Monday, February 5, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: TWO FACE JAIL (1997)

As some of you may remember, a few years before the sad loss of the less immortal than I imagined European superstar Bud Spencer, we covered both of the DETECTIVE EXTRA LARGE (1992) series' of TV movies. It was Bud Spencer's first pairing with MIAMI VICE (1984-1990) star Philip Michael Thomas, who was oddly replaced in the second series, simply titled EXTRA LARGE (1993), by Michael Winslow of POLICE ACADEMY (1984-1989) fame. After EXTRA LARGE, Bud Spencer made the top-notch, in-spirit Trinity sequel THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1994) before being reunited with Thomas for a new series, WE ARE ANGELS.

Moving from the presumably more expensive shooting location of Miami to the more budget-friendly confines of rural Costa Rica, Bob (Bud Spencer) and Joe (Philip Michael Thomas) are a couple of inmates in a grimy South American prison. Bob is in good with the guards for some unexplained reason who slip him cigars when the evil Captain Delgado (David Hess, clearly having a wonderful time hamming it up as the prison warden) isn't looking. Joe's method is madness, pretending to be a nut-case "rapper". Though he tends to sing rather than rap. Presumably this is the crime for which he was incarcerated.

A revolutionary group, lead by Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi, Kamal's henchman in 1983's OCTOPUSSY) storms the prison and utterly fails to do anything but make a mess and gets himself slammed up with Bob. This annoys Bob to no end because he has an escape plan all set up and no wild-eyed rebel is going to keep him from bustin' loose! Adding insult to injury, Joe is apparently smarter than he acts. He's hip to Bob's jailbreak and tags along for the ride. After taking leave of Duarte, Bob and Joe decide that the best way to hide from the cops is by jumping a couple of monks who are headed to a small village for a stop-over before heading to the monastery. Of course the cops are completely fooled by this charade, but the other monks in the village are a bit suspicious. A black American monk from Rome in South America? What's suspicious about that? When the monks ask the padres about Rome, Joe says to Bob, "you know where Rome is don't you?" To which Bob replies "oh yeah, it's a suburb of the Vatican."

After getting to know the villagers more than they ever wanted to, Father Orso (Bob/Bud) and Father Zachariah (Joe/PMT) discover that young girls from the village keep disappearing when they venture out into the city. Just like American television, Italian television seems to have the same pining for the simplicity of country life. Cities are rife with evil, villages are sweet and wholesome. Actually this is a good thing because it gives Bob and Joe - err, I mean Orso and Zachariah - err, whoever, the opportunity to stumble across a criminal organization run out of a strip club by Mr. Madre. Wouldn't you know it, Captain Delgado is also part of the kidnap/drug syndicate as is the village shaman Quesada (Michael Berryman) who is the one doing all of the actual kidnapping. This gives us the viewer some much needed action with fight scenes, a car stunt and best of all, Bud Spencer delivering a knuckle sandwich to Michael Berryman's unfortunate mug.

Directed by Ruggero Deodato, a man infamous for his spate of gory jungle cannibal outings of the '70s and '80s, including the nastiest of them all CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), this mild-mannered series starts off by spending most of its 90 minute running time setting up the characters. Sometimes it feels like Deodato is a little lost doing an amiable comedy outing, but then again, he has another five movies to pick up the pace. On the other hand, the episode is surprisingly well shot with lots of split focus photography and genuinely nice looking shot composition adding some quality production value.

The jokes are pretty low-key with things like Bob getting excited about having arrived on the day of a village feast until he is informed that on fiesta days the monks take a vow of fasting. But there are plenty of laughs to be had, plus a few unintentionally funny moments. One of these has Joe attracting parishioners to the church by playing a rousing Southern Baptist-style gospel number on the organ (that has clearly been replaced with another song on the soundtrack), which is so rousing that it has the deaf priest dancing in the aisles! Apparently Bob and Joe really can work miracles.

As VJ co-conspirator William Wilson pointed out, writers  Lorenzo De Luca, Ruggero Deodato and Sandro Moretti use Neil Jordan's 1989 remake of WE'RE NO ANGELS starring Sean Penn and Robert De Niro as a springboard for Bud and PMT's adventures. In NO ANGELS, two cons escape the slams and take it on the lam disguised as priests. Same here, except here we have a touch of THE DEFIANT ONES (1958) thrown in as well as Bob and Joe are shackled to each other and on the run, like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, except, well, funnier. Tony Curtis should be so lucky as to draw comparison to the mighty Bud Spencer. As Hill and Spencer fans well know, there were a substantial amount of imitators, the best known being Michael Colby and Paul L. Smith's pairing for several movies including one titled WE ARE NO ANGELS (1975). It doesn't have anything to do with this series, but is an interesting side note.

Promising the likes of Richard Lynch and Erik Estrada, the opening title sequence sports another memorable little theme tune, sung by none other than Spencer himself. This means I'm going to be spending the next month humming it in the shower every morning.

Moments of Clarity:

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