Picks and Pans Review: High Road to China

updated 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Maybe he should have taken a slow boat. Maybe he should have tried the Shanghai Express. Maybe he should have just stayed in Hawaii. In any case, this proved to be an unfortunate pathway to feature films for Tom Selleck, the brawny star of TV's Magnum, P.I. Selleek's career should survive. His character has a John Wayne appeal—laconic, swaggering but sensitive, given only to the wholesome macho vices—smoking, drinking and swearing. As a former World War I ace hired to fly debutante Bess (The Four Seasons) Armstrong to Afghanistan to find her lost father, he is a hero men can admire and women can lust after. But after a stylish first scene involving a Milquetoasty clerk being stalked by a gunman, this movie musters little energy. Armstrong, who brings to mind Julie Andrews with a case of the blahs, is bratty where she's supposed to be spunky. Director Brian Hutton, whose previous credits are not exactly a list of all-time greats—Kelly's Heroes, XY & Zee, Night Watch, to name three—lets scenes drone on and strikes up little in the way of responses among his performers. Writers S. Lee Pogostin and Sandra Weintraub Roland are also culprits, since the film cried out for some snappy interchanges between Selleck and Armstrong and they mostly snipe at each other. There's only a slogging trip through Afghanistan, Nepal and China—they all look alike, which isn't surprising since most of the film was shot in Yugoslavia. Only splendid aerial footage of old biplanes keeps things from getting soporific. In its promotions, this film raised comparisons with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the best comparison it can hope for is merely invidious.(PG)

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