Monday, March 19, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: A POLICY FOR HELL (1988)

After the surprisingly grim $395 AN OUNCE, what could be in store for Jack Clementi's final outing? In just the previous two outings we've from "wacky" to "wtf?", from laser guns to rapists. Here the writers aim for somewhere in the middle and turn out a solidly enjoyable episode that goes from sensible to manic so fast that it should be prescribed Lithium.

When a German construction contractor, Alfred Merkl (prolific German actor Hartmut Becker), is almost killed in what was obviously a rigged "accident" on one of his sites, it's time for Jack to get the call from Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) at Lloyd's. Apparently, Merkl's near-fatal, almost-accident was the third in a string of suspicious incidents concerning prominent people with extra large life-insurance policies. One man was killed by robbers during a home invasion, one was killed in a car accident and both died with a couple months of signing their new policies and it looks like Merkl is next. It doesn't take much to realize that there's something fishy going on here.

In spite of the fact that Jack's aquatic obsession is now inexplicably gone, he's on the case! His first stop is to see a friend in the police department, Detective Kraus (prolific Austrian actor Josef Fröhlich). Since this is now Germany and not Italy, maybe he will be able to investigate a case without the cops trying to pin any murders on him. Just to make sure, he brings Kraus a case of French wine to mellow his harsh. While Jack is wheedling information out of Kraus, Merkl has decided that things would be better for him if he skipped the country. Though to be fair, he only went from Germany to Austria. That's like fleeing New York to go hide in New Jersey. I think the bad guys might find him. I kind of want them to at this point as he leaves his wife (Italian genre vet Mariangela Giordano) and kid at home to fend for themselves, when it's pretty obvious that home is going to be the first stop for the thugs who want to kill him! Nice guy.

For no adequately explained reason, Jack suddenly, in the final installment, decides to allow Simon (Denis Karvil) to do some of the heavy lifting and go interview the witnesses to the two suspicious fatalities. The fact that this is the final episode and clearly a dangerous assignment makes me wonder if Jack has taken out a rather large life insurance policy on Simon. Simon's first stop is to talk to the old farmer who witnessed the auto accident. While the duffer said in the original police report that he saw a grey truck run the car off the road, now claims that he never saw anything of the kind and to back him up, his son shows up to say that he's senile. Uh huh, you can't pull anything over ol' Simon, he knows something is rotten in Denmark! Too bad he's in Germany.

Meanwhile Jack visits Merkl's shrink (Claus Ringer) who apparently has no patient confidentiality laws to worry about in Germany, and with almost no urging spills the beans on Merkl's history of schizophrenia and depression. Additionally, Merkl was apparently also in debt to loan sharks, who as it turns out, is an Italian who talks like he has a sore throat and is named Mr. Big. Of course, Jack only finds out what his voice sounds like after he knocks a few goodfellas around in what an Italian gangster would consider a "classy" club. After giving the bodyguards boxing lessons, Big tells Jack that Merkl always paid on time and he never had any reason to threaten the guy. The plot thins!

Up until the halfway point we've had a pretty straightforward TV mystery going, but then, out of nowhere, Bud Spencer jacks a busload of nuns. Wait, I should back up a bit.

Jack and Simon armed with a wealth of new information, and knowing damn well that evil is lurking in the periphery, head out to check out the castle of the prince who was killed in the car accident. After leaving they are promptly attacked by a grey truck that runs them off the road. Recognizing it as the grey truck (obviously it would be the ones that the murderers used because how many plain grey trucks could there be in Germany?), Jack has Simon play dead on the side of the road causing a minibus full of nuns to stop, at which point Jack pulls the nun driving out of the cab and takes off after the presumed murderers! When the nuns immediately start mumbling Hail Marys Jack snaps at them "put a cap on it!" Later, in his own defense, Jack says the nuns "never had such a good time!" Now I've seen everything.

The oddness just piles on from there. Fair warning, thar be spoilers ahead. Very odd spoilers.

Merkl, having a drink by himself, looking like the most miserable loser in the history of humanity is hit on by a girl who passes up every other dude in the place just to have Merkl tell her that he is in a relationship with his glass of Johnny Walker and then walks out on her. When the waiter walks by the table he says "what did you do, scare him away?" to which the girl replies "go stick it in your ear, he was probably a fag!" I can't imagine why she's having man trouble. Instead of going out with the girl, Merkl decides to head down to the hotel pool, which in the middle of the evening is strangely populated entirely by muscley dudes in little trunks. Maybe it's a German thing.

The next morning Merkl is found dead in the sauna of an apparent electrocution. The cops surprisingly haven't accused Jack of murder, but maybe that's only because they are chalking it up to an unfortunate accident. The detective at the scene imparts with some fine-tuned logic, telling Jack "I'm not about to get hung up on the possibility that all deaths are murders! Heart attacks do happen." To which Jack replies "so does Easter." Uhhh, I... I just... What the hell does that mean? I don't even know what the hell that means!

Jack then decides that he needs to talk to Hans (Werner Asam), the guy who was on duty in the pool area at the time, but once he finds him, Hans tells him that he can't talk because he has to take his family to an amusement park. So Jack tells him it will just take a minute and then asks his simple question. Oh hell, who am I kidding? Nope, Jack invites himself along with the family to the amusement park and Hans is like "ok, lets go!" Again, that must be a German thing. You try that shit in the States and you're libel to get shot.

Once at what looks like the world's smallest fair that strangely plays De Angelis brothers songs over the PA, Jack finally asks whether it could have really been an accident. The answer? "No". Glad we made that trip! Of course this is just an excuse to have our pool boy realize that he is about to be killed by the black-coat stalker and sic the cops on Bud, so he can take off to go hide on the rollercoaster. Leave the park? Nah. Hang out with a cop? Nope. Hide behind Jack's massive frame? Uh uh. Jump on the coaster? Great plan! Of course our stalker jumps on with him, waits until they get to the top, then shoots him, dumps his body over the side. While rubberneckers are rushing to get a look at the body, not a single cop who appears on the scene wonders why there is one guy running away from the corpse. The guy must be squeamish, yeah that's it.

After cracking the case, Jack discovers that the murders were being committed by a fraternal order of monks who are dressing up in robes and hoods who are killing people who want to commit suicide, but want to leave a big life insurance policy to their family. Of course the pseudo-monks get a cut of the cash for their trouble. While I was dying to see Jack smack some Klan-looking bastards on the noggin in some sort of bizarre live action Spencer-ized vision of Namco's 1986 ROLLING THUNDER video game, he instead has Simon go in a disguise and record their conversation leading to the revelation of the brotherhood leader's identity. Cue yet another playback of the second BIG MAN theme by the De Angelis brothers (here credited as Oliver Onions). It's nice to see some use of make up ("you look better with that crap on your face" says Jack), but dammit, how could we miss the opportunity to see Bud slugging some hooded killers who hang out in a castle?

I have to say, this was an unexpectedly convoluted way to wrap up the series, in a series of convoluted episodes. Not that it's a bad thing, not at all. Matter of fact, this series puts American detective shows of the same era to shame in the plotting department. Many US shows are more than happy to plant their charismatic stars in the driver's seat and set the cruise control for at least half of the episodes. Of course when you are banging out the seemingly mandatory (for the time) 22 to 26 freakin' episodes per season, there's no way in hell you can make every outing a gem. I don't know who created that television standard, but as soon as time travel is invented, I'm puttin' a bullseye on that foo's head. Just think of how amazing it would have been to have had a season of MAGNUM P.I. that consisted of 6 feature-length TV movies. These are the things that keep me awake at night.

As much as I love Guido and Maurizio, the song "Starshine Rainbow" is arguably the cheeriest, cheesiest song they have ever written with a chorus that ends "it's starshine rainbow time!" Of course it is totally catchy and will get stuck in your head for weeks on end. It's also used as a musical cue throughout the show, and I can't tell you how many times "all my troubles disappear like bubbles" has popped into my head while I'm trying to go to sleep at night. While this isn't the finest of Bud's work, I'm sorry to see it end, but I will say that I will be happy if I never have to hear "Starshine Rainbow" again.

"Whenever I feel down and out, there's a light about the skyline... Here comes my starshine rainbooooowww..." Make it stoooooop!

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