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James Van Der Beek is a name that most viewers associate with his late 90s/early 00s role as the title character on "Dawson's Creek." Seven years after that show left the small screen, Van Der Beek's body of work has never been the same. Like many before him, Van Der Beek appears to be trying to break the teen star image that launched him to fame but sadly pigeonholed his acting talent. "Formosa Betrayed" is just the type of movie to silence the naysayers and those who cant separate the actor from the character (Dawson Leery). However, the film itself ends up becoming a new hindrance to Van Der Beek's chance of making a big name for himself.
Set in the 1980s and based on true events, "Formosa Betrayed" follows all the conventions of a political thriller. The film opens like many have before it, with our main character, FBI Agent Jake Kelly (Van Der Beek) trying to flee a foreign land. Local authorities stop him and his fugitive companion, Ming (Will Tiao, who also co-wrote the script), but not before American diplomat Susan Kane (Wendy Crewson), can buy some time (she literally tells Kelly this) so he can explain just how he got to this point. It's a classic convention, but sadly telling of how lazy this film will unfold. Naturally we jump back to the beginning to see how Kelly, a man with no knowledge of Taiwan, sent there only to assist the Chinese government capture the killers of a Taiwanese professor murdered in Chicago, started on the path to deciding to "play by his own rules."
Fortunately, Van Der Beek plays his role subtly, never flying off the handle, even when his character is outraged. He's a convincing investigator, despite the costume department kneecapping his image as an FBI agent, leaving Kelly looking more like a private investigator. Van Der Beek carries the earnest but uninspired script to the best of his abilities and if the film does one thing well, show he hasn't gotten a fair break post-Dawson. At the very least, this is an actor that should be showing up in stronger, feature film supporting roles. The same can't be said for his superiors, notably John Heard, as fellow agent Tom Braxton. Heard is whiny and feels more suited for role as an FBI agent in a soap opera, while Wendy Crewson is in full-on "alpha female" mode, smugly scowling and adding consistent emphasis to every self-important line of dialogue.
Intended as a political thriller, "Formosa Betrayed" provides faux tension by stretching out the running time at least 15 minutes too long. Investigations take a little too long with no real payoff and right around the halfway mark, we get the big speech from a supporting character that give the bullet point version of why the underdog deserves Kelly's support. The atrocities committed against the supporting character and his family are all based on actual events and worthy of sympathy, but the way they are sloppily treated is frustrating. The film's final act does try and inject some life with some twists and a few chases, but it's too little, too late to get the viewer to reinvest into the story. In all honesty, what hurts the film the most is the tired way it starts showing Kelly and Ming still alive, but in custody at the airport. It renders scenes where their demise could come at any minute later in the movie, utterly irrelevant since we know there's still more story to come.
"Formosa Betrayed" is a film that gets higher marks for its effort and intentions, than the final result, but efforts and intentions don't excuse a mediocre movie. From the cookie cutter plotting, to the broad acting and non-existent attempt to make the film look like a period piece through a couple of vintage props and a few uses of a sepia filter (all the costumes and hairstyles are obviously rooted in present day fashion), "Formosa Betrayed" is average.
As Screen Media only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the video quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
As Screen Media only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the audio quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
Aside from James Van Der Beek's solid performance, "Formosa Betrayed" doesn't have much to offer. It's a by-the-books thriller that cheaply uses history as a backbone. I can't speak for how authentic its portrayal of actual events is, but as used here, they just aren't that intriguing. Rent It.