Sphinx ★½

Lesley-Anne Down is the kind of Egyptologist that doesn't know the Arabic words for help, police, yes or thanks.

I'd like to think that some industry rag mentioned Lucasfilm's 18 million dollar commitment to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) as the catalyst for Orion dumping 14 into this archaeologist adventure yarn by Robin Cook (Coma). Sphinx beat Raiders to the theatres by six months. Now if I'm being overly cynical, and this isn't a rushed to completion case of similar cinema, I apologize. Even if we don't compare Sphinx to one of the greatest American films every created, however, and decide to assess it on its own merits, this kind of sucks as a movie.

Academy Award winning director Franklin J. Schaffner (for Patton, though he also did Papillon so it wasn't all jingoistic drivel, and he should have done better) tells the slow and plodding story of woman researching an article on a pyramid architect, only to witness the murder of Sir John Gielgud (playing an Egyptian). This sets off a fantastic (...that is a lie) adventure in which she goes around seeing the local sights while being romanced by two men that are both TWO DECADES HER SENIOR in Frank Langella (playing an Egyptian) and Maurice Ronet (believably french, but not in Paper Moon form). Neither man comes across too desirable, and romance aspect is slightly mind boggling. At one point Lesley-Anne Down is in police custody and is almost sexually assaulted by a guard, only after a gruelling minute plus struggle, Langella casually comes to her aid, throwing the rapist off so the scum can presumably go about his business. Our hero.

While a lot of sleazy characters wander around, including John Rhys-Davis (Raiders of the Lost Ark), William Hootkins (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Tutte Lemkow (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and a prominent role for Vic Tablian (Raiders of the Lost Ark), the real mystery seems to be what one dimensional thug is working for which mysterious crime boss. With the exception of Tablian most of the cast are reduced to cameos, even Victoria Tennant has a one day flashback shoot. The initial scene sees some tomb robbers getting graphically drawn and quartered by horses - but that promise quickly gallops away. What we're left with is a drab tribute to the damsel in distress serials like The Perils of Pauline, but without the requisite cliffhanger.

While I like championing box office poison rather than bowing to popular opinion, there is little to enjoy from this particular bomb. Sadly it substantially hurt the star power of Leslie-Anne Down, though Sir John Gielgud managed to bounce back from his brief beheading to win an academy award the next year with Arthur. Given how much alcohol was consumed to slog through this viewing, I feel like Arthur myself.