Michael Caine stars as Dr David Linderby, a World Health Organisation physician working in a remote African village with his beautiful, African-born wife, Anansa (Beverly Johnson).
Because Anansa is black and dressed in regional clothing, she’s mistaken for a local girl by an Arabian slaver, Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), whose minions kidnap her along with several villagers. The movie then cuts back and forth between Anansa’s attempts to escape captivity and David’s efforts to rescue his bride.
David’s principal accomplice is a mysterious Brit named Brian Walker (Rex Harrison), who introduces David to a series of mercenary helpers. Eventually, Brian puts David together with Malik (Kabir Bedi), a nomad who wants revenge against Suleiman for the death of his family.
Ashanti zooms along from one colourful episode to the next, with Ustinov’s flamboyant performance providing the main driving force. Cooing his lines in a mellifluous accent and peppering his savagery with courtly manners, Ustinov makes Suleiman into an oversized villain straight out of a comic book.
Bedi counters him nicely with steely-eyed intensity, and Johnson – famous offscreen as the world’s first black supermodel – smartly operates within her comfort zone of evocative poses and intense glances.
Harrison, William Holden, and Omar Sharif provide the comfort of familiar faces during their brief appearances.
And if Caine gets a bit lost in the shuffle for much of the movie – Ashanti was made around the time he adopted a ‘phone-it-in’ approach for popcorn pictures – that’s fine because he brings the requisite action-hero heat during the pulpy climax.
To be clear, Ashanti isn’t special or even all that credible, but it accomplishes everything it sets out to accomplish and it ends before wearing out its welcome.
Dr David Linderby
Dr Anansa Linderby