- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Newman
oming off the heady, heavy topics of nuclear annihilation and world war – albeit in a lighthearted way – in “Spies Like Us,” John Landis does a 180 with the gloriously idiotic “Three Amigos.” Setting aside any intellectual backdrop in favor of Vaudevillian slapstick, “Three Amigos” reunites Landis, in spirit, with Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, the men behind the “Airplane!”and “Naked Gun” franchises for which he directed their script for “Kentucky Fried Movie.”
The plot is as brilliant as it is ludicrous. Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) and Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) are recently fired silent comic film stars named The Three Amigos. When the daughter of a Mexican village leader whose town has been overrun by the diabolical El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) sees one of their movies, she believes them to be actual heroes that stop the bad guy and save the damsel in distress. The girl sends the actors a telegram asking for their help, but in a woeful and unfortunate bit of message misinterpretation, the actors end up believing they are going to make a fortune filming a movie with El Guapo (One groan-worthy joke: they mistake the word "infamous" as meaning "bigger than famous.") When the trio eventually realizes what's happening, they step in and, despite limited intelligence, try to actually save the day.
Okay, so the story is ridiculous and the characters are playful stereotypes. What may be unforgivable offenses in other films only bolsters Martin, Short and Chase, three comic geniuses who have made much more out of much less. There is a singing bush that makes them recite a nonsensical chant in order to summon the Invisible Swordsman who… okay, never mind, I know this doesn't sound funny on paper at all. But that's the point. Like the best Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films, absurdity isn't something you can do halfway. If that's your tone, you better make sure that there's a scene where El Guapo, roasting in the Mexican heat, receives a sweater for his birthday for no good reason (Hell, have a scene where a tyrannical despot has a childlike birthday party to begin with.)
The script, credited to Martin, "Saturday Night Live" guru Lorne Michaels (who met Phil Hartman and Job Lovitz on set, thus reinventing “SNL” in the late 1980s) and Randy Newman (presumably for the music, unless he's funnier than I thought), feels more like a group of funny scenes collated together than a cohesive whole. And for films like “Three Amigos” to work, you need complete interaction with the protagonists. Short, Chase and Martin play off each other for the most part, but when they act as individuals, the film displays a disjointed quality.
Still, in a certain mood, “Three Amigos”is a good example of the goofy strain of comedy that has permeated the “Naked Gun” series and its ilk. When Chevy Chase responds to an offer of "kissing a girl on the veranda" with "lips'll be fine," it's hard to suppress the laugh.