I dipped into the world of mid-eighties mainstream comedy last night in the form of the “Three Amigos.” It’s a strange hybrid of mainstream Hollywood shtick featuring the best comedians of the era and directed by John Landis just as he was passing out of his comic genius phase.
The Amigos is a classic Hollywood confection that follows three out-of-work Western actors played by Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin who think they’re traveling to Mexico for a movie but are actually descending into a real Mexican battle. They are a triumphant comic dream team in a parody of classic Westerns larded with insider jokes and broad laughs that embrace everything from Hollywood’s typing of Latinos (” Do you have anything here besides Mexican food?”) to cinematic fakery.
Sadly the team misses the mark. In the space of four years (1978-1981), Landis rattled off the classics “Animal House,” “Blues Brothers” and “An American Werewolf in London” which redefined comedy with an amazing new generation of comic talent. Just five years later he assembles this fantastic cast, but sadly the script dawdles through obligatory plot development and never unleashes the team’s potential. There are flashes of brilliance, some great one liners and physical comedy as well as an occasional turn into the absurd (a singing bush and an invisible swordman), but the parody isn’t cohesive and it’s all a bit too flat. In short, this is no “Blazing Saddles;” if anything, it’s a shadow of Mel Brooks’ high-concept masterpiece imbued with the ethos of eighties pop cinema.
As with most pop culture artifacts this one is also interesting for the bit-part curiosities. Joe Mantegna plays a Hollywood producer surrounded by Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartmann as assistants; the intriguingly named Fred Asparagus shows up as the bartender; and the classic Alfonso Arau who played prominently in Peckinpah’s “Wild Bunch” plays the bumbling bandit.
All this got me thinking about what happened to Martin Short. It’s onto “After Hours” whenever I get the chance.