By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: Boxer wins rigged fights.
Bags (Tim Conway) is a former boxer who lost all 20 matches that he was in and now helps his former trainer Shakes (Don Knotts) train new fighters, but neither of them is having much luck. Bags decides to go back into the ring during an amateur fight night and this gets the attention of local crime boss Mike (Robin Clarke). Mike is trying to build a convention center, but is stymied by Pop Morgan (David Wayne) who owns a gym on the block Mike wans to build on and he’s refusing to sell at any cost. Mike decides to rig the fights that Bags is in, unbeknownst to both Bags and Shakes, to the extent that it looks like Bags is ‘unbeatable’. He then will entice Pop to bet on the fight that Bags has with the The Butcher (Michael LaGuardia). Pops will be under the presumption it’ll be a ‘safe bet’, but this time Mike won’t rig it and presumably Bags will go down and Mike will be able to get his hands on Pop’s gym and tear it down for his new building.
While Knotts and Conway had success with their pairing in The Apple Dumpling Gang, this foray, an attempted parody of Rocky, goes nowhere. Instead of being filled with a lot of gags and pratfalls, which is what you’d expect, it’s a slow story filled with every cringy cliche from a fight movie out there. Comedy is supposed to make fun of the cliches instead of propping them up, but unfortunately that’s the approach taken and it bombs massively.
Comedy movies should also have all the characters be funny in some way, but here most of them are not. Possibly that was for vanity reasons as Conway, who also wrote the script, didn’t want to be upstaged, but this forces the viewer to go through long periods of trite drama in every scene that he’s not in. The supporting characters are extreme caricatures of the 1930’s which the film is set in. Robin Clarke is particularly annoying (not necessarily his fault as that was just the way the part was written) as he attempts to channel Al Pacino from The Godfather while speaking like a poor man’s Marlon Brando. David Wayne is cast to resemble Burgess Mereridith who was in Rocky (ironically both men played villains in the 60’s ‘Batman’ TV-show with Meredith as the Penguin and Wayne as The Mad Hatter). Here though Wayne speaks, in an effort to sound like Meredith, in a gravely voice that makes him sound like a duck. I also found John Myhers, who co-wrote the script, put-on Irish accent to be equally irritating.
Even Knotts gets wasted. Some enjoy the moment where he cracks a bunch of raw eggs in a glass and then tries to force Conway to drink it, but other than that he doesn’t elicit too many laughs. Yes, Conway is amusing at times, but his perpetually clueless shtick gets a bit old by the end. The only performer that had me laughing was Mary Ellen O’Neill who plays Mike’s senile old mother and who does some wildly bizarre things while in Conway and Knotts’ presence. She’s a scene stealer and should’ve been in it more and while she’s at the boxing match as she watches the fight with Mike she should’ve continued to do weird things while the fight was going on, which outside of swearing she doesn’t, and it was a missed opportunity.
I will give credit for the climatic bout, which is surprisingly well choreographed and effectively has a large crowd watching, which gives it an electric atmosphere, but everything else falls flat. The irony I suppose is that the film ended up being a money-maker and in fact was one of the most successful films released by New World Pictures, but I think this was mainly because a lot of people went to it based off the reputations of the two stars more than the movie itself being good. I remember I went with my dad and two siblings to see it at the local theater because we were fans of Conway and Knotts, but all of us, our dad included, were quite bored and went home unimpressed and it clearly hasn’t improved with age.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: November 16, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes
Director: Michael Preece
Studio: New World Pictures