death of Dr. Ivo Tasca. Tasca’s research had discovered that pain killing drugs manufactured by Stegner Corp. were contaminated and were now causing cancer. Tasca was about to turn his information over to the authorities.

Firepower 2After the funeral, Tasca’s window, Adele (Sophia Loren) hands over her late husband’s research to Frank Hull (Vincent Gardenia), who works for the Department of Justice. She hopes they’ll be able to prosecute, Karl Stegner, the head of Stegner Corp. Hull explains Stegner is the third richest man in the world, and as such, is virtually untouchable. Furthermore, he is hiding out in Antigua, where they can’t extradite him. Adele suggests acquiring a mercenary to go to the Caribbean and bring him back for prosecution. The man she suggests is Jerry Fanon (James Coburn).

A deal is brokered and Fanon heads to Antigua, accompanied by a thief named Catlett (O.J. Simpson), to track down and capture Karl Stegner by fair means or foul. The story cranks into gear and mayhem ensues.

The movie is awfully contrived, and outlining all the plot threads and entwined character relationships here would require more words than I am willing to waste on what is essentially a B-Grade actioner, that is only buoyed by its cast. There are multiple twists and turns, with characters appearing to change allegiance at the drop of a hat. And I’m guessing most astute viewers will guess the final big twist well in advance.

But in its favor, Firepower has that certain `70’s vibe I love, including a great score by Gato Barbieri, and it’s not the worst way to wile away 100 minutes of your life.

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Ruckus (1980)

ruckuscoverfrontAKA: Ruckus in Madoc County | A Big Ruckus in a Small Town
Director: Max Kleven
Starring: Dirk Benedict | Linda Blair | Richard Farnsworth | Ben Johnson | Matt Clark
Writer: Max Kleven
Music: Tommy Vig

This review, like so many of my rambling reviews, is based on conjecture with no facts to back it up. But certain things are self evident – the film Ruckus is about a returned Vietnam veteran – Kyle Hanson (played by Dirk Benedict – better known as Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galatica TV series, and as ‘Face’ from The A-Team) – who has trouble fitting back into society after his tour of duty. When he arrives in Madoc County, simply after something to eat, he runs afoul of the local authorities, and a manhunt ensues. The comparisons with First Blood (with Sylvester Stallone) are inevitable. However, it must be noted the film of First Blood hit cinema screens in 1982, two years after Ruckus was released.

Having said that, it must be noted, that David Morrell’s novel was released in 1972, and according to his Morrell’s eBook short, Rambo and Me: The Story Behind the Story (which is available for around .99c and is well worth the read if you’re interested in the character) suggests First Blood was optioned soon after it was published. Columbia Pictures purchased the rights for Richard Brooks to direct. When this didn’t move forward, the rights were sold to Warner Brothers for Sydney Pollack to direct Steve McQueen. In another production, Paul Newman was to play Wil Teasle (the role eventually played by Brian Dennehy). Then it was sold to another studio. You get the picture – the property moved around a hell of a lot. Morrell says 26 scripts were prepared. It took ten years for the film to finally be made. And I’m going to guess over that long gestation period, many people had an opportunity to read one of the various scripts – and even Morrell’s novel, which was readily available.

Now I am not saying director Max Kleven, who wrote the script for Ruckus, was one of the people who read one of the scripts, but one thing is for certain, his film sure shares more than a passing resemblance to First Blood. But that’s enough of my nonsense, let’s look at the film.

The film starts with an old farm truck rolling down a country road. Hitching a ride in the back is Kyle Hanson. Hanson is an unkempt, dirty Vietnam vet. His Special Forces jacket is soiled and he has dirt caked over his face. As the truck reaches a junction, Hanson climbs out and continues his journey on foot. As he makes his way through a small town the locals look at him with disgust.

He proceeds to a diner, looking for a meal. His voice is low and raspy as he places his order – a burger, raw! After acquiring his meal, he sits on the curb to eat his meat in peace. But, wouldn’t you know it, some good ole boys decide to have a bit of fun, and hurl empty drink cans at the undesirable.

Hanson ignores the abuse. He isn’t after trouble. Soon after, a car pulls up at the diner, and out steps Mr. Bellows (Ben Johnson). Bellows ‘runs’ the town. He also had a son in the Special Forces – who never returned home, believed K.I.A., but never confirmed. Bellows is curious to know if Hanson knew his son, and asks the question. Hanson doesn’t respond. All he wants is to be left alone. Hanson gets up and walks off.

Bellows doesn’t take to being snubbed, and sends a carload of his men after Hanson. They catch him at a bridge. The men approach Hanson, and call him ‘hippie’. When Hanson still doesn’t respond, one of the men grabs his coat. Hanson goes berserk. He throws one man of the bridge, and flattens two others. The forth man flees.

While Bellows’ goon squad recovers, Hanson marches toward the city limits, but within minutes the police are after him, and they’ve brought rifles. Hanson disappears into the surrounding forest. Everybody is out for blood, except for Sherriff Jethro Pough (Richard Farnsworth). Pough calls for Hanson to surrender quietly. Hanson still doesn’t respond. The police stream into the forest after their quarry. Hanson disarms one of the deputies and steals a police car. A manhunt ensues.

It is later revealed Hanson was part of a top-secret unit, who lived alone in the Vietnam jungle for eight months. And upon his return from Nam, was locked away in a psychiatric hospital – but now has escaped.

The film differs from First Blood, in two ways. First, it gives the hero a love interest, in the form of Jenny Bellows (Linda Blair). She is the wife of the Special Forces vet that never returned home. At one point in the movie, as the manhunters after Hanson close in, she tries to convince him to surrender.

He says, “They’ll try to lock me up. I can’t handle that.”

She pleads, “Don’t run. Those men out there are all hunters. They’re just looking to shoot at something.”

To which he replies, “I can handle that.”

The other major difference between Ruckus and First Blood is style. Ruckus was made at the end of the Smokey & the Bandit era, when Dukes of Hazard ruled TV. It has a good ole boy vibe to it, rather than that of an `80’s action movie. The soundtrack features tunes penned by Willie Nelson, which is not criticism, but merely highlights the difference in style.

As an action B-movie, from it’s era, I guess Ruckus is okay, but, as you’ve read, my issue is its similarity to First Blood. Maybe my attitude is misplaced. Maybe the plot similarities are purely co-incidental. I’ll probably never know the truth. But if B-grade films featuring crazed Vietnam vets are your thing, and you’ve never seen Ruckus, give it a shot. It’s not the worst film in the genre.

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And Then: Vol. 1 is now live

and-then-vol-1-front-cover

And Then…

The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales
Volume 1

has arrived…

Once upon a time, in an inspired fit of lunacy, Clan Destine Press invited some of the best genre writers in Australia and New Zealand to join them in a grand adventure.

They wanted rollicking stories of cliff-hanging quests and mysteries, page-turning deeds and escapades, with two heroes of any species, set in any time or place – but with a touch of something Aussie or Kiwi.

Coded messages were dispatched for writers to gird the loins of their heroes, slap on their many-coloured hats, lock and load their explodey things and set off on adventures galore…

What they received was 30 boundary-defying, adrenaline-charged stories of intrigue, bravery, mystery and peril.

And what they have now is a must-read anthology of tales that will transport you to worlds both familiar and fantastic.

Volume 1

with an introduction by Janeen Webb

features:

Sulari Gentil ~ Catch a Fallen Star
Jason Nahrung ~ The Mermaid Club
Alan Baxter ~ Golden Fortune, Dragon Jade
Jason Franks ~ Exli and the Dragon
Lucy Sussex ~ Batgirl in Borneo
Amanda Wrangles ~ Come Now, Traveller
Evelyn Tsitas ~ Stealing Back the Relics
Peter M Ball ~ Deadbeats
Narrelle M Harris ~ Moran & Cato: Virgin Soil
Dan Rabarts ~ Tipuna Tapu
Kat Clay ~ In the Company of Rogues
Sophie Masson ~ The Romanov Opal
Tor Roxburgh ~ The Boudicca Society
Emilie Collyer ~ The Panther’s Paw
Tansy Rayner Roberts ~ Death at the Dragon Circus

Edited by Ruth Wykes & Kylie Fox, with title page illustrations by Vicky Pratt and cover art by Sarah Pain, And Then… Vol 1 is now available as an eBook from this link.

The And Then… paperback will be available in mid January.

And Then… Volume 2 with more ripping adventures – by Alison Goodman, Jack Dann & Steven Paulsen, Kerry Greenwood & David Greagg, Fin J Ross, Lindy Cameron, Maria Lewis, Andrew Nette, Cameron Ashley, Sarah Evans, Michael Pryor, James Hopwood, Mary Borsellino, Keith McArdle, Kelly Gardiner & Amanda Pillar – will also be out in paperback and eBook in January 2017.

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The March of Time

As we roll into December and 2016 winds to a close I thought it was time to look back at what was achieved this year and what lies ahead for 2017. I have got to admit 2016 was a pretty tough year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 took me in directions I wasn’t prepared for.

Let’s look at what was published. The Ambrosia Kill, the second full length Jarvis love novel was released on February 9 by Pro Se Productions. The reaction to it was muted to say the least. Ten months later, and there’s only been one review, and that is courtesy of my old friend and mentor, Paul Bishop. Thanks, Paul, much appreciated.

For those of us who are passionate about 60s spy fiction…and for anyone else who enjoys adventurous action filled romps, unassuming heroes with a steel core, world threatening villains, and a twist of humor to make it all go down smooth…you cannot afford to miss this new and deadly Jarvis Love assignment for G.I.N–Global intelligence Network…This is the third Jarvis Love adventure and they are all a blast of fresh air in a world filled with stodgy, overwrought thrillers…

Despite Paul’s endorsement, it would appear my Jarvis Love novels are not finding a reading audience, so there will be a delay in getting the next one out – tentatively titled The Maltese Connection – while I take stock of the character and where I want to go with the series.

On April 25, the previous Jarvis Love adventure, The Danakil Deception, was released as an audiobook by Radio Archives. This took me pleasantly by surprise, and it surpassed all my expectations. Narrator, Julian Hankins did a brilliant job bringing the characters to life.

On June 16, The New Adventures of the Eagle Vol. 2 was released by Pro Se Productions, featuring a novella length tale (20,000 words) from me, called The Secret of Blood River, and a short story called Danger Train from noted author Teel James Glenn. I thought this was a tight little package, but so far, once again, it has failed to find an audience.

And finally, on June 29 I self published a short story called Song Bird, based on a radio play I wrote last year. It is a little vanity piece, and I put it out just to have a record of it, and I suspect it is of little interest to anyone who doesn’t live on the Mornington Peninsula.

So that’s the year to date; not a total bust, but certainly below my expectations. Some projects I have talked about in the past have been delayed, and others are seeking new publishers. Where and when they’ll see the light of day, I don’t know.

In 2017 I intend to step back from the keyboard and bum around a bit; see where life takes me. I know that sounds vague, and hippy-esque, but with .10c to my name, I gotta go where the opportunities lie. There’s a bank of short stories and articles already completed for various publishers, so there are new books on the horizon, but I can’t speculate on when they’ll hit the shelves. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Thanks to everyone for their continued support and I wish you a safe holiday season and all the best for 2017.

Cheers
David (AKA James Hopwood)

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And Then – available to pre-order

So folks, ‘And Then: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales’ is available to pre-order. If you want to get in early – and obtain a 25% discount off the RRP – there’s an Indigogo Campaign happening now. The two volume set features over 30 of Australia and New Zealand’s finest genre fictioneers. The campaign is also your only opportunity to get hold of the limited edition Hardbacks editions, along with a heap of other swag if you are so inclined.

To join the adventure, the short link to the campaign is:

https://igg.me/at/AndThen

The press release is below [click to enlarge].
And Then offer

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Tarzan and the Lost City (1998)

Tarzan Lost CityDirector: Carl Schenkel
Starring: Caspar Van Dien | Jane March | Steve Waddington | Winston Ntshona | Rapulana Seiphemo | Ian Roberts
Music: Christopher Franke
Based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Last week I reviewed TARZAN THE APE MAN (1981) and I spoke at length about what I didn’t like about the film. I may have been rash in my condemnation. TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY is far worse. It must be said it looks great – the cinematography by Paul Gilpin is first rate, and Casper Van Dien is a passable Tarzan. But what little plot there is barely makes sense. It is clearly a film that relies on spectacle rather than story, which I believe is a crime.

As the film opens a nefarious British explorer named Ravens (Steve Waddington) seeks the location to the fabled lost city of Opar. He and his men ransack and African village for a talisman that will show the way. As the village burns a psychic message is sent to Tarzan – or more precisely John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (Casper Van Dien). Clayton is in London, preparing for his imminent wedding to Jane (Jane March). The psychic message tells him something is amiss in the jungle. He postpones the wedding and heads back to Africa to attempt to stop Ravens. Jane, who refuses to be left behind and forgotten, follows several days later.

Possibly borrowing the style from the aforementioned TARZAN THE APE MAN, this film also chooses to use slow motion whenever Tarzan swings into action. Admittedly, LOST CITY is edited better than APE MAN, but none-the-less the effect is the same, rendering Tarzan’s primal power and energy little more than a visual effect – rather than a force of nature.

Another quibble is the quest for the lost city itself. Not that I want the film to be an Indian Jones clone, with booby-traps and hidden danger at every stage of the journey – but I do expect a quest for a lost city to feature a ‘quest’ or ‘journey’. Ravens and his team go straight to the secret entrance, and then through to the hidden valley. It’s only then they encounter some resistance – and some dodgy dated CGI effects.

At the climax, the film takes a weird turn toward weird mumbo-jumbo mysticism. All throughout Ravens’s search for Opar, his reasons are never explained, and upon his arrival he suddenly rants about the city being the cradle of all civilization. It’s an info dump that the viewer could have used an hour ago. Instead it appears to be shoehorned in at the last minute to allow a glitzy special effects ending. Lightning flashes and magical powers are unfurled but for what purpose we are never really sure.

While undemanding viewers and children may find something to enjoy in TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY, most viewers will be left bewildered, shaking their heads at the wasted opportunity to make an entertaining action adventure. It could very well be the worst Tarzan movie ever made.

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