11/24/09

CT008 East Meets Watts

(1974, Action, color)

I think she missed the “Falling Redneck” sign.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell:


A funky black man and a Chinese kung fu expert team up to... uh...

Summary:

A.K.A. Dynamite Brothers.Chinese man Larry arrives in San Francisco by ship. He leaps out at the docks to avoid detection, but not even his furtive running can help him escape from the trio of Asian thugs tracking his every move. They fight, and he runs away despite the fact that he just won.

His stated reason for coming to the States is to look for his brother. Dingy apartment and car bomb shenanigans lay a trail down to L.A., so he goes to some kind of train station/hardware store/liquor emporium to get arrested by a crooked cop. At this point he is, for some reason, handcuffed to a newly arrested black man named Stud. Larry and Stud beat up their would-be arresters and run for it, hopping into the back of a flatbed truck on its way out of town. They bond over the Larry-and-Stud-induced deaths of several racist rednecks, hack off their bonds in a barn, and hitch a ride with a sexy Asian girl. She, of course, would like to flirt with our Asian hero, but he can only flash back to the bloody death of his wife.

They arrive at a bar belonging to a friend of Stud’s, the provocatively named Smiling Man. Smiling Man is busy getting cut up by the villainous Razor, but Stud and Larry soon put a stop to that. L.A., it seems, is in the midst of the gang war. Razor’s mysterious Asian drug lord boss wants to flood the streets with heroin, while the slightly more scrupulous gang headed by Smiling Man would rather he didn’t.

Our redneck-stompin' heroes.The remainder of the movie splits into Larry’s search for his brother and Stud’s fight to stop Razor. Larry follows a lead to a comically short nightclub owner and a comically fake gravestone. Larry isn’t fooled. He goes back to the super-short owner’s place to call him a liar, and is thrown in a snake pit for his trouble. Larry escapes to confront him again, only to find his former assailant dead by acupuncture.

Stud, in the meantime, falls in love with a beautiful mute girl named Sarah, and sings her the most embarrassing love song ever committed to film. Several poorly-lit gunfights later, Razor slinks away to take blade-related revenge on Stud’s girl. Stud and Larry find her bloodied corpse, and hold a crooked cop at gunpoint to get the perpetrators’ address.

Stud stops just outside the villa to gun down Razor. Larry goes on ahead to find out that the evil Asian drug lord is actually his long-lost brother, also responsible for the death of Larry’s wife in the flashback. The most badly edited fight scene of cinematic history follows. Everyone flails away at everyone else until only Stud and Smiling Man are left standing.

And Larry and drug lord guy, because they left for the chase scene several minutes before the fight ended. The chase happens at very low speed, continuing even after both the chaser and chase-ee have ended up in the same vehicle. Larry jumps out just as his brother goes over a cliff. Stud and Larry say goodbye to Smiling Man and hit the road for parts unknown.

Thoughts:

Be very, very grateful you can't hear this scene's soundtrack right now.This is an ugly film. The scenery is grimy, dull and empty. When the story makes sense—which isn’t often—it’s tired and obvious. The dialog doesn’t just clank, it wheezes obnoxiously, with an extra helping of racist slurs that would have been considered horrible even in 1974. The romance nauseates. I expect a Blaxploitation flick to be misogynist, but to have the hero take possession of a girl who can’t speak (with the immortal “Sarah and Stud” song, a musical number that will live forever in infamy) and then have the villain mutilate her to death? That’s some pretty sick crap right there. The fight choreography is weak, a problem compounded by a shooting/editing combination that refuses to tell us who is doing what to whom, and for what reason. The gunfight consists entirely of near-total darkness punctuated by the occasional muzzle flash, while the fistfight at the end has an indistinguishable mix of Asians and African-Americans beating the crap out of each other apparently at random. Every so often they leap off a fifty-foot roof to... to... I have no idea. As far as I can tell, at least half a dozen gangsters jump to certain injury or death on an entirely voluntary basis. Let me reiterate: this is an ugly, offensive film.

The villainous brother in question.The riffers are the only reason this movie works. A few of my favorite comments: When Larry jumps ship into some kind of industrial neighborhood, Trace says, “The letter said ‘Meet me by the gravel pit in America’”, while Joel adds, “It’s too bad the Bay Area didn’t have any beautiful locations they could shoot at.” When Larry and Stud walk into a fight in Smiling Man’s interestingly decorated bar, Frank notes, “Chuck E. Cheeses were a lot more violent in the seventies.” When Razor and Smiling man begin the midnight gunfight/car chase, J. Elvis says, “You can’t accuse them of glamorizing violence. Or even understanding it,” while Mary Jo says, “I’ve seen better car chases with my nephew’s hot wheels.” The performance was filmed in front of a live audience, which helps their energy level tremendously. The lighted riffers standing on either side of the picture can be a bit distracting at times, but the arrangement allows for gags that wouldn’t be possible in a studio version—like their synchronized spit take the first time a character drops the N-bomb, or the way they all turn off their lights and hide during the during the unseeable gunfight. The picture is studio-quality, the sound is almost studio quality, and very few lines were flubbed or lost to audience reaction. Overall, I’d say the live recording adds more to the DVD experience than it takes away.

So yes, East Meets Watts is a horrible, ugly, offensive film, but it’s also one of the funniest things they’ve done so far. It’s worth noting that their previous successes were movies that would have been at least somewhat entertaining without them. This may very well be the first time they’ve managed to spin a dismal, truly depressing film into comedy gold.