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My Name Is Modesty

For a vidpic filmed in 18 days by a helmer hired scarcely a week before the start of principal photography, "My Name Is Modesty" isn't half-bad. This mildly diverting time-killer focuses on the early days of Modesty Blaise, cult-fave heroine of popular novels and comic strips by Brit author Peter O'Donnell.

Cast:
With: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Valentin Teodosiu, Bianca Ana Tudorica.

For a vidpic filmed in 18 days by a helmer hired scarcely a week before the start of principal photography, “My Name Is Modesty” isn’t half-bad. Produced pro forma so Miramax could maintain rights to the source material, this mildly diverting time-killer focuses on the early days of Modesty Blaise, cult-fave heroine of popular novels and comic strips by Brit author Peter O’Donnell. Fan base of the character will be the primary aud for this low-budget, direct-to-video actioner, though Quentin Tarantino imprimatur could generate additional interest in retail and cable venues.

Drawing on pieces of the heroine’s backstory scattered throughout O’Donnell’s oeuvre, scripters Lee and Janet Scott Batchler concoct a scenario that often plays like the pilot for a syndicated teleseries. Modesty Blaise (slightly stiff yet striking Alexandra Staden) is a roulette-wheel operator — and, evidently, second-in-command — at a posh casino run by shady entrepreneur Henri Louche (Valentin Teodosiu) in Morocco. After closing, Eurotrashy bad guys led by snarling Miklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kill Louche and threaten to kill employees if someone doesn’t open the loot-stocked safe.

Modesty tells Miklos that the only person with the combination to the vault isn’t on the scene. To keep her co-workers alive until his return, she proposes a high-stakes roulette game with Miklos. Each time she wins, he frees a hostage. Each time he wins, she tells him more about her past, beginning as an orphan (played by Bianca Ana Tudorica) who escapes from a refugee camp with Professor Lob (Fred Pearson).

Budgetary and scheduling restraints require vet vidpic director Scott Spiegel (“From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money”) to keep most of the action within the casino set, with occasional exteriors to chart young Modesty’s picaresque adventures. (Pic was shot in Bucharest, Romania, but most of the war scenes consist of stock footage from “A Bridge Too Far.”) Still, Spiegel sustains a reasonable level of tension while Modesty stalls for time. Climactic smackdown is suitably brisk, if predictable. Handsome lensing by Vivi Dragan Vasile is a plus.

A couple of the “extras” included in the DVD edition of “My Name Is Modesty” arguably are more interesting than the vidpic itself. A 52-minute interview with Peter O’Donnell may seem plodding to the uninitiated, but the author’s anecdotes likely will enthrall diehard fans of Modesty Blaise. A 42-minute joint interview with Tarantino (billed as the vidpic’s “presenter”) and Spiegel are instructive mini-seminar on the nuts and bolts of low-budget vidpic production. That’s a Modesty Blaise graphic novel John Travolta’s character is reading in “Pulp Fiction.” And Tarantino indicates he would like to eventually direct a lavish feature showcasing Modesty.

For the record: “My Name Is Modesty” is the third filmed adaptation of O’Donnell’s books and comics, following the 1966 Joseph Losey-directed “Modesty Blaise” and an unsold 1982 ABC pilot.

My Name Is Modesty

Production: A Miramax Home Entertainment release of a Quentin Tarantino and Miramax Films presentation of a Wandering Star production. Produced by Michael Berrow, Marcelo Anciano, Ted Nicolaou. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Cary Woods, Paul Berrow, Michelle Sy. Directed by Scott Spiegel. Screenplay, Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, based on character created by Peter O'Donnell.

Crew: Camera (color), Vivi Dragan Vasile; editor, Michelle Harrison; music, Deborah Lurie; production designer, Cristian Niculescu; costume designer, Oana Paunescu; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrick Giraudi, Thanos Kazakos. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Nov. 20, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 78 MIN.

With: With: Alexandra Staden, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Valentin Teodosiu, Bianca Ana Tudorica.

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