5 January 2005 | barnabyrudge
Michael Caine says it's his worst film. He's wrong - by a fair margin, too - though it's certainly a mediocre work.
Michael Caine has always claimed that Ashanti was "the only film (he) did purely for the money" as well as "the worst film he ever starred in". Hold on, Michael, weren't you in The Swarm and Hurry Sundown? And weren't both of those films a good deal worse than Ashanti? Perhaps Caine remembers only too begrudgingly the physically punishing demands of filming an action film in searing 130 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures (the director, Richard Fleischer, was hospitalised as a result of sun-stroke during the shoot). What Ashanti actually emerges as is not the career low-point of Michael Caine. Instead, it is a very average chase thriller with a talented cast, exotic locations, boring stretches and a highly formulaic storyline.
Dr. David Linderby (Caine) is a W.H.O medic who is left devastated when his black wife Anansa (Beverly Johnson) goes missing during an aid trip to an African tribal village. Linderby gradually realises that his wife has been snatched by slave traders - led by Suleiman (Peter Ustinov) - and he sets off on a continent-wide pursuit which eventually leads to the Middle East.
Along the way, big stars pop in for ineffective and superfluous guest roles. William Holden has a poor cameo as a chopper pilot; Omar Sharif displays little of his customary charm or grace as a pampered Arab millionaire; Rex Harrison looks rightfully bored during his brief role as a helpful contact who assists Caine in his quest. The film is based on a best-seller entitled Ebano, by the little-known author Alberto Vasquez-Figueroa, but the suspense that made the book so popular is largely absent in this adaptation. Ustinov is charismatic as the slaver (he seems in all his movies to be incapable of giving bad performances), and Caine generates believable anguish as the man who thinks he'll never see his wife again. There are occasional flashes of action, but on the whole Ashanti is quite slow-moving. All in all, it is a resistible piece of action hokum - not by any stretch as awful as Caine has frequently suggested, but not a very inspiring film and certainly a let-down from all the talent involved.