Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Billy Crap: The Trial of Billy Jack

Oh boy, this one is a doozy!  This film is the magnum opus of Tom Laughlin's film career, which basically lasted between 1967 and the mid-70s.  He tried to make films since, but nothing ever really panned out.  I'll get to that in the next review though.  The first important thing to note is that this movie is nearly three hours long!  That's right- three hours!  One good thing to note is that this is *technically* the first 'blockbuster film.'  You see, rather than distributing the film city-by-city over a prolonged period of time, the film was released nationwide and press interviews were given on local media outlets to support it.  Sound familiar?  Unfortunately, that historical landmark belongs to this film.  Get out your unnamed Hapkido expert for my review of...
The film begins with shots of the desert and a narrator talking about recent school shootings like the one in Kent University.  In context of the film's release, I have to say this- too soon!  The narrative follows the school's headmaster (also Laughlin's wife) in the hospital talking about the school being shot up.  This leads into the longest 'here's what happened' tale that I'm aware of.  The titular event of the film takes place, which includes flashbacks of it's own.  Remember that Simpsons episode where they jokingly had a flashback in a flashback?  Well, this film actually does this!  Jack explains that his unit was ordered to kill civilians in Vietnam and, afterwards, the man who made the order was turned into a national hero.  Yes, this major event was so famous that he has to explain it in detail to us.  Bonus points for throwing in a couple shots at Nixon though.  Right at the twenty-minute mark, the actual trial ends and Jack goes to jail for five years.  The trial ends 1/9 of the way through the film?  Ugh.  During his stay in jail, we get to hear all about the school.  Sigh.  I really wish that they would make this brief, but it takes a good ten minutes.  Basically, they expand into a new building, talk about politics and just generally stick their noses in everything.
If I was really going to do a thorough review, I'd need about four more paragraphs.  Instead, I'm going to summarize this 173 minute film...
* The local authorities (led by the brother of the Sheriff from the last film) harass the school and it's students.
* Serious crimes- including assault, arson and a bombing- occur and are quickly passed over.
* Billy Jack goes through a pretentious ritual to discover his inner spirit and learn peace.  Oh yeah, he also slaps Jesus too.
* Following this, he gets in a fight, tells people not to fight and gets in another fight.  During the second one, he randomly gets a fellow Hapkido expert to help him.
* After the fight, Jack kills the villain via Dragon Kick to the throat, but surrenders himself to authorities.  However...
* It's actually a trick to kill him, leading to the military shooting up the school- thus setting up the beginning.
This movie sucks...but I'm not surprised at this point.  The film is even longer than the previous two films.  Hell, it's close to the combined length of the previous two films!  So what does Tom do with this massive increase in time?  More of the same, that's what!  Seriously, other than changing certain details, so much of this movie is the same old shit you saw last time.  People hate the school, but it's in a different location now.  Jack fights bullies, but in different locations.  The things they do add are completely ridiculous too.  The whole spiritual ceremony is a complete farce, done in such a silly manner that it just feels phony.  I mean, Billy Jack talks to himself, meets up with Jesus and learns how to control his rage?  Are you serious?  Never mind that this goes against the message that the entire series has built up so far.  Billy Jack has solved every problem with a gun and that doesn't change here.  So why the talk about peace and non-violence?  On the plus side, the action is better here.  Then again, the big action scene takes place at the two-hour mark, a point at which most films have already ended!  I can't recommend this as more than a curiosity piece.  If you've got three hours to kill with a confusing morality play, enjoy.
Next up, we wrap up the Billy Jack series with a film that's basically a remake of a Jimmy Stewart film.  So much for creativity and passion, huh Tom?  Stay tuned...

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