Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: DOLLARS (1997)

Damn, are we at the end already? Yup, the WE ARE ANGELS series was pretty limited in that we only got six feature length episodes. But I’ll be damned if the writers didn’t try to pack in at least 56 plot lines into these shows. DOLLARS is no exception so hold onto your hats for some twists and turns that result in our beloved Father Orso (Bud Spencer) and Father Zach (Philip Michael Thomas) helping overthrow the corrupt Costa Rican government. Yes, really.

This episode starts with Orso and Zach again making one of their now customary trips up river to the city to do work for the monks. Before they leave, Lupita (Mariana Mora) gives Zach a letter to deliver to her father, Lt. Pedro. Naturally, our mock monks are more worried about how they are going to get the extra $8,000 they owe Sagreste (Max Herbrechter) for their plane. They literally receive good fortune when they find a wallet with over $9,000 laying in the middle of the sidewalk. With no ID inside, the boys decide it is another example of divine intervention and proceed to freely spend the cash. They get Father Campana a bunch of cigars and splurge on a multi-course meal (watch for a funny bit where Spencer sips from the finger bowl). Of course, they’re not total hedons and drop some dough on a bunch of toys for the kids in the village. This act draws the attention of a couple of vacationing FBI agents (!) and Orso and Zach split, thinking they’ve been spotted as escaped criminals. What they don’t know is they are peddling some funny money.

The counterfeit bills are produced by an artist simply referred to as Frenchman (because he wears a beret?), the official portrait painter of the President of Costa Rica. It turns out that President Aneto (Carlo Reali) has a plan for these fake bills as he wants to use them against the United States and “bend their economy to my power.” Hey, you can’t fault him for being ambitious, if not slightly deluded. So he doesn’t take kindly to his employee spending the money freely or the FBI poking its head around just as the U.S. Secretary of State is planning a visit. He orders his men Ruiz and Ortega to take out the FBI guys. Also, just so you know this guy is evil, he is introduced listening to a lady sing an opera aria. *shivers in fear*

Meanwhile, Orso and Zach are completely oblivious they are walking around with crooked currency until they pay off their balance to Sagreste, who immediately spots the fake bills. To make matters even worse, the FBI agents arrest them as accomplices. While Orso and Zach try to explain how they got wrapped up in this at a restaurant, Ruiz and and female assassin (Sabryn Genet) show up and kill the two FBI men. Or so they think as one of them survives. Rather than split, Orso and Zach decided to investigate and go to the hospital to talk to the FBI guy. Of course, they arrive minutes after the assassins finished the job and end up being seen as the killers. Now they have to figure this all out. Not sure why they wouldn’t just skedaddle back to the safety and anonymity of the village, but then we wouldn’t have a show.

Luckily for them, Sagreste is the cousin of Lt. Pedro (small world!) and they locate the Frenchman via his mugshot. Of course, they arrive to talk to him (dressed as plumbers) at the same time the assassins are taking him away on a bus. Hey, didn’t I say this was going to get complicated? Okay, here we go. The Frenchman ends up dead on the street (following a rather scary looking bus stunt) and Orso and Zach search his trashed place. In addition to finding a dispensable assassin’s dead body in the fridge (Bud grabs a beer from his cold, dead hand to sip) they locate the hidden plates for making the fake money. Figuring they need to get the authorities involved, they agree to have Sagreste deliver the plates to a judge who is a “friend of the people.” Of course, anyone with that nickname in a movie is a turncoat and he has Sagreste kidnapped. With Sagreste MIA, our dedicated duo finally go to Lt. Pedro, also delivering Lupita’s letter. Unfortunately, Pedro goes into a rage when he reads it as she said she wants to marry Zach. He throws the two in the slammer, where it is ultimately revealed he has found out they are fake monks (their wanted posters - literally just drawings with no information on them - hang in the lobby). But when Pedro finds out his relative Sagreste has been kidnapped, he agrees to let the guys out as they concoct a plan to stop Aneto. How? Why they’re going back to their old revolutionary pal, Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi).

Good lord! Remember when I said this one would get confusing? I actually got a headache just typing out that plot write up. And I even left out the finale chase that takes place in an opera house. DOLLARS decides we need everything from geopolitical and social commentary to corruption to comedy. It has something for the entire family, especially if your family loves a little serious torture in your entertainment. Yes, at one point we get into serious MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) territory when Sagreste is kidnapped and tortured by Aneto’s thugs. It is easily the darkest moment of the series, especially at the end where Orso and Zach have just completed a comedic brawl in an opera house and then they visit Sagreste curled up in a fetal position in fear. Deodato!

As Tom mentioned in his previous review, this is actually the fifth episode in terms of airing, but we are reviewing it last as he kindly acquiesced to my strong-arm tactics (hey, I learned how to torture from Aneto, what can I say). The truth is both episodes end with kind of a finality seen in a series ender. DUST ends with Spencer’s character getting his own personal redemption, while this one neatly wraps up the recurring people’s revolution storyline with the leads declaring they are now considered “heroes” for their help in overthrowing a dictatorship. Either way, this one closes with our two leads finally getting their plane and seemingly heading to freedom in Miami. In an extra bit of effort, they fly over the village and drop gifts to everyone they have now grown to love. Father Campana gets his cigars (he scolds people for desiring material things before realizing someone has his cigars), Father Raphael gets some paint brushes, and Lupita gets some flowers. Hell, they even parachute some bananas to a monkey. The final shot freezes on both men smiling knowing they have finally achieved their goals and actually done some good in the world.

We may never know if another series of films was planned for WE ARE ANGELS, but it seems unlikely. It is a shame as the chemistry between Spencer and Thomas was great here and further adventures would have been welcomed. However, Bud was pushing 70-years-old by this time and essentially retired from the bustin’ heads business after this. He did a few small parts between 1998 and 2004 and only logged in two more features; he did a kinder looking kids movie TRE PER SEMPRE (1998) and reunited with Deodato for the TV drama FATHER HOPE (2005). Spencer ended his storied career with the limited series RECIPE FOR CRIME (2010). However, don’t worry as our Budsploitation is only beginning. We’re fans of the big maaaaan so look for more reviews in the near future.

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