Sunday, April 3, 2011
Last time I wrote, and yeah, it's been too damn long by far, was about the intriguing but slightly disappointing Alex Cox film "Repo Chick," the semi-sequel/remake of his classic debut feature "Repo Man." This time I'm happier to write about a thoroughly impressive Alex Cox flick, "Searchers 2.0." Cox has long been a student and fan of the western, particularly the spaghetti western, and particularly especially the obscure spaghetti western. He took a couple of shots at the genre in the 1980s with "Straight to Hell" and "Walker," two fairly wonderful films that never really got their due upon release, perplexing both critics and audiences, but in the years since have been met with at least somewhat of a re-evaluation and become more appreciated, even if only among certain cinephiles, and even if not to the degree of love that they deserve. Which is fine, in a way. It's nice to have strange, overlooked films we can call our own little brilliant misunderstood cinematic monsters tramping around underfooot. Not everything, after all, needs to be for everyone. Not everything needs to be AVATAR, or whatever, and if it happens that there are a few films out there mainly for us (or just for me, why the fuck not?), all the better.
Anyway, "Searchers 2.0" brings Alex Cox back to the western, though as the title (of course a reference to John Ford's masterpiece "The Searchers") reflects, it's a kind of self-reflexive meta-western. The story centers around two former western movie actors who meet and realize they share a common enemy in a sadistic screenwriter who beat them on set as children. The plan becomes to track this writer down and beat him back, then possibly to rob him. Some of the details aren't entirely clear. Generally, though, these two aging cowboy extras want revenge.
The setting is the American West but it's a very 21st century American West. The duo travel, with one of their daughters, in a busted, oversized SUV they can barely afford to keep in gas. The landscape they travel is littered with little gas stations and mini-marts, motels and it's punctuated with memorials to soldiers fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a somewhat grim setting, offset by the humor of the characters dialogue, which fluctuates between comic bickering and more friendly discussions of film (and politics naturally), though nobody seems to be able to get any of the titles or actors right for any of the films they talk about.
The two actors are played by Del Zamora and Ed Pansullo, both regulars in Cox's films since "Repo Man," and their screenwriter nemesis is played by one of Cox's most regular performances, perhaps one of Cox's muses, the great Sy Richardson (who has also been with Cox since "Repo Man"). This gives the film the air of being a family affair (Cox also appears in the film briefly, as does executive producer Roger Corman) and indeed, when the final showdown arrives, it is not violent but ultimately good-natured, as the three men battle off with spaghetti western movie trivia. It's a funny scene and a fitting climax to this cantankerous yet goodhearted film.
This might not be a film for everyone. It lacks the meta-humor of "Repo Man," the outrageous violence and punk attitude of "Straight to Hell" and the series politics of "Walker," but it's a charming and perhaps most importantly very HUMAN exploration of men and their memories and regrets, not entirely unlike Ford's "Searchers," but without the violent veneer. Still, it fits in nicely with Cox's ouevre and shows his maturation as a filmmaker and perhaps as a person in general, and is certainly worth the time of any adventurous filmgoer...