“I should’ve known he was evil. He gave me an A-minus.”
With my exposure to Noah Wyle being limited to his role in “Falling Skies”, I can’t necessarily be blamed for assuming his character in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear would be a similar Tom Mason type. After all, both men prove to be an intellectual thrust into perilous situations and leadership positions they never would have original thought they’d be in. And by the look of the poster, Flynn Carsen is quite obviously an Indiana Jones for the twenty-first century. Well, it doesn’t take long to discover how wrong I was because writer David N. Titcher‘s creation is far from the serious, contemplative Mason caught in an alien invasion. No, Carsen is instead a goofy, thirty-something geek who lives at home and reads books; his adventure an over-the-top, slapstick farce perfectly attuned for a much younger audience.
It’s Night at the Museum meets Percy Jackson—a magical, secret world protected by librarians rather than night watchmen that houses every myth you could think of inside the Metropolitan Public Library. Carsen is a professional student who has done nothing but study towards twenty-two doctorates in sixteen years after graduating high school. If it weren’t for his latest professor being fed-up with his perspicacity and ability to do something in the real world that could help his and other fields, Flynn probably would have continued on towards his next vocation. As it is, Professor Harris (Mario Iván Martínez) kicks him out and unwittingly sends him home to a frustrated mother (Olympia Dukakis) trying to set him up on dates and an anonymous letter in the mail inviting him to interview for a librarian job.
The occupation that the gruffly annoyed library director (Jane Curtin‘s Charlene) is hiring for, however, is not just a librarian. She is searching for “The Librarian”: a guardian of the world’s most powerful items and legends with the smarts to understand the power each wields and the heart to ensure they never fall into the wrong hands. Carsen might not seem a likely candidate—or at least not for the world-saving portion—but he is library watchmen Judson’s (Bob Newhart) favorite choice. They need him now more than ever too since the following day finds the villainous Serpent Brotherhood (led by Kyle MacLachlan‘s Edward Wilde) stealing a third of the Spear of Destiny. If they acquire the other two pieces Wilde will possess the strength to conquer as only the likes of Constantine the Great and Napoleon have.
The result becomes more The Mummy than Indiana Jones with its humor being stripped down to an even lower level of tongue-in-cheek puns, pratfalls, and physical comedy. Director Peter Winther and producer Dean Devlin hold nothing back in their quest to bring a smile to the faces of an audience spanning grade-schoolers to senior citizens watching along for some popcorn fluff adventure. The music is in-your-face and blatant homage to pop culture compositions now firmly entrenched in our musical lexicon; Wyle’s performance is the epitome of my girlfriend’s declaration that he has always been a “poor man’s Keanu Reeves” to her with a similar wide-eyed look I remember from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure; and the plot itself a continent hopping escapade setting the stage for more perilousness in sequels to come.
Carsen isn’t alone, though. He has his bodyguard/partner Nicole Noone (Sonya Walger)—a supplier of some romance as well—and the surprising addition of Newhart’s Judson in the field. The former is perfectly sarcastic and guarded before allowing Flynn’s annoying curiosity (charm?) in and the latter is wonderfully dead-pan in both his dialogue delivery and fight choreography adding even more laughs than the situation inherently possesses. MacLachlan is conversely smarmy and evil with crazed eyes and brutish henchmen (David Dayan Fisher and Kelly Hu), the kind of villain you love to hate due to an entertaining level of black hat theatrics. They are all caricatured stereotypes with the goal of being archetypes kids can understand and with a heroic role model less physically built for the role than mentally and emotionally ready.
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear isn’t anything resembling a masterpiece—in fact its cheesy score, horrible green screen, and hammy performances guarantee it never could. The thing about these shortcomings, however, is that the tone set is obviously an intentional one with its filmmakers seeking to create a family-friendly escape with a little education value and a lot of fun. They succeed whether the final result wears its made-for-TV budget on its sleeve or not. And while you won’t want to pop it into the DVD player often or willingly admit to loving it in public—it wears it guilty pleasure sensibilities with pride. The cast and crew must have had a blast making it too since they’ve expanded the franchise for two more films and now a brand new television series spin-off.