Dir. by John Landis - 1 hr. 44 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There's a million reasons why I should love "Three Amigos" more than I do (and I'll be damned if I'm going to do the upside-down exclamation mark every time I mention the title). I generally like Steve Martin and Chevy Chase, and the idea is a pretty good one. But aside from my generally not liking Martin Short, I'm not sure why the whole thing doesn't click perfectly for me. It's a good movie, but pretty far from my first choice to watch for anyone involved. But it's not terrible. It's just not "The Jerk." Or "Spies Like Us." or "The Blues Brothers."
During the Studio System years, three haughty actors, Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase), and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) have a successful franchise, and want raises. Boss Harry Flugleman (Joe Mantegna) fires them and throws them out of the studio, without even the suits they were wearing. At the same time, a village in Mexico called Santo Poco is being tormented by El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) and his gang of bandits. Carmen (Patrice Martinez) sees one of the Three Amigos films and mistakes it for a documentary, and writes a letter to the Amigos promising 100,000 pesos if they will come down to Mexico and deal with El Guapo. Not having anything else to do, the Amigos steal back some clothes and head south.
Good stuff first: this is from the time when Steve Martin was doing straight comedy, as opposed to characters with a bit more angst mixed in. He's 100% into comedy here, and there's a lot of charm to Martin's comedy. Chevy Chase is pretty good here, too. And this is the film in which I least mind having to deal with Martin Short (backhanded compliments are still compliments). "Three Amigos" also, at times, feels like a love letter to the old way of making movies, shot on a studio lot, with the same band of character actors popping up to round out film after film, in sets that seem fairly familiar. On the whole, an action/adventure/comedy without needlessly troubled characters is a pretty easy meal to digest, even if you're hungry again pretty quickly.
It feels like picking on the pedigree of these actors to say that one of the problems with "Three Amigos" is that it feels more like a series of sketches at times than a cohesive movie. I think that most of us would have gotten as much out of this if the Amigos were a set of recurring characters on Saturday Night Live than as a full-length movie. For me, probably the biggest laugh I got during the whole thing was that Chevy Chase played a character called Dusty Bottoms, which is so good that I kind of want that to be my alias from now on. There's also a pretty good physical comedy scene where Lucky Day is chained up in a jail. But those scenes (and really, most of the scenes), would work just as well independently of one another. The characters aren't complicated, the set-up is very broad, and none of the humor comes from character development.
"Three Amigos" works better in my memory than as an actual film-viewing experience for me. Broadly, there are things that I really enjoyed (like the Three Amigos Salute, or their fancy faux-Nudie suits, or a dude named Dusty Bottoms), and it's pleasant enough, but I wanted, and expected more out of the people involved. I didn't think that anything in the film (aside from the Steve Martin jail bit) pushed the concept into new territory, or delivered anything unexpected. "Three Amigos" is pretty much the film that, if you watched the trailer, you would imagine that you would get. That's not upsetting, it's still pretty decent (and rewatchable), and not everyone knocks every project out of the park every time.
3 / 5 - TV (HD)