Cascadeur: The Action Chamber

Anything Hollywood can wreck, we can wreck better, seems to be the philosophy behind "Cascadeur: The Amber Chamber," a mostly enjoyable widescreen romp that's an unabashed "Raiders of the Lost Bernsteinzimmer."

Anything Hollywood can wreck, we can wreck better, seems to be the philosophy behind “Cascadeur: The Amber Chamber,” a mostly enjoyable widescreen romp that’s an unabashed “Raiders of the Lost Bernsteinzimmer.” As a demo of current German filmdom’s amazing ability to replicate Hollywood’s ground rules, this $4 million action-adventure has everything going for it, with the exception of a couple of charmless leads and a dull patch in the middle. Its theatrical career both within and without Germany will be a litmus test of whether the U.S. can be taken on at its own game.

Producer-director-star Hardy Martins trained for two years at L.A.’s Intl. Stunt Assn. and has worked as action coordinator on a raft of German movies the past 10 years. (“Cascadeur” is the French-originated term for his profession.) Though Martins, like the film as a whole, sends up both himself and the genre, the whole enterprise would have been better with a real actor in the main male role. His co-lead, Regula Grauwiller, proves a plucky partner but an equally cold fish in her Indiana Jane role.

Opening 15 minutes in Caracas start gangbusters, with art history student Christin (Grauwiller) tracking down a dying old Nazi and getting hold of a special key that will help her find the Amber Room, a long-lost cultural treasure valued at $150 million that was pilfered from Leningrad by Adolf’s boys during WWII. Rogue elements from German military intelligence led by the Colonel (Heiner Lauterbach) give chase through the streets of the Venezuelan capital, and bundle Christin onto a plane bound for Bavaria.

Christin escapes, parachutes out, and all but lands in the arms of Vincent (Martins), a Black Forest cone-farmer who just happens to be a former ace stuntman. With the Colonel’s goons never far behind, the duo form a business alliance to find the Amber Room, which involves adventures across the Bavarian countryside in cars, trucks, planes, castles with trapdoors and mountains riddled with tombs and dead Nazis.

Stunningly shot in widescreen, which is always effortlessly composed, the movie has a smaller feel to it than its production values merit, due to a small cast of lead players and its being set in southern Germany rather than exotic locales as in the opening. When the action stops and character interplay is meant to take over, the film marks time: There’s not much verbal humor between the two leads, and it’s left to more experienced hands like Lauterbach, as the villain, and Eckhard Preuss, as Vincent’s buddy, to supply color.

Still, the action sequences are both top-drawer and inventive, requiring none of the allowances usually necessary for European productions. Philipp F. Koelmel’s symphonic score could have done with a strong main theme, but the pic is cut so tightly that it never needs to rely on music for added impetus.

Cascadeur: The Action Chamber

  • Production: A Cascadeur Filmproduktion/ProSieben/FIMA production. (International sales: Futura Filmverlag, Munich.) Produced by Jimmy C. Gerum, Hardy Martins. Directed by Hardy Martins. Co-directors, Sandra Barger, Veronika Bauriedl. Screenplay, Uwe Wilhelm, Uwe Kossmann, based on an idea by Martins.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Markus Fraunholz; editor, Uwe Klimmeck; supervising editor, Hannes Nikel; music, Philipp F. Koelmel; production designers, Silke Buhr, Uwe Stanik, Bettina Glier, Claudia Walter; costume designer, Florian Noll; sound (Dolby Digital), Friedrich Hertzberg, Michael Keller, Melissa S. Hofmann; sound design, Frank Gaeta; stunt coordinator, Martins; casting, Barger. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 17, 1998. Running time: 106 MIN.
  • With: Vincent - Hardy Martins Christin - Regula Grauwiller The Colonel - Heiner Lauterbach Bull - Andreas Hop Gonzo - Eckhard Preuss Pierre - Robert Viktor Minich Chip - Mario Irrek Professor - Charles Regnier With: Richard Beek, Samuel Fiegler, Carin C. Tietze.
  • Music By: