Netflixing: The Saint (2017)

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a really good spy movie.

What was once the most popular genre in the world has atrophied into a shadow of its former self. Even the Bond franchise has been hit and miss over the past few years.

And perhaps it would be a waste of effort to even try injecting new life into this withered branch. The world, after all, has changed. The cloak and dagger spy games of the 60s are a thing of memory, or perhaps they never really happened at all, not in the way the movies would have us believe.

We still have international drama today, of course, between all the terrorism and illegal trafficking, but it’s all done on computers now, with huge servers mining data, and the occasional strike team being dispatched with clairvoyant efficiency, leaving no evidence—no story behind, of field agents seducing each other in luxurious settings or mind games being played out by mad scientists.

Perhaps one day, a new film will buck this trend, and bring the action-espionage thriller back into the limelight.

But that movie won’t be 2017’s The Saint.

Some History

The Saint is based on the character of Simon Templar, the modern-day Robin Hood that was introduced into the world in 1928, through a series of pulp short stories. Aside from his philanthropic felonies, Templar’s most defining characteristic was his frequent use of aliases, with the idea that he was a master of disguise.

The character proved to be so popular that he has been adapted numerous times into many different forms of media, including radio, comics, movies, and television. He has gone through a number of transformations over the years, initially battling prohibition-era gangsters, then becoming a personal scourge to the Nazis, and then, in the 1960s, his focus was shifted to the cold war.

And this is where his most famous incarnation, as a 1960s television show starring Roger Moore, was given to the world. Though the saint retained his status as a gentleman thief and an unaligned, no-loyalties wild card in the international arena, his stories began to resemble something out of an Ian Fleming novel.

I was personally introduced to the character through the 1997 film adaptation starring Val Kilmer.

Which was, itself, an attempt to revive the character and create a film franchise. And it’s a good movie. But it never found it’s wings.

Afterward, most people were content to let this property go. But Roger Moore is not most people. he began producing a new TV series in 2012, and after repeatedly failing to get anyone to pick up the series, he took the footage he had and made it into a TV movie.

A Matter of Policy

Inasmuch as I separate my Netflx reviews into two categories: TV and Movies, the issue of “TV Movies” puts me in a bit of a quandary. Which leads me to introduce the following policy, which shall stand until the end of time:

If a property is rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, it shall be classified as a movie.

If a property is rated by the FCC and/or the individual television networks, it shall be classified as a TV show.

By this definition, 2017’s The Saint counts as a TV show.

The Story

A high-level officer at a corrupt bank that launders money for criminals and terrorists suddenly has a change of heart and decides to defect. He transfers 2.5 billion dollars from the bank to a number of secret accounts only he can access, but does it in such a way that will attract the attention of internationally infamous super thief Simon Templar, whom he hopes will give him protection from his former business associates.

To make matters worse, the terrorism financiers have retaliated against the banker by kidnapping his daughter, and the thugs they send to apprehend him accidentally kill him instead (and when I say “accidentally”, I mean “in the most stupidly overkill way possible”).

It is up to Simon Templar and his allies to find the accounts with the stolen money and rescue the girl before it’s too late.

The New Interpretation

Isn’t it weird how much they make him look like Sterling Archer? Are all spy movies now going to take their cues from that show? The irony is just too delicious.

The fact that this movie started its life as a pilot for a failed TV show definitely comes through in the quality of the finished product. There’s a remarkable lack of polish to the whole affair.

It employs almost every spy movie cliche imaginable. Each line feels like it was lifted from a story you’ve already seen 200 times. The male lead is a Mary Sue. The female lead is also a Mary Sue. And both of them are bigger Mary Sues that James Bond ever was.

The acting is subpar. The character motivation in every scene seems to be, “Debonair marble blocks unfazed by any challenge.”

The action is hollow, and mostly lacking, as more scenes are dedicated to spouting exposition than fistfights or car chases. And when such actions scenes occur, they generally happen all in one room, with a lot of cuts to make it seem like more stuff is happening in the scene than what actually happens.

That said, I will grant that the story is at least clearly structured. There is no confusion about who is who and who wants what. That the story is somewhat simplistic could count as a strike against most films, but here it keeps the piece from becoming cluttered and unwieldy.

My Judgment

2017’s The Saint is…a perfectly passable TV Movie.

Despite all the problems I have with it, and knowing how much better it could have been, it has the advantage of coming forth in the middle of a dry spell for the superspy genre. The lack of competition causes this installment to shine a little brighter (though I still prefer the 1997 film with Val Kilmer).

And while it is not a good movie, it is also not offensively obtuse—at least, not more so than any other spy movie.

If you’re looking to kill some time, you won’t hate yourself for watching it, and you may even get a few chuckles out of some of the lighter moments, as well as appreciate the fantasy of it all.

If you can find a way to watch it without paying for a movie ticket or DVD sale, then you’ll probably have a good time. And it is on Netflix right now.

I leave it up to you whether or not to add it to your queue.