Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All They Need Is....A Better Script!

Today's quickie review is a two-fer.

We'll kick off with the bigger disappointment.  Pretend you're a filmmaker in the 1970's.  You want to make a western, which are on the fade again...BUT you want it to be funny, which thanks to Blazing Saddles (1974), should be a go. You take the handsome, charismatic hot black property, Fred Williamson, and you take the hottest black comedian of the time, Richard Pryor...and you should be able to spin gold, yes?

Of Fred Williamson's four forays into Westerns, Adios Amigo (1976) is far and away the most disappointing, especially as it was his last one.  Now Richard Pryor...well, Richard's motion picture legacy despite his stand-up genius is wildly uneven, mostly skewing to the not-so-great, unless Gene Wilder is around.  If you don't agree or don't believe me, spend the evening with Adios Amigo double-featured with Superman III and see if you still feel the same.  The story is simple, Fred gets into a fight in town, which thanks to corrupt locals gets him shipped to prison on a stagecoach that's robbed by Pryor setting Fred free.  Inexplicably, instead of going home to avenge himself on the corrupt townsfolk that ran him off, Fred chases after Pryor for his part of the loot from the robbed stagecoach. What follows is a repetitive formula of Pryor encountering people, messing with them, stealing from them, and running off, leaving the pursuing Fred to take the blame in a series of mostly flat scenes that are neither funny nor exciting.  Fred as usual seems earnest and game for the antics, but they're just not there...and neither really is Pryor who seems to mumble his way through most scenes as if half-asleep/half-crazed and/or half-drunk, which, sadly, he may have been all at the same time.  Even the dread Cactus Jack (1979) had more inspired moments than this and it too was awful.

But being no stranger to the weird and the awful, I tried again.  So this time we're going to rewind the clock back to 1969. Now we're in the hot stretch for Westerns following Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, and Hollywood wants to cash in.  You've got young up-and-comer Burt Reynolds whose already been in one Italian oater (Navajo Joe, 1966), and you've got black football sensation Jim Brown whose was in one of the action hits of the 60's, The Dirty Dozen (1967).  Add to that the smoldering sex-pot that is Raquel Welch, and again, you should have gold, yes?

Well....100 Rifles (1969) seems to take much of its direction for the great Sergio Corbucci's The Mercenary (Il Mercenario), which also featured a cunning peone, a hard-fighting foreign outsider, and a hot girl in the midst of some Mexican revolutionizing. But while Rifles seems to have the characters and have the chemistry, it never coheres into the adventure that The Mercenary pulls off. Instead it sort of wobbles, betwixt endless chase scenes, between half-comical banter and Peckinpah-esque brutality. Still, it's not all a bad time, if you can get past the stunning gaps in character-driven logic.  All I know is, if I'm trying to escape from a pursuing Mexican general, who's a tad on the butchery side, and his well-armed troops, I don't stop for a chat or a fistfight until I'm way way way far away. Having said that, it was a generally enjoyable way to pass some time.  Burt was well on his way to being Burt. Raquel Welch has a sexy shower under a train cooling tower. And the film was cut or banned in a number of places for some smoldering horizontal monster mashing between Jim Brown and Raquel.   The movie's well-shot, the scenery gorgeous, and the action, especially the finale, exciting...it just never adds up to much.