By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: An inept western robber.
Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is an aging western outlaw who’s hired by Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to commit a robbery. Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) is a beautiful, young woman who’s being escorted west by Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is also carrying a large sum of money. Cactus Jack sets up an array of elaborate traps to try and rob them, but fails each time, so he enlists the help of a local Indian tribe headed by Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) to assist him.
After the box office success of Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper executives at Columbia Pictures were apparently convinced that stunt man-turned-director Hal Needham could do no wrong and thus gave him a ton of money to direct a movie of his choice. Needham decided to do a send-up of the Road Runner cartoons, but as a live-action. The result though isn’t amusing, or lively with not enough stunt work and what you do see had already been shown many times before in other movies. The script by Robert G. Kane, who was a former joke writer for Dean Martin, is unimaginative and gets stuck in a one-dimensional gear where Cactus Jack continually tries to rob the two, but fails, which takes over 90-minutes to play-out while the old Road Runner cartoons where able to do it in less than 5.
There’s also quasi-surreal moments where Jack paints a tunnel opening onto the side of a mountain with black paint and yet Arnold and Ann are able to drive through it like it were a real tunnel. There’s another segment where Jack pours glue onto some train tracks, which Arnold and Ann are able to drive over without getting stuck while Jack does, but why? I realize this is supposed to be a silly movie and logic should not be demanded, but it just shows how lame it is where the director and writer do not challenge themselves to come-up with a clever way, that works within the realm of reality, for the protagonist to get out of their jam and instead lowers the bar to such an extent that they throw-out anything stupid and figure it will suffice.
Kirk for his part has a lot of fun. Some may feel he took it because his career was waning, but Needham had been the stunt coordinator on many of his movies back in the 60’s, so the two were friends and Douglas eagerly accepted the offer. At age 61 he looks great and did many of his own stunts, which is even more impressive, but no matter what the pratfall his character never gets injured. Despite the common belief many cartoons do at times show the antagonist like Wily E. Coyote getting banged-up and wearing bandages, bruises, and even walk with a crutch, so having Jack get that way and yet still determined to commit the crime would’ve been funnier.
Schwarzenegger is funny too simply for being this big, brawny guy who’s painfully naive though why someone would be walking around in the old west speaking with an Austrian accent needed to be questioned. Mel Tillis does mention at one point that he ‘talks funny’, but I felt that should’ve been a running joke where all the characters mention it when they meet him. It also would’ve been nice to have seen his character evolve and not remain so clueless by upping-the-ante with an exciting climactic battle/gunfight between he and Kirk at the end, which doesn’t happen.
Famous character actors like Strother Martin, Ruth Buzzi, and Foster Brooks are completely wasted. Mel Tillis does his stuttering routine (twice), which I’ve never found amusing though he also does the soundtrack and his singing is great. Initially I thought Ann-Margaret was miscast as she was too old for the part, but they make her look convincingly young and by the end I appreciated her presence.
The best by far is Paul Lynde as Indian Chief Nervous Elk, or as he says it N-e-e-e-e-rvous Elk. Today’s more sensitive audiences may not like a white guy playing a Native American, nor wearing an Indian styled head dress. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect it’s the reason why the movie has never received an official studio DVD/Blu-ray release nor is it available on streaming, which is unfortunate. Yes, it’s political incorrect, but it’s done in such a goofy, campy way that it manages to become stupid funny and the only part that had me chuckling.
Everything else borders on being pathetic and all it succeeds at doing is getting you wanting to watch an actual cartoon, which will be far more sophisticated and entertaining than anything you’ll see here.
Alternate Title: Cactus Jack
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: July 20, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes
Director: Hal Needham
Studio: Columbia Pictures