Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mother, Jugs, and Speed

Netflix has got to be a moviemaker's dream because there's no downside to seeing risky, small, or old movies. I decided to revisit the first movie I assembled and projected when I became a projectionist: Mother, Jugs, and Speed. Because it marked my promotion to the lauded projectionists position (the highest achievable position in my little hometown theatre outside of manager), and because I liked the soundtrack at the time, it was a sentimental memory until now, and I wondered how it would hold up.

Well, my friends, it doth stinketh and the sands of time have been unkind, and not only to the print they used as the master for the DVD. I think this may be a quintessential 70s "B" comedy though.

The themesong is all about dancing up a sweat and about the gayest disco song I've ever heard. (There are those of the opinion that all disco is essentially a product of gay "culture." I do not share that blinkered, revisionist, yet oddly hopeful opinion.) There is absolutely no dancing in the movie whatsoever, so the inclusion of this song is inexplicable as the use of Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" is for the spaghetti western My Name is Nobody which contains nary a star-spangled rodeo or any proximity to Broadway. It also contains the ubiquitous-at-the-time "Show Me the Way" by Peter Frampton, and a creaky ballad by Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas called "No Love Today." The rest of the soundtrack, though, was probably compiled or deeply influenced by Bill Cosby because it contains a lot of the Quincy Jones funk he's always been a booster for. So, outside of the disco abomination, the soundtrack (which you can no longer get, btw) was eclectic and fun in a goopy sort of way.

The plot centers around the rivalry between two private ambulance companies in the middle 70s. Bill Cosby ("Mother") is the best driver in the fleet and tends to mother people (hence...), Raquel Welch ("Jugs") is the secretary who secretly pines to be one of the drivers (the boss don't want no wimmin drivers), and Harvey Keitel ("Speed") is a temporarily suspended cop due to a trumped-up accusation of selling cocaine to kids. It's in the loose mold of M*A*S*H, where camaraderie and funny hijinx are the order of the day, intermixed with melodramatic tragedy. Unlike M*A*S*H, this botches the transition from one tone to the other so completely it's almost a study in how to do it wrong.

For starters, Raquel Welch is a spectacularly bad actress. I mean wow. Pretty as hell, but her line deliveries are so wooden that Dick Butkus in the obligatory sports star cameo that was the rage in 70s movies came off as the superior Thespian.

This was Keitel's only go at "romantic leading man" outside of the Jane Campion's sick little trods through lovesongs for the truly sick and demented, and that's a good thing. He's great as an gangster or even the moral cop, but he just hasn't got the warmth or charm for the central love interest guy.

Bill Cosby was charming as usual, and the movie was clearly a star vehicle for him, but apparently they weren't brave enough in the day to make him a romantic lead, thus consigning that to Welch and Keitel.

This movie makes it obvious why audiences responded so strongly to Star Wars, released the very next year, and greats like Jaws. If I remember correctly, Mother, Jugs, and Speed was pretty representational of what Hollywood churned out at the time. Your average modern TV drama, say "CSI," or comedy, say "Scrubs," or even a mix, say "Desperate Housewives" is much, much better than anything this movie had to offer.

See, some things are better than they were in the olden days.

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