My Name Is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure

2004, Movie, R, 78 mins

Review

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Rushed into production as Miramax's rights to Peter O'Donnell's glamorous criminal-turned-covert-agent character were about to expire, and released directly to DVD under the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" banner, this modest film manages to rise above the triple whammy of low budget, tight shooting schedule and dubious casting.

Tangiers, Morocco: The mysterious Modesty Blaise (English actress Alexandra Staden, affecting an odd, exotic accent) is shady casino owner Henri Louche's (Valentin Teodosiu) glamorous right hand. Louche's side businesses include drug dealing, and the night before a major buy, he's ambushed by gunmen who then invade the casino and take the terrified employees hostage. They know the vault is full of cash, and ruthless ringleader Miklos (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of TV's New Amsterdam) doesn't care who he has to kill to get at it: He's already killed Louche, and quickly makes an example of croupier Boutellis (Bogdan Dumitrescu). Hoping to prevent further bloodshed, Modesty tells Miklos that force is out -- the vault is protected by a sophisticated network of booby traps -- and that only Louche and Boutellis had the combination. But coworker Raphael (Raymond Cruz) has access to Louche's computer -- she makes the call and while they await his arrival, Modesty and Miklos amuse themselves at the roulette table. The stakes are high: When she wins, Miklos agrees to release one of the hostages. When he wins, Modesty agrees to answer his questions about her past.

Husband-and-wife screenwriters Lee and Janet Scott Batchler (whose credits include the execrable 1995 BATMAN FOREVER), actually found workable solutions to projects limitations: Almost all the of the present-day story takes place on a single set -- Louche's casino -- and excepting some ill-conceived tinkering with Modesty's childhood mentor, Professor Lob (Fred Pearson), they do a solid job of integrating existing lore and new ideas about Modesty's back story. The prologue, which establishes Modesty's childhood privations, draws directly on Donnell's own WWII encounter in Iran with an abandoned child, resilient and old beyond her years. If Staden were a more convincing Modesty, the film might have been a small gem, but for much of its running time it's a two-person chamber drama, and she isn't forceful enough to hold the screen. As it is, though, MY NAME IS MODESTY is a pleasant surprise that keeps alive the possibility that Tarantino, a huge fan of the character (remember the novel Vincent Vega is glimpsed reading in PULP FICTION?), may yet make his own Modesty picture. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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