It has been some time since I last picked a film at random to review on here. I’ve gotten into the habit of planning what films to cover next in advance. Since I stopped using Lovefilm I’ve not been receiving random films so I have been plotting what to review next, hence the slowdown in new reviews. Although that is equally because I’ve finally started watching Breaking Bad. Annnnyway, tonight I sat in front of Netflix’ somewhat limited selection of films and eventually stumbled upon Three Amigos. A film I haven’t seen for something like 20 years. Did my rose tinted glasses hold out over the course of reviewing one of my favourite childhood films? Click the link to find out.
Three Amigos tells one of those stories that anyone familiar with the “heroes come to save a troubled town trope” will feel right at home. In the film a trio of men are called upon to save a small Mexican village from the infamous El Guapo (Alfonso Arau). The trouble is, these three men are not heroes. At least not in the traditional bandit killing sense. No, they are The Three Amigos, recently unemployed stars of stage and screen. They are called upon by the village of Santo Poco by a woman named Carmen (Patrice Martinez) who sees the amigos’ good deeds in a local silent cinema and mistakes them for being actual, real crime fighters. At first the Three Amigos, Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) think they have been invited to the town to put on a show and earn a bit of money. When they realise El Guapo’s men are not firing some blanks and Carmen is kidnapped the Amigos need to decide if it’s worth risking their life to be real heroes or if they should just head back to Hollywood.
The story has been done many times, with Three Amigos adding the spin that the heroes are not actual heroes. You could easily view Three Amigos as a spin on films such as Seven Samurai and Shlolay. I’d argue that Sholay is actually a fairly strong influence with regards to the inclusion of songs and a similarly charismatic bandit villain. Since Three Amigos a few films have played with this fake heroes trope, such as Galaxy Quest and A Bug’s Life (Itself influenced by Seven Samurai). Now, I realise I’m making it seem like Three Amigos is some magnificent film that carries with it a lot of filmic tradition and influence. It is certainly no masterpiece but it is clear that the basic concept had worked before and, with this film’s spin, has worked since. The idea of three perceived heroes learning to become actual heroes is a trope worth revisiting due, in part, to it’s innate inspirational qualities it can convey to any audience. The “you can succeed if you really try” story.
On its own ground Three Amigos does what it sets out to do, that being, to be a traditional story told with a twist and with a strong focus on being fun. It isn’t as absurdist as many of Steve Martin’s films prior to this feature, although it does have its moments, but it is an enjoyable film. Personally, I feel not enough films are focused on being fun. They try to be edgy. They aim for kids but do that thing where they try to slip in adult jokes to keep the parents happy, failing to realise that good humour crosses all boundaries. Or, worst of all, they conform to a template and deliver something overly familiar. Whilst Three Amigos relies on a trope it also features singing horses, Randy Newman songs (he also voices a singing bush) and three dim witted leads that are written smart enough to each be dim witted in their own ways but also capable of showing hidden strengths and talents when needed.
Watching it for the first time in about 20 years tonight I was surprised to find how well it held up. It may not be the comedic genius of, say, The Man With Two Brains or LA Story, but many of it’s jokes hit home solidly. A few even took me by surprise as I had forgotten them after all this time. The line “Maybe we could go for a walk and you could kiss me on the veranda” followed by Dusty’s reply of “The lips would be fine” is simple play on words brilliance. These days the line would have gone “Maybe we could go for a walk and you could kiss me on the veranda” to which Seth Rogan would say “Damn lady, you’re pretty filthy huh? Alright, I can kiss on the veranda. I’ll kiss you on the veranda so hard”… also both characters would be smoking pot and someone would fall over at which point another character would point out that someone just fell over. Do I sound cynical?
The film is shot with John Landis’ usual functional but well put together flair… if that can be called flair. I like Landis, but he’s not massively adventurous as a director. True story, bumped into him once at a comic con, literally bumped into him. Wasn’t sure what to say because my mind went blank and the only John Landis film I could think of was the segment he did of The Twilight Zone Movie where people died and he got taken to court. Figured it was best to keep quiet there. One thing he does do very well here is shoot the scenery. He makes sure that, as often as possible, the mills and surrounding plains are always shot to lend weight to the idea that the Amigos are a long way from Hollywood. He frames the mountains in the background with as much importance as the actors saying their lines.
In the end Three Amigos has held up quite well. At the time it got a number of negative reviews purely because it wasn’t as anarchic as a lot of Steve Martin’s work at this time. Maybe this film was the first sign of him slowing down a little. Personally, I think he shot all the funny he had in him our on LA Story and didn’t know where to go from there. I’ll maybe allow a pass for Bowfinger, as it’s not too bad, but I give no quarter for Cheaper By The Dozen or those Pink Panther films. If anything, watching Three Amigos tonight has encouraged me to look over some other films I’ve not seen for a while. Maybe I’ll consider a nostalgia season on here… although that wouldn’t be drastically different to normal for me. I did review Every Bond film after all and they’re nostalgic as it gets for me. Maybe though, you could consider looking back at a film you’ve not seen foe decades to see if it still holds up. Some films age badly as times change but some films age like a fine wine and can, upon drinking their fruity goodness, remind you of a time when punchlines were more than swears and characters falling over.