Thursday, March 1, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: DRUG POLICY (1988)

By the mid-1980s the profitable partnership between iconic screen duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill was coming to an end. Starting with GOD FORGIVES, I DON’T (1967), the pair would co-star in 16 films over the next 18 years. (Note: The duo did reunite in 1994 for THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.) Amazingly, while operating as a popular on-screen combo, both men also had success in their own features. Hill got a Hollywood call up with the 20th Century Fox production MR. BILLION (1977) and SUPER FUZZ (1980), while Spencer headlined popular films such as four entries in the FLATFOOT series and two sci-fi movies (1979's THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID and its sequel 1980's WHY PICK ON ME?) co-starring the kid from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). However, after MIAMI SUPERCOPS (1985), both men went their separate cinematic ways. Hill reunited with TRINITY director Enzo Barboni (aka E.B. Clucher) to make the modern action-comedy RENEGADE (1987). Spencer remained with their other director, Bruno Corbucci, to make the much-maligned ALADDIN (1986). And despite television increasing their popularity worldwide, neither man had explored that medium until now. 

Interestingly, according to Variety, producer Elio Scardamaglia - who had previously worked with Spencer on films like CHARLESTON (1977) - was looking to sign Spencer to a TV series called THE OFFICE OF UNSOLVED CASES for RAI in May 1986. So going to the boob tube suddenly seemed a viable option; that or the acrid reviews of ALADDIN told him he needed to get back to basics quick. Either way, by October 1986 Spencer had committed to BIG MAN for the Cecchi Gori Group and Silvio Berlusconi’s ReteItalia. (Yes, the same Silvio Berlusconi who later became the Prime Minister of Italy and resigned in disgrace; we’d like to think it was for not making Bud Spencer’s birthday a national holiday). When first announced the series was pitched as a dozen one-hour episodes. By the time filming began in spring 1987, the production had settled down for a more manageable six feature length films. Since its inception the director attached has always been Stefano Vanzina. Credited mostly by the moniker Steno, he had a history with Spencer as he had directed him in the FLATFOOT series. Who better to guide Spencer into this new foray than someone who had guided him as Inspector “Flatfoot” Rizzo? However, this time his enquiries would take place outside of law enforcement as Spencer now became insurance investigator Jack Clementi for this new series. 

BIG MAN rumbled onto Italian televisions in November 1988 with the first episode, DRUG POLICY. The plot kicks into gear quickly as a drug shipment is confiscated at an Italian airport. Back in London, the stiff upper lips at the insurance house Lloyd’s of London are freaking out because the FBI has informed them that they have been handling policies that insure the drug shipments. Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) decides they need to hire Jack “The Professor” Clementi (Spencer), an insurance investigator who “is extravagant, but his methods work.” Clementi is introduced residing in a seaside hotel on the French Riviera where his favorite pastime is complaining about the cooking of his landlady, Fernande (Mylène Demongeot). He gets the call from Lloyd’s and soon has his driver/right hand man Simon Lecoq (Denis Karvil) driving him to the airport. Once in Rome, Italy, he meets up with old pal Inspector Caruso (Raymond Pellegrin, who played a lawyer in the first FLATFOOT film), who cheerfully states “the moment you are here trouble starts.” Hey, that should be good for business!

Back at his hotel, Clementi is surprised by Simon’s arrival and he quickly assigns him the task of locating the woman whose luggage contained the drugs. Clementi dives into his investigation and apparently the filmmakers wanted to go for realism as it involves lots of Bud pounding the pavement and talking on phones. Looooooots. Clementi finds about an arrested courier named Francesco and learns from him about another dealer named Yoko the Tunisian. Unfortunately, Yoko is dead when he gets to him and Clementi is beaten by some thugs who want to know his reason for being there. He convinces them he was looking for a smuggling job and Clementi soon finds himself a drug courier headed to Palermo. His point-of-contact in that city is a streetwise 8-year-old named “Sewer Rat” (Antonino Licausi). “I’ll call you Sam,” Clementi says and then assures they will be “pals for life” to the kid. His definition of “for life” must be different than mine as the kid apparently isn’t in any other episodes of the show. Hey, didn’t I also get the “kid” episode from WE ARE ANGELS? What is going on here, boss man?

Clementi gets back to Rome and completes the clandestine trade of the drugs for 800 million lira. Amazingly, Inspector Caruso is a bit peeved Clementi put that much heroin onto the street, but Jack can’t be bothered with pesky details like that. Damn, his methods are extravagant! Anyway, all of this investigating leads Clementi to the drug kingpin, Don Carmelo (Armand Meffre). We know he is evil because he eats cannoli by the plate full. Oh, and he also has anyone within a whiff of his operation snuffed out. With Clementi closing in, Carmelo knows the only way to get the big man to back off and kidnaps his new BFF Sam. This results in the episode’s only big action as we get a car chase toward the end as Clementi kidnaps the Don to get the kid back.

True story: We originally planned to write up the BIG MAN series after we did the EXTRALARGE series four years ago. However, both Tom and I watched it and came to the conclusion we weren’t feeling it. It is not that BIG MAN is terrible, but the opening episode is a bit of a drag compared to Spencer’s later TV efforts. For whatever reason, the makers decided to play it almost 100% straight, forgetting that one of the things folks appreciated from Spencer’s films (both solo and with Terence Hill) was the comedy. Oh, and some action. Spencer does have a couple of Spencer-esque fights, but they are pretty short. It also didn’t help that the plot wasn’t very engaging. It is the basic “go find this guy, get info, find this girl, get info, find this guy” template. By the end I had no idea what was going on, even when they have Spencer doing a MURDER, SHE WROTE style wrap up in the Lloyd’s boardroom. If there is any positive here, it is that things can only get better after the first entry. Perhaps the biggest highlight of this episode is the opening credits, which delivers a memorable theme song by the De Angelis brothers and promises more fisticuffs and head slappin’ down the line (as pal Mark Tinta said, “That intro needed more Spencer punching. I was waiting for him to punch his own face in that last shot.”) Check it out below and then find yourself humming it for the rest of the day.

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