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Jack Nicholson directs himself as outlaw Henry Moon in this comedy western. Also stars Danny DeVito, and features the big-screen debut of John Belushi and Mary Steenburgen
Jack Nicholson may well be one of the finest actors of his generation, but on the evidence of this ill-conceived and chronically unfunny comedy, he's a hopeless director. So hopeless that he managed to coax a career low performance out of himself, even though he was on a remarkable run of acting form at the time (his next role was in The Shining).
In fact, Nicholson is out-performed by his horse, which does a fantastic fainting impression in the opening sequence, allowing a posse to catch up with his character Henry Moon to bring him to town to be hanged. He's saved from the noose when the pretty Julia (Steenburgen) claims him for marriage, acting according to a bizarre town ordinance that states single women can snatch convicted men from the scaffold and take them for their husbands. It seems that the feckless Moon faces a fate worse than death when he's chosen by the forbidding Julia, who wants him to do hard manual labour in her gold mine - and certainly doesn't want anything to do with his manhood. He thinks her frilly home "looks like an opera house", while she can barely bring herself to speak to him: "When I have something to say you'll hear it." He thinks she's a frigid, sadistic task master, she thinks he's worthless: "You weren't hard to find, you were standing in front of the whole town with a noose around your neck."
Predictably enough though, the two start to hit it off, and when they strike gold in the distractingly fake looking mine, it begins to seem like they may live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Moon's old outlaw cronies show up (holding an impromptu hoe-down where Nicholson does an impressive impression of an excited orang-utang that's trying to kick a pair of boots off - the film's one highlight) and Julia begins to doubt her husband's fidelity.
Of course, this mish-mash of genre films isn't trying to be definitive in any way, but it just ends up being far too slight in every respect. It's a spoof western that makes you wish you were watching a real one, an unengaging romance, and a drearily unfunny comedy. There's some top grade Hollywood talent in the cast, but there isn't one performance that's even watchable. There are no fewer than four scriptwriters but the wisecracks are uniformly stupid and the ridiculous story is entirely lacking in pace. Half way through the film, Moon gives Julia advice on the finer points of comedy: "a joke is when you make somebody laugh." A lesson that Nicholson obviously didn't take to heart.
A waste of time.
One to avoid - especially if you're a fan of the frequently spectacular Jack Nicholson.
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On Film4: 07 April 2015