A jauntily old-fashioned adventure that plays like the nautical equivalent of a picaresque road movie, “In Like Flynn” offers a fanciful glimpse at the pre-fame formative experiences of Old Hollywood luminary Errol Flynn, indicating that the future star of “Captain Blood” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” engaged in a fair share of death-defying derring-do long before he swashed a single buckle on screen.
It’s based on Flynn’s 1937 book “Beam Ends,” which was inspired (or so he claimed) by the Tasmanian-born actor’s real-life exploits. But even though this handsomely mounted Australian-produced movie is labeled in the opening credits as “A Mostly True Account of the Hollywood Star’s Early Adventures,” it’s quite obvious that the credited scriptwriters — a quartet that includes Luke Flynn, the protagonist’s grandson — liberally laced their scenario with material borrowed from, ahem, works of fiction. To put it another way: There are dollops of “Jaws” here, allusions to Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” there, and bits and pieces of the Indiana Jones franchise everywhere. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, you understand. At least, not if the mix is as tasty as this one turns out to be.
Efficiently engineered by veteran Aussie director Russell Mulcahy (“Highlander,” “Razorback”) to achieve a hugely satisfying balance of seriocomic action sequences and sometimes boisterous, sometimes sentimental male bonding, “In Like Flynn” introduces its title character, played by charismatic up-and-comer Thomas Cocquerel, as an impossibly self-confident 21-year-old rascal serving as guide and guardian for a comically obsessive Hollywood filmmaker (Dan Fogler) shooting location footage in a Papua New Guinea jungle. The expedition ends prematurely with a hairsbreadth escape from a band of bloodthirsty natives, and a promise by the director, clearly impressed by Flynn’s heroics, that someday he will summon the young man to La La Land.
But until the director makes good on that promise — well, a fellow has to find something to pass the time, right?
Back home in Sydney, Flynn recruits two longtime friends — Rex (producer and co-scripter Corey Large), a burly Canadian, and Dook (William Moseley), a refined but game young Englishman — to swipe a derelict fishing boat from Achuan (Grace Huang), the queenly ringleader of a drug-smuggling outfit. Their goal: to sail back to Papua New Guinea and search for gold. But the three men are rudely interrupted in their endeavors by the boat’s real owner, Charlie, a salty seadog flamboyantly played by Clive Standen as a smudged carbon of Robert Shaw’s Quint from “Jaws.” (Similarities between the two characters are cheekily underscored during a scene involving — you guessed it! — a shark.) Apparently for want of anything better to do, Charlie gruffly agrees to throw in his lot with the trio, and the lengthy journey across the Coral Sea begins.
As it turns out, the hunt for gold serves merely as a McGuffin. The movie focuses primarily on the interplay between the four lead characters in close quarters on the water — the aforementioned shark is the least of the dangers they face during their voyage — and their shared misadventures during an extended stopover in a port where Flynn is reunited with one of the many girls he has left behind (Isabel Lucas); threatened by a colorfully corrupt mayor (David Wenham); and forced to face the fury of Achuan and her underlings. The madcap mood of the piece turns appreciably darker late in the game, but don’t worry: Everything ends on an upbeat note with a finale that features, as a welcome treat for movie buffs, a wink-wink allusion to the real-life filmmaker who helped ignite Flynn’s superstardom.
Mulcahy cleverly employs Old Hollywood visual tropes (wipe-transitions to bridge scenes, animated dots on a map to indicate a journey’s progress, etc.) and the period-appropriate rousing musical score by David Hirschfelder to enhance the 1930s flavor. But the movie’s chief asset is Cocquerel, who evidences more than enough graceful physicality, roguish ladykiller charm and devil-may-care brio to be persuasive as Flynn. He seals the deal with his nimbly raffish delivery of such character-defining dialogue as “I have a genius for living — it’s the consequences I’m not so well-versed in.” Cocquerel all but winks at the audience when Flynn tells a friend that their shared adventure “wouldn’t make a half-bad picture.”
He’s audaciously funny. And absolutely right.