Directed by Tripp Reed, this 2010 made for SyFy Channel movie stars Max Martini as a tough guy named McCall who is hired by a rich guy (Benito Martinez) to lead an expedition deep into the jungles of South America (or at least, Louisiana doubling for South America) in search of a mystical dagger rumored to have belonged at one point to the rich guy's Aztec ancestors. McCall arrives at the site and meets up with the foxy site boss, Felicia (Betsy Russell, who some of us will remember forever thanks to her frequent nudity in Private School!) who gives him and his crew some tracking devices and sends them on their merry way. Much sooner than you'd expect, they find the location and figure that the dagger is probably in the most obvious spot around - a giant tomb in the middle of a graveyard. Despite the pleadings of the token South American guy, they pull the dagger out of the body in the tomb and unwittingly unleash the wraith of not only some unfriendly natives but also some plant monsters. You see, the dagger somehow kept the giant plant monsters in check and now that it's been removed, the plant monsters are mad.
The rich dude shows up and soon admits what we already knew - that he doesn't really care who gets killed so long as he gets his prize, while Felicia winds up working alongside McCall to try and help as many of his team make it out alive as possible.
Formulaic to a very big fault, Mandrake has a couple of good points. The Shreveport locations are actually a pretty decent stand in for the jungles of South America and the movie has that 'hot and sweaty' look to it that works in the context of where the characters are supposed to be. On top of that, the effects work, most of which is of the CGI variety, is actually surprisingly competent and quite a few steps above what we usually get with these made for SyFy Channel movies.
That's where the praise ends, however. The movie is so completely predictable that it's almost entirely devoid of anything even remotely resembling suspense, while the acting is wooden, uninspired and flat out boring for the most part. No one really seems to be 'in the zone' so to speak, everyone here is basically calling it in. Martini is the stereotypical tough guy, he's got the attitude and the one liners to go with the square jaw and the big muscles, while Russell is the dime a dozen 'foxy scientist' type that seems to only exist in movies like this (no offence to any real life foxy scientists - if you're out there, let us know!). Martinez is marginally enjoyable as the villain, as he's good at playing slimy characters and that's essentially what he is here, but again, he's a stereotype, just like everyone else in the film.
Really, there's just nothing here to catch our interest or hold our attention. The pacing is fine and theoretically this should have been passable entertainment. Monsters and foxy scientists are always a good match and everyone loves a good shoot out in the middle of a jungle, but it just never rises to the occasion.
For a shot on video low budget production the anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen presentation doesn't look too bad. There's some heavy shimmering in a few scenes in places where you're used to seeing it such as on clothing textures and patterns but other than that the movie looks pretty good. Color reproduction isn't bad, skin tones look alright, and while there is some mild mpeg compression present in a few of the darker moments in the film, they're not overpowering and the transfer brings the greens of the jungle surroundings to life quite nicely.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is free of any hiss or distortion and for the most part, the levels are well balanced (there are a few spots where there are a few tweaks but otherwise it's all good). The score and sound effects sound fine and don't bury the performers in the mix. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
There are some trailers for other Lionsgate properties that play before the static main menu loads. Aside from that, there's chapter selection - no real extras to speak of, however.
Mandrake had potential but failed to live up to it. While the film does a good job of making the jungle setting feel overwhelming, the characters are flat and clichéd and the performances uninspired. The effects are okay for a low budget made for TV movie, but they're not enough to save the feature. Lionsgate's DVD looks and sounds alright but doesn't contain any extra features - you can safely skip this one.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.