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Good Bad Weird

Got a chance to see The Good, the Bad, the Weird, which I shall henceforth call GBW, tonight. Somehow I’d stumbled across a trailer a year or two ago, and we decided to see it, but never got around to it, and then it was gone. I consoled myself with Joe’s observation that the movie was not as silly as the trailer would have you believe..and had little else to say about it. But a DVD copy turned up at the library, so we got a second chance.

GBW is a madcap treasure hunt set in a nebulously anachronistic Manchuria sometime more-or-less around 1940. The three principle figures are a lone bounty hunter (the good), a treacherous gang leader (the bad), and a hapless petty thief (the weird). A rival gang, the Japanese occupational army, a Manchurian resistance, and a few other characters are all scheming and killing for the treasure map, but they’re just complications; all must inevitably come down to a three-cornered showdown over the treasure somewhere in the Inner Mongolian desert.

GBW is obviously indebted to the spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, the Ugly specifically, and to the Sergio Leone “man with no name” trilogy generally. Many scenes are taken straight out of the spaghetti westerns, but only slightly less obviously from a lot of other movies, too: Raiders of the Lost Ark, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Road Warrior come to mind; there are more, undoubtedly including some kung fu classics and Hong Kong shoot-’em-ups that I wouldn’t recognize.

Indeed, for all it owes to spaghetti westerns, I see a stronger resemblance between GBW and Kill Bill: it’s less a movie in its own right than an excuse to string together a series of tribute scenes. At one point, GBW even borrows Kill Bill‘s version of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” making it a tribute film to a tribute film. This goal of slapping together a lot of popular shots from elsewhere might explain why Winchesters and cowboy hats feature alongside Benny Goodman, sidecar motorcycles, 1980’s moussed-up hairdoes, and sideways gangsta-style pistol grips. It definitely explains why my attention drifted farther and farther from the film as it progressed. I found the original mashup entertaining, and the unfamiliar eastern sense of film pacing put a fresh spin on the genre. But after a while, I began to suspect, and then to realize we would never get past the tribute pastiche. The story elements that made no sense—or rather, only made sense in light of the knowledge that the big showdown had to occur at the end—began to grate.

This is still a fun film, a good popcorn-crunching tale. Movie buffs can entertain themselves by playing “spot-the-reference,” scoring extra points for putting down opponents’ references as too obvious to be worth mentioning. But like most popcorn-crunchers, it’s immediately forgettable, in the same way the Scary Movie series, satirizing the already satirical Scream franchise, is eminently forgettable.

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