Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Sheriff And The Satellite Kid (1979)

I don’t think anyone actually likes being alone.  Oh, sure, after a time, you can get used to the solitude and even prefer it.  But as human beings, we are social animals, and it is our natural inclination to engage in communal activities with one another, even without physical contact (try to explain Facebook otherwise).  And so it is that we have the concept of the comedic duo.  The juxtaposition of disparate personalities between the straight man and the funny man creates humor in much the same way that a similar juxtaposition can create conflict and drama.  Yet, if one walks away from a Laurel and Hardy movie without a smile on their face, the double act has failed (it could more believably be argued that the viewer has no sense of humor in this case, but you see what I mean).  The duo is also different from a comedy troupe, because the personalities are more defined, the purpose more  focused.  You may not be able to name and describe the individual style of every cast member on Saturday Night Live, but you can easily recognize and delineate between Bud Abbott and Lou Costello or Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.  The comedic duo has to be polar opposites in order to complement each other in a way normal relationships simply don’t always work.  Even then, though, there are no guarantees.

A public furor has gripped Newnan, Georgia after a UFO was spotted landing over the small town.  As the locals panic and blame everything that goes haywire on aliens, the gruff-but-kindly Sheriff Hall (Bud Spencer) struggles to keep crime down as well as impart some sanity to his constituents.  When Mrs. Parkins reports that her son is missing, Hall finds the lad at the local amusement park.  Playing with the Parkins boy is another child (Cary Guffey) who gives his name as H7-25 and insists that he is from another planet.  Hoping to get the truth from the boy and return him to his parents, Hall takes H7-25 under his wing, but Captain Briggs (Raimund Harmstorf) of the Coast Guard (?!) wants to capture the alien boy in order to get a hold of the photonic laser which allows the kid to perform all sorts of wild feats.

Michele Lupo’s The Sheriff And The Satellite Kid (aka Uno Sceriffo Extraterrestre – Poco Extra E Molto Terrestre) is not The Champ.  Neither is it The Kid or even Cop And A Half.  Ostensibly though, this film is about father and sons.  It has no real option to not be (just look at the title).  While Hall is an imposing presence and just a little grumpy, he also has a big heart which hurts the film twofold.  First, it gives us no arc for Hall to come to love the kid, starting as he does from place of benevolence and quasi-amiability.  Second, it deprives us of any true sense of conflict for the portions of the picture which don’t involve either the military or Brennan (Joe Bugner), the town fuckup.  By that same token, H7-25 states that he is in essence a neglected child.  He says that his father, H7-24, gets angry when the boy is scared.  His world has no such thing as music.  He is supposed to be a child searching for a positive father figure.  Unfortunately, we never get the feeling that the boy is all that troubled by his home life and certainly not to the point that he must bond strongly to Hall, and Hall has no strong motivation to feel protective of H7-25.  

In fact, the film on the whole is little more than small, brief moments between “humorous” (and yes, that word needs to be in quotes) slugfests.  It could be argued that this film is aimed at the family market, but it would be much more accurate to state that it is in fact aimed at children almost exclusively.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it also means that the filmmakers felt the need to play down to their assumedly dumb audience.  The humor is as broad as broad can be.  We get a porcine family who dress identically and are not only always eating but also are portrayed as just flat-out stupid.  Deputy Allen (Luigi Bonos) feels the undesirable desire to constantly rhyme his lines (and I suspect the English dubbing doesn’t do it any favors, in this regard) and he does all sorts of gymnastics despite his being in his late sixties.  Animals talk in generic, predictable ways (a horse sounds like Mr. Ed, a German shepherd has a Teutonic accent).  But worst of all is the rebarbative practice of playing and rewinding the film at various times to either convey the idea that the characters are dancing against their will or just to have them re-experience painful moments repeatedly.  I suppose there are those (child and adult alike) who would find this funny (hell, I still like fart jokes, usually), but its stultifying overuse makes the film a slog.

Children in film can often be either twee or annoying or both (witness Giovanni Frezza in The House By The Cemetery), and it must be said that Guffey himself does not wear out his welcome entirely in this regard.  However as a character, H7-25 is perplexing.  Remember the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones?  That’s this kid.  He unwaveringly goes around causing mischief for mischief’s sake and in ways which could be construed as (at least marginally) criminal.  He lets Brennan out of jail and out of his cuffs at various points (it’s possible he sees the good inside the curmudgeon before Hall does, but there’s no indication of this).  He squirts an Army General in the face with water.  He badmouths Hall to a horse right in front of the guy.  By all indications, H7-25 knows exactly what he’s doing.  He’s being a jerk of the highest order, and his father’s no picnic either, as he takes over Hall’s car and rams it through the town, smashing into all of the unconvincingly placed obstacles which litter the roads.  One almost gets the feeling that the Satellite Kid’s true aim is to pave the way for a hostile alien invasion (but that wouldn’t come until the sequel, Why Did You Pick On Me?, and the kid’s not directly involved there, anyway), stripping we human beings of our will to live and scouring our resolve to its very core.  I hope not.  They would be extremely nettlesome.

MVT:  For as much as I have ragged on this flick, the relationship between the Sheriff and the kid is really the best of it.  Bud Spencer is one of those guys who I believe is impossible to not find charming.  That he’s only allowed to have basically two modes (exasperated resignation and bemused geniality) in the film is not his fault, but he does them both very well.

Make Or Break:  The Break is the denouement between Hall and H7-25.  There is simply no heart to any of these proceedings (despite the entire film’s purpose of appealing to the audience’s).  We make no strong connection to either character, and therefore we could care less if these two ever see each other again.  The film practically states outright that we should have our hearts warmed by this point in the runtime, but sadly, it all simply feels like going through the motions.  So the final shot, which should be uplifting (or at the absolute minimum leave us grinning), just makes you want to turn it off and watch The Toy instead.

Score:  5/10  

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