Rufus Excalibur ffolkes is hands-down the oddest character Roger Moore has ever played, and not just because the character has one of the silliest names in movie history. Ffolkes is a gruff, bearded war machine of a man who runs a small British marine counter-terrorism unit. He is at least twice as old as any of the men in his unit, but he can out-run, out-swim and out-shoot each and every one of them. He loves cats, hates women, has a thing for big fluffy sweaters and enjoys a bit of needlepoint during his downtime. Even the capitalization of his name is whimsical – the first letter of his last name is supposed to be lowercase, probably because he knew it would make movie reviewers look like typo-prone amateurs. Surprisingly, the film this man appears in is an entirely straightforward military thriller. It's as if a Zucker Brothers protagonist accidentally stumbled onto the wrong set and just went with it.
It's disappointing that the rest of Ffolkes isn't nearly as colorful as its main character, though perhaps I wouldn't feel that way if the film's more serious-minded plot didn't feel so half-hearted and bland. It's as if the filmmakers knew they had an intriguing main character and figured that a yarn pulled from a paperback thriller discount bin would be sufficient for the rest. Moore has claimed that he likes the film better than any of the Bond movies he made, but the only possible explanation for that is that Moore really likes the way he looks with scruffy facial hair.
The story begins with a group of journalists boarding Esther, a North Sea supply ship. The journalists claim that they're eager to report on the workings of Jennifer, an oil production platform the ship will be visiting. However, as soon as the ship reaches Jennifer, the men reveal their true purpose: they're criminals seeking a big payday from the British government. The leaders of the group (Anthony Perkins, Psycho and Michael Parks, Tusk) demand a ransom of $25 million. If they don't get it, they'll blow up Jennifer and the oil drilling rig Ruth – a move that could cost the British government billions (or “thousands of millions,” in the parlance of the day). If the government still hasn't paid by the time Jennifer and Ruth have been destroyed, the terrorists (“We're not terrorists! We just know what we want!” Perkins insists) will destroy Esther and all the men aboard her, too.
Naturally, the British government turns to ffolkes for help. Working alongside a prestigious admiral (a tired-looking James Mason, Odd Man Out), ffolkes hatches a scheme to board the Esther, take out the terrorists and save the day. If that sounds fairly exciting, well, it really isn't. Despite the constant promises of high stakes action, the bulk of Ffolkes is a lot of dull chatter. That might have been okay if the other characters were interesting, but they aren't. Mason, Perkins and Parks are all fine actors, but Mason looks as if he'd rather be doing anything else and Perkins and Parks aren't given an opportunity to bring any of their colorful tics to the table. Only ffolkes is permitted to bring any flavor to the proceedings, but even he gets dull once the film pushes him into a predictable subplot designed to help the character get over his old-fashioned sexism (which he previously indicates with subtle statements like, “I don't like women”).
Ffolkes is a British production, and when it was released in America it was retitled North Sea Hijack. When it began airing on American television in the 1980s, it was renamed Assault Force. Disappointingly, those fairly generic titles provide a pretty good indication of what you're in for. It's worth a look for Roger Moore fans who want to see the actor playing against type in rather striking fashion, but those seeking an entertaining way to kill a couple of hours can do better than this limp Die Hard precursor.
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Year: 1979