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Renegade
(a.k.a. They Call Me Renegade)
(1987)
 

Director: E.B. Clucher             
Cast:
Terence Hill, Robert Vaughn, Ross Hill


In the 1970s, the Italian comedy team of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer were popular enough to even make some impact in North America, with movies like They Call Me Trinity and All The Way, Boys. Most of these movies are available in video stores, and I confess they are a guilty pleasure of mine. For some reason, seeing the laid-back Hill and burly Spencer teamed up together and getting into slapstick fights are irresistible to me. In the early 80s, their partnership dissolved (though they reunited for Troublemakers in 1994), and they each went solo. Spencer still acts in Italian films, while Hill seems to have stopped work completely in the mid-90s. During his solo career, he made Renegade, a movie bad enough that not even the presence of Spencer could have saved it.

I think "bad" is too harsh a word for this movie; the tone is always sweet and assuring, but the movie has a half-hour story stretched out, and is pretty much devoid of humor. It doesn't start out doomed at all. In fact, it's quite promising, with the movie immediately giving us Hill's trademark role of a sneaky but good hearted drifter. Named "Renegade" Luke, we first see him in what see to be his regular routine: driving around the American southwest towing his horse Joe Brown behind him in a trailer. When they are short of money, Luke sells the horse and afterwards waits nearby for his horse to escape and meet up with him. Luke seems happy, Joe Brown gets plenty of carrots - everything is fine for them. Indeed, I was fine with this beginning as well.

One day, bumps into an obnoxious youth who tells Luke that his combat buddy Moose is in jail, and wants to see him. Luke travels to the prison, where Moose tells him that he was set up. Moose asks Luke to do him a favor: be the legal guardian of Moose's son Matt, and to settle on a prime piece of property owned by Moose. Reluctantly, the independent Luke agrees to do this, finding out afterwards that Matt is actually - you guessed it - that obnoxious youth he'd met earlier.

And this is where the biggest flaw of the movie starts. To put it kindly, the actor who plays Matt is a terrible actor. He speaks like he has a mouthful of bread, and with no warmth or likeability to his performance. How he got this role isn't that much of a mystery; looking at the credits, one finds that Matt is played by Ross Hill - yes, Ross is the son of Terence. History has repeated itself with a producer/director father who has cast his untalented son in his movie, like Arch W. Hall Sr. casting Arch W. Hall Jr. in movies like Wild Guitar and Eegah! (Though in the case of James Glickenhaus and Jesse Cameron-Glickenhaus, Jesse has shown at least some acting talent.) It is tempting to go easy on Ross Hill when knowing that he was killed in a car accident a few years after making this movie, but though one can sympathize with the Hill family about the death, there's nothing in Ross' performance to build any sympathy.

Back to the movie: Luke, Matt, and Jim Brown start their journey to Moose's property, and get into various "hilarious" vignettes along the way. This includes bumping into some redneck truck drivers who try to force them off the road but are foiled by Luke, an encounter with a motorcycle gang leading to a one-on-one fist-fight between Luke and the gang's leader, and a stereotypical small town sheriff. Similar vignettes like this were successful in the Hill/Spencer movie, but they simply don't work here. The reason seems to be that the Hill/Spencer vignettes came to a definite conclusion, the vignettes here either don't seem to have a real ending or have a quick resolution that solves things in three seconds. In fact, the vignette that works the best is when the heroes are harassed by the two truck drivers, because it not only has an ending, but attempts to replay the classic Hill/Spencer moments of encountering moronic bad guys who proceed to get greatly humiliated by the heroes.

Eventually, they reach Moose's property and settle down, making friends with an Amish family (in Arizona?) in the neighboring property. The presence of the Amish had me hoping that there would be a climax like They Call Me Trinity, where a party of peaceful Mormons rose up near the end and got into a terrific slapstick fight with the bad guys. No such luck - these characters don't even add much to the plot here. Eventually, Luke finds out that a Henry Lawson (played for three minutes by Vaughn) is trying to buy Moose's property, and starts to apply pressure. Luke decides then to try to settle things in his own sneaky, laid-back way, but the movie forgets how this was done in Hill's previous movies, building up to what seems will be a big climax - and poof! it dies right in front of our eyes.

Hill was in his mid-fifties when he made this movie, and he still had what made him a star - an infectious grin, a warm, friendly attitude, and a sense of fun. He makes the best of what he's given here, but he is bound by a screenplay and direction that binds him down. I think the filmmakers were possibly trying to leave behind the juvenile antics that Hill was famous for onscreen while trying to keep a taste of what made him popular. (Maybe they were aiming more for an American market instead of European). But we end up with a movie that will both displease Hill fans, and leave people unfamiliar with Hill wondering what the fuss is about him. The filmmakers did manage to reach a wide audience here, but not with the reaction they intended. (P.S. - Lynard Skynrd fans should especially avoid this movie, for "Call Me The Breeze" and "Free Bird" are repeated so frequently here, they'll cringe for the rest of their lives whenever they hear them again.)

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Check for availability of music from Terence Hill / Bud Spencer films (CD)

See also: Mr. Billion, Crime Busters, Watch Out, We're Mad

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