Swash that buckle!
Take a swashbuckling pirate tale, add some Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired action, throw in a romantic love triangle, add a giant metal battleship to play around with, and what do you have? Nate and Hayes, a 1983 high seas adventure yarn just now making its way onto DVD.
Captain Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive) is a sea captain, occasional pirate, and all-around troublemaker. On one of his rare legal jobs, he escorts Nate Williamson (Michael O’Keefe, The Great Santini), a young reverend in training, and his lovely fiancé Sophie (Jenny Seagrove, The Guardian) to a paradisiacal island where they plan to start their new lives as missionaries. Shortly after their arrival, though, the island is attacked by the ruthless Captain Pease (Max Phipps, The Road Warrior) whose crew kills the native inhabitants and kidnaps Sophie. Nate initially thinks Bully was behind the attack, and sets out to confront him. Once that misunderstanding is dealt with, the two become reluctant allies to rescue Sophie.
Overall, Nate and Hayes is a lot of fun, but boy is it familiar. You could sit in front of your screen as the movie plays with an “I recognize that” checklist in front of you, marking off all the story beats and action set pieces you’ve seen in films made both before and since. Nate and Hayes starts out with a trek through a jungle very much like the one that opens Raiders of the Lost Ark. A couple of action scenes appear straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, including a tense confrontation on a suspension bridge. The “young couple teaming up with an outrageous pirate for an adventure” is the basic set-up for 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, and these two share some similar elements in their endings as well.
This would seem to be a serious flaw; that Nate and Hayes is so undistinguishable that it keeps reminding viewers of other movies. Is there any element here that the film can call its own? That would be the ship-to-ship combat. Although no date is provided for the story, it takes place at a time when sailboats were being rapidly replaced by engine-driven ships. And so the seafaring conflict in Nate and Hayes is between Bully’s stolen pirate ship and a hulking metal battleship. Bully’s ship has its billowy white sails, which stand in direct contrast with the thick black smoke pouring out of the enemy ship’s smokestacks. The two seem mismatched at first, with the metal ship being bigger, faster, and more heavily armed. It’s quite a thrill, then, to see the clever ways in which our heroes outsmart this behemoth and its crew.
The action here is plentiful, and not overly stylized, again borrowing from Spielberg’s playbook. Expect plenty of swordfights, chases on horseback, fist fights, explosions, gun fights, and more. The pacing is brisk enough that the story moves along at a quick pace, but not so swiftly that it overwhelms or confuses viewers. Helping to serve the story are some lush, authentic-looking island settings, and elaborate, detailed sets, all of which immerse viewers in the story.
Tommy Lee Jones is in full-on action hero mode here, clearly enjoying his role as the rogue hero. Michael O’Keefe has the thankless part of the wimpy groom-to-be who has to prove he can stand up and fight alongside the real men. His transformation from sniveling milquetoast into sword-swinging buccaneer happens a little too quickly, but he does fine with what he has to work with nonetheless. I wasn’t too familiar with actress Jenny Seagrove before seeing this film, but now I definitely want to see more of her work. Not only is she synapse-firingly gorgeous, but, thankfully for this film and for the good of society as a whole, she has the acting chops to match her loveliness. Her character as written is the typical damsel in distress, but Seagrove gives her some real humanity, and she ultimately ends up just as heroic as the two guys.
Although some early scenes in Nate and Hayes appear hazy and slightly grainy, the picture quality improves afterward, with bright, clear colors throughout. The 2.0 surround track is not as impressive as it could be, although some cleverly timed directional effects—such as certain sounds or voices coming from just the rear speakers—add some nice atmosphere. Apparently, all the extras sank down to the bottom of the sea, because there sure aren’t any on this disc. A lot of people will likely be seeing Nate and Hayes for the first time on this DVD, so why not clue fans in a little about the movie’s history, and so on? Oh, well.
It’s a straightforward action flick. It’s hardly original, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here. For fans of the genre, it’s not to be missed. For everyone else, it’s an excellent rental choice.