1986 • 104 minutes • Orion Pictures
Friends, I have a confession—I don’t like Chevy Chase.
Due to the peculiar nature of my upbringing, I was never exposed to Chevy Chase beyond a short clip of National Lampoon’s Family Vacation on VH1’s I Love the 70s, while both I and VH1 were trying to chase the glory days of I Love the 80s. While Père McBride’s heyday was around the time Chase was white hot (an objective fact I hold in deep, deep suspicion), he vastly prefers John Candy to Chevy Chase. Even my Gen X brother never particularly seemed to respond to him. I only really starting knowing who he was when I started watching and loving Community. I think Chase does quite well as Pierce Hawthorne, as the role works around and finds a use for a lot of his comedic stylings that I don’t usually care for. (It’s a bit like how I have trouble with eighties movies telling me that Bill Murray’s asshole characters are endearing, but age up that snark and entitlement thirty years and it becomes achingly poignant.)
But watching and loving Community also brought me into contact with Chase’s towering sense of entitlement, which eventually left to a rift between showrunner Dan Harmon and Chase. I don’t particularly want to get into Chase’s personal life… although when he came back to host Saturday Night Live for the first time, he mocked Bill Murray for his supposedly small talent and his acne scars (so, too real for yours truly) to the degree that they got into a physical altercation that had to be broken up by John Belushi, that paragon of responsibility. Oh, and one time he slapped Rob Huebel across the face when Huebel was trying to tell him how much Chase had influenced him. It’s a credit to Huebel’s devotion to Chase that he considers it a funny story and not horrifyingly disillusioning. And he’s so sexist (he appears to honestly believe that women aren’t as funny as men, which WHAT) that mere exposure to him makes Jane Curtin’s eyes flicker so hard I’m afraid she might hurt herself. (Which would be a tragedy, because she is a national treasure. TREASURE!) The author is dead, yadda yadda, but when the author is such a colossal jerk, it’s hard not to notice.
No, it’s Chase’s comedic stylings that I feel I have the most grounding to dislike. I find his comedy, especially during his heyday, too sloppy and cynical to draw my attention. It’s hard to engage with a sketch or film character when they appear to be constructed solely out of snarky cardboard. As Captain Cinema and I progressed through the first season of Saturday Night Live, I began greeting every Weekend Update with a groan.
So that’s why I hadn’t seen ¡Three Amigos! until this past Memorial Day, when the good Captain and I did a Grey Gardens–¡Three Amigos! double feature. Despite my love of Martin Short, I never really saw a reason to watch it. I didn’t even know it was a period comedy, one of my favorite but maddeningly rare subgenres of comedy, until the film began. But it’s one of the Captain’s most watched films from her childhood, one of those seminal childhood films that explains so much about your taste. (If you would like to inquire after a similar text for myself, put The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Warcraft II in a blender and garnish liberally with a best of ABBA CD. I can already smell the fumes.)
For me, though, it doesn’t play as smoothly, probably because I don’t have a childhood allegiance to it. It’s largely just… pleasant and slightly patronizing (in the “white guys rescue poor people of color” tradition). There are some fantastic parts. Martin Short is, as advertised, amazing, and also is the amigo with the most fleshed out backstory, being a former child actor who now does most of his own stunts (save for one very important one). Ned is tiny, beautifully stupid, and steadfastly moral, although the film is very okay with its leads killing people without ever dealing with it. And the villains are funny and engaging, especially El Guapo and Hefe, his second-in-command. They bounce off each other beautifully, discuss eloquent topics (Hefe wonders if El Guapo is taking out his anger on him due to some unresolved tension), and actually have a conversation about how rape is not okay.
There are some great sequences—the invisible swordsman, presented as completely normal, is a lovely bit of physical business, and a song number wrangles as many animals as the film’s budget could get to sing Ned to sleep. And Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman have small roles as early Hollywood executives, which is just brilliant casting. But I think I prefer to see it through Captain Cinema’s eyes more than mine.
Lastly, I was devastated to learn that Fran Drescher played a role in this film in the first act, but was cut because the filmmakers decided they needed to get the amigos to Mexico faster. The only information online I can dig up is this great photo of Drescher in costume (PERFECTION), but the scene is apparently available on the Blu-Ray edition of The Three Amigos. Alas!
My roommate rented this DVD from the library.