In the middle of a high-level murder investigation, a low-level FBI agent quips, “This looks to be the work of amateurs.” My only question is, is he talking about the crime or “Formosa Betrayed,” the stilted Reagan-bashing potboiler he’s ensnared in?
In the middle of a high-level murder investigation, a low-level FBI agent quips, “This looks to be the work of amateurs.” My only question is, is he talking about the crime or “Formosa Betrayed,” the stilted Reagan-bashing potboiler he’s ensnared in? I’m guessing it’s the former, but what I’m seeing up on screen strongly suggest the latter.
I’ve glimpsed corpses with more vim and vigor than Adam Kane’s directorial debut, which finds the former cinematographer struggling to overcome the limitations of an exposition-heavy script and a lead actor better suited to mindless soaps like “Dawson’s Creek” than political thrillers.
That would be you, James Van Der Beek, the venerable Dawson Leery, who has apparently joined the FBI to overcome the grief of losing his beloved Joey Potter to Tom Cruise.
Now going by the alias of Jake Kelly, Dawson … er … Van Der Beek seems bound and determined to prove he has zero range by basically transforming his iconic TV persona into a flatfooted gumshoe.
Sure, he’s older now with Sonny Crockett-like stubble to make him appear manlier and, to a lesser extent, reflect the “Miami Vice” era in which “Formosa Betrayed” is set.
For you youngsters, that would be 1983, a time when “Star Wars” was both a movie and a foreign policy. It was also a time of Ollie North, Iran-Contra and warm relations with a nutty dictator named Saddam Hussein.
If this all comes as news to you, then “Formosa Betrayed” may strike you as revelatory. If not, be prepared for a long, boring rehash of our nation’s nefarious anti-communist activities during the Reagan years, with Taiwan, aka the island formerly known as Formosa, serving as ground zero.
That is where our intrepid Jake is whisked off to by his superiors after a Taiwanese professor gets his cloak daggered while on a teaching sabbatical in Chicago.
Turns out the guy was no big fan of Taiwan’s self-proclaimed president, Chaing Kai-Shek, a U.S.-sponsored dictator who was long propagandized in the States as an irreproachable symbol of freedom. Apparently, good ol’ Jake drank the Kool-Aid, because he appears genuinely shocked by what he finds when the murder investigation leads him back to Taipei.
Initially, he suspects members of the Asian mafia. But the more he digs and the more he’s kidnapped, beaten and bruised, he’s convinced that old Chaing himself is complicit.
Say it ain’t so. But it is so, at least according to the producers, who claim all this nonsense is based on a real FBI case. I’m not buying it, though, because real-life could not possibly be this boring.
It’s not just Van Der Beek, either. Sure, he’s awful, but not nearly has awful as you’d expect. No, the real culprits are the half-dozen hacks who had a hand in writing a script that repeatedly asks members of the cast to stop what they’re doing and recite long, dissertations on U.S.-Taiwanese relations since 1947. Don’t worry, though, there won’t be a test, unless you count your patience.
That will likely be exhausted even before the end of the first act. But I must admit it’s kind of fun counting up all the clichés and hackneyed twists as they unfold. But then I didn’t buy a ticket. If I had, I might have felt even more betrayed than Formosa.
Reach Al Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FORMOSA BETRAYED (R for some violent content.) Cast includes James Van Der Beek and John Heard. Directed by Adam Kane. 1 1/2 stars out of 4