“Diamond Cartel” bills itself as “The final film of Peter O’Toole.”
There are worse ways to draw interest to your blood-soaked, nonsensical Kazakhstan-filmed war between warlords debacle. Probably.
But there is no worse way for an actor to make his exit from the screen which he lit up for fifty years. Yeah, O’Toole wanted one last check so he took a tiny role in this silly slaughterhouse.
When he finally appears, as the veteran smuggler “Tugboat,” late in the third act, that plummy voice he was famous for is long gone. And even the gravelly one which his last films featured is denied us in this atrocity, a film which he no doubt died before he could loop and at least let his final character sound like him.
So they dubbed somebody else in doing a poor impersonation of Peter O’Toole.
And aside from that, and oh, dying before it came out, he got off easily. It’s Armand Assante, no stranger to D-movie disasters, and Michael Madsen and Tiny Lister and their fellow character actors Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who stuck around long enough to be humiliated by this picture.
“Cartel” is a badly-scripted thriller that lays bare the compromises and petty indignities of acting for the movies, and getting your movie financed. All those Western (and Eastern-Western) names were attached to Salamat Mukhammed-Ali’s film so he could get it financed.
They, in turn, shot on location in one of the garden spots of the planet (cough cough) and were paid (no doubt) peanuts to share the screen with local actors who had to be dubbed into English, in a movie that required start-to-finish voice-over narration to make a lick of sense.
Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova plays a one-time assassin, on the run with her lover (Alexey Fradetti) from the warlord/casino-owner/painter/horse lover/pianist Mussa, improbably played by Armand Assante.
Nurlan Alteyev is the perfectly menacing mass murderer paid to track them down. Tagawa is a rival warlord, Madsen and Lister show up for a single scene each, early on.
There’s this diamond, The Star of the East, that Mussa wants. We don’t actually see it.
We do, however, see the briefcase full of greenbacks that were supposed to buy it, which is what our lovers are on the run with.
There are vast gunfights, desert road car-chases and one scene of slaughter involving a shovel that is novel, not something we see in A, B or C movies. Usually.
It’s all just awful, with Assante abusing bit players (hair grabbing, stage slapping) and foaming at the mouth, and our narrator/heroine trying to make sense of it all with pithy voice overs.
“What you call a massacre, we call a Day at the Zoo!”
O’Toole, who left us in December of 2013, who began his big-screen career with a bit part in a passable version of “Kidnapped” before becoming a star in “Lawrence of Arabia” a couple of years later, makes his exit without any of the dignity he was due.
I hope they believe in ghosts in Kazakhstan, because there’s a chain-smoking English coot about to haunt everybody who so violated him, post mortem. He said “Yes” to the role, and he made a lot of movies that didn’t do his legacy any favors. But they certainly didn’t pay him enough money to leave him this ill-used.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence
Cast: Armand Assante, Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova, Nurlan Alteyev, Alexey Fradetti, Michael Madsen, Tiny Lister, Peter O’Toole
Credits:Directed by Salamat Mukhammed-Ali, script by Magamet Bachaev and Salamat Mukhammed-Ali. A Cleopatra release.
Running time: 1:37