Friday 15 May 2020

Movie Review: The Internecine Project (1974)

A conspiracy thriller, The Internecine Project features an innovative multiple murder plot hampered by thin characterizations and a flimsy context.

Celebrated American economics professor Robert Elliot (James Coburn) is visiting London, where he reconnects with reporter Jean Robertson (Lee Grant), his ex-lover. Shady businessman E.J. Farnsworth (Keenan Wynn) then offers Elliot a high-ranking position in the US government, but only if Elliot cleans up his side-business in industrial espionage. This requires Elliot to make sure four people die in short order.

The intended victims are misogynist masseur Albert (Harry Andrews), high-priced prostitute Christina (Christiane Kr├╝ger), tweedy government official Alex (Ian Hendry) and sonic wave scientist David (Michael Jayston). Elliot ingeniously arranges for the four targets to kill each other in one night, but not everything will go according to plan.

The Internecine Project does not lack for talent on either side of the camera. The film is co-written by Jonathan Lynn and Barry Levinson, who also co-produced, with Geoffrey Unsworth in charge of cinematography. Director Ken Hughes is always on the lookout for the interesting angle, and with Coburn and Grant providing star power, the basic ingredients are impressive.

But this British production is limited by a singular focus on executing a clever series of sequential murders, at the expense of everything else. The initial setup is sketched in at best, and Hughes dismissively waves at the espionage and corporate corruption plot. The four victims-to-be are barely introduced before Elliot winds them up and sends them on their way. As a result the cold mechanics of murder are much more interesting than the people doing the killing and getting killed, and this is not a good thing.

Worse still is a remarkable underutilization of star power. Grant as reporter Jean Robertson is reduced to the role of irritant in the film's second half, her half-baked journalistic assignment subsumed by whiny interruptiveness. Coburn is confined to a dark office, counting telephone rings and ticking off a checklist with a painted expression of concern.

With a late twist-in-the-tail similarly botched and creating no emotional impact, The Internecine Project leaves a trail of forgettable dead bodies and little else.

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