Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Odds and Evens (1978)

I’ve never been a huge gambler.  It’s not that I hate it.  Put me at a blackjack table, and I’ll have some fun (until the jerk sitting next to me starts acting like I’m playing with his money; more on this later).  Same with video poker machines.  They’re entertaining in small doses, and I’m not above buying a Powerball ticket or playing an occasional scratch off game.  But I could never be the type who takes a bus trip to a casino every weekend.  I could never be the person who stands in front of me at the convenience store with an envelope stuffed full of cash looking to get their (clearly un) lucky numbers for some lottery drawing (or worse, the guy who buys a scratch off, plays it right there at the counter in front of me, and then cashes it in [and keeps this cycle going] rather than doing the polite thing and moving off to the side so others can get their business done).  I think that’s what I find so unattractive about degenerate gamblers; their personalities are so self-involved, so Gollum-esque, they’re basically little more than raw nerve endings that have to take piss breaks every now and then.  This is why I visited Las Vegas exactly one time (same with Atlantic City) even though I had family living there.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that every single person I came into proximity with was eyeballing me with either suspicion or maleficence.  It’s almost like they share a perniciously hedonistic streak, and it frankly puts me off.  Still and all, I don’t mind watching gambling series and films (Casino, Luck, et cetera), and that certainly puts Sergio Corbucci’s Odds and Evens (aka Pari e Dispari, aka Trinity: Gambling for High Stakes) in my wheelhouse.

Johnny (Terence Hill) is an avid athlete as well as a lieutenant in the Navy who gets assigned to locate the big Syndicate honcho, Mr. Parapolis (Luciano Catenacci), whose illegal bookmaking and strongarm tactics are just ruining everything for the legit Florida venues.  Johnny is ordered to coerce the assistance of Charlie Firpo (Bud Spencer), a professional-gambler-turned-career-trucker who just so happens to also be Johnny’s brother, in this matter.  Needless to say, Charlie is reluctant, but that’s okay, because Johnny is devious.

When Corbucci’s name is mentioned, it is typically in the same breath with either the original Django or the superlative The Great Silence, two Spaghetti Westerns that simultaneously set standards and broke molds.  But a lot of people don’t realize that he actually did quite a few comedies, like this, Super Fuzz (an early pay cable staple), Three Tigers Against Three Tigers, and so forth.  What I find interesting is that, at the time Odds and Evens was made, this was the brand of comedy that was fashionable in America (an international pop culture equivocation that I’m of the opinion occurs far less than one might think).  This is the kind of film that Hal Needham would be proud to have his name attached to.  Its characters and situations are broad, it’s not above dressing up its stars in silly outfits for a chuckle, its bad guys are bumbling and oafish, and there is plentiful violence (primarily directed at the same bumbling, oafish bad guys).  Said violence, however, is of the slapstick variety.  The action is often undercranked for comedic effect (something that never works, if you ask me), and even though characters get bludgeoned and thrown around to the point where a normal human being would be hospitalized or dead, they all appear in the very next scenes with nary a bruise.  They bounce back like Wile E. Coyote, always ready to take another licking and never, ever learning a single thing from their bad experiences.  

It’s this cartoon nature that is embraced equally in the relationship between Charlie and Johnny (and it should be said that, while I have not seen tons of Hill/Spencer buddy pictures, my understanding is that this is the relationship they typically presented).  One of the main things I got from this film was the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck rapport of the leads.  Nonetheless, neither Charlie nor Johnny is wholly Bugs or Daffy.  They commingle traits of both.  Charlie just wants to be left the hell alone (which is normally a Bugs trait) to drive his truck and help Sister Suzanne (Marisa Laurito) and her orphanage.  Johnny plays against Charlie’s obvious weaknesses to get him to do what Johnny wants (also a Bugs trait, especially in relation to Daffy), the results of which Johnny relishes (more of a Daffy trait but arguable).  Charlie dislikes Johnny, but when the two find a reason to work together, they handily take care of the Syndicate goons (a collective Elmer Fudd).  By keeping this in mind, I think a viewer will get far more out of this film than would normally be anticipated.

Another of this film’s strengths is in the way that it captures not only a time and place but the feel of that time and place.  The late Seventies were awash in eye-searingly garish clothing alongside couture so shabbily unspectacular, you could easily envision Archie Bunker wearing them to go out with Edith for an evening.  For as glamorous as people liked to feel and behave, I’m still amazed at the color schemes used in some of the popular hot spots (although cocaine may account for a lot).  Earth tones were in in a big way, and it would be rare to enter a building without some form of brown and/or orange splashed around the joint, simultaneously assaulting your senses and covering up various unsightly stains.  Corbucci and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller do a brilliant job of showcasing Florida and a certain attractive lifestyle that this geographic area was associated with in the public mind (in the same way that De Palma’s Scarface would be five years later and resonating for much, much longer).  It’s a freewheeling, high energy glimpse into a culture many would love to dive into, and the fascination is a large part of the reason why television shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous were so well-received.  Of course, it’s still manufactured like most, if not all, glamor is.  That the filmmakers are able to get their audience to go with it, to float along with it, to buy into the fantasy of it, is a massive credit to their efforts (and I don’t think that the material alone is enough to do the same; presentation is a large part of it).  Your life will never be enriched by Odds and Evens (unless you’re the type whose life could be enriched by it), but you’ll finish watching it with a big, dumb grin on your face, and that’s perfectly fine, too.

MVT:  The easygoing ambience and the quasi-antagonistic groove between Hill and Spencer is the heart of how this film succeeds.

Make or Break:  The scene where Charlie gets dressed up (one of a couple) and roughhouses with some thugs was the clincher for me.  Up until then, the film was certainly fun, but at this point it becomes clear just how far Corbucci and company are willing to go to make you smile.

Score:  7/10     

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