A detective uncovers a formula that was devised by the Nazis in WW II to make gasoline from synthetic products, thereby eliminating the necessity for oil--and oil companies. A major oil company finds out about it and tries to destroy the formula and anyone who knows about it.
_**Odd, talky, convoluted, but worthwhile**_ Released in 1980, "The Formula" is a star-studded crime/thriller about a Los Angeles detective (George C. Scott) who investigates the murder of his friend, a retired cop, which leads to Germany and a Nazi formula for synthetic fuel that big oil naturally wants to suppress at all costs. Marlon Brando plays a shady oil tycoon but only appears for roughly 17 minutes of the almost 2-hour runtime. The film is top-of-the-line as far as cast, location, cinematography and score go. It starts off like a Dirty Harry flick substituting Scott for Eastwood with his Asian sidekick, but the plot's complicated and there's not enough action for Dirty Harry fans. The rest of the film seems like an episode of Columbo mixed with Scott's "Hardcore" (1979) where he goes undercover in Southern California investigating his daughter's disappearance. The highlights include the WW2 & Nazi elements, acting giants Scott and Brando, the lovely Marthe Keller, the rest of the cast, the great locations (California, Germany and Switzerland) and the emphasis on dialogue above thrills, which may be a detriment to some. Regarding the Nazi elements, there's a brief strip club scene in Europe where Nazi imagery is used as a backdrop for the dancers, fittingly showing how yesterday's unspeakable horrors are forgotten by the next generation and utilized for entertainment or recreation. Brando has proved time and again that he has a knack for playing weird, quirky characters ("The Missouri Breaks", "Apocalypse Now", "The Godfather" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau") and he does this here with his portrayal of an oil executive based on Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum, but with so-so results. Still, you've gotta give him credit for trying and Brando is always entertaining. The main problem here is the convoluted plot. There are so many names it's hard to keep up. So I recommend using the subtitles as it helps you keep track. Another issue is how the fate of certain people is redundant and therefore becomes predictable (I'd say more, but I don't want to spoil anything). So "The Formula" is a mixed bag, but its strengths outweigh it's weaknesses. It's worthwhile if you're a fan of the stars and if you're in the mood for a thought-provoking, globetrotting crime/drama/thriller that's heavy on talk and light on thrills. GRADE: B-