Monday, February 3, 2014

This Bud's for You: DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE: BLACK AND WHITE (1991)

Our journey into the world of EXTRALARGE begins with a credit sequence featuring a Black Box-esque techno song playing over slow motion shots of dudes on jet skis that looks like it should be a Salem’s cigarette ad.  The female singer croons: “He came and beat the muther into the gutter/He popped him like he was a rag/And on his chest he wore a tag…Extralarge.” Okay, Jan Hammer this ain’t.  The episode opens with the audience’s introduction to Jack Costello (Bud Spencer) as he is hanging out at a water park.  When a drug deal (in plain sight, gotta love the Italians) with undercover female cops in bikinis goes south, Costello steps in to bop the two male drug dealers in the head and assist in their arrest.  Watching the action from afar is a mysterious guy (Philip Michael Thomas) with a sketch pad.  Now either he finds Costello the perfect subject or has a serious Bear fetish.  Either way, the burly detective is now his muse.

Arriving at the police station with the detainees, Costello meets up with his old pal Lt. Sam Bosley (Lou Bedford) who wishes Costello would return to the police force.  Costello, however, is having too much fun running his own private detective agency.  Actually, business is a bit slow as evidence by the crooked sign outside his building and the fact he has a running gig playing the saxophone at the Blue Monkey.  But Jack’s investigative instincts haven’t lessened in the down time though and he soon has the sketching stranger following him around handcuffed to the toilet in his apartment.  The man says he is a cartoonist named Jean Philippe Dumas and explains that he wants to capture Jack for a comic book.  Or, as he so simply puts it, “rediscover the mythical hero whose fascination still haunts the collective imagination.”  Uh, yeah. He pleads to follow Jack for just three days to get some research and amusingly dubs his muscular muse “Extralarge.” Are we sure he doesn’t have any ulterior motives?

Wait...this guy makes a living as a cartoonist?


Meanwhile, a case is about to fall in Jack’s lap.  While Costello and Dumas were getting acquainted, a petty thief named Wendy Gibson (Lela Rochon) was busy infiltrating a highbrow party held by Senator Pillinger (Friedrich von Thun) and stealing whatever she could lay her hands on.  The bad news is she doesn’t know that the host just received some microfilm from a Navy man, who was then promptly murdered at the party.  So when she steals the Senator’s watch, she inadvertently ends up with a MacGuffin in her possession.  On the run from Pillinger’s thugs, she soon finds herself at the apartment building housing Costello’s office/home.  He initially refuses her plea for help, but Dumas – perhaps thinking with his little brain – feels she is worthy of his company.  From there Costello, Dumas and Bosley get wrapped up in a web of alternating crooked and dumb Feds as they try to protect Wendy.

American flag? Check! Empty jacuzzi? Check! White dude? Check!  
Yeah, this guy is totally the villain.


As a springboard for a series, “Black and White” acquits itself well in its economical set up of the characters and their relationships.  This makes all the more sense when you realize Italian exploitation veteran Enzo G. Castellari both wrote and directed this intro into the world of Extralarge.  A veteran director who has worked in nearly every genre, Castellari affords the first entry the feel of a theatrical feature (subsequent entries aren’t as big looking). Surprisingly, with both men having film careers in Italy dating back to the 1960s, neither Castellari nor Spencer had previously worked together.  I guess they decided to get it all out of their system in one swoop as the man who let Mark Gregory walk gingerly through the Bronx helmed all 6 films in this first season.  The choice appears to have been the right one as Castellari knows the right ingredients to make an action picture work.  So when you see a massive 4X4 decked out in Confederate flags roll into the frame, you just know that bad boy is going to get stolen and used in a car chase. This actually results in a rather impressive car flip and stunt from Spencer’s double that I can’t tell was planned or not. With the superfluous dialogue added by Rochon to seemingly cover the gaffe and the fall’s rather unspectacular nature, I have to wonder if this tumble by Spencer’s stunt double wasn’t planned.  You be the judge.


Of course, the big (literally) draw here is Bud Spencer and fans might be surprised how much the man has aged in the six years since MIAMI SUPERCOPS (1985). With that film being Spencer’s last big theatrical hit in Italy (and his last film with Terence Hill up to this point), it makes sense that the filmmakers returned to this locale for this series.  While he was never Jackie Chan spry, Spencer in this series is a bit more Orson Welles and a bit less Paul Smith.  After all, the man was 61 when he shot this.  The character is adjusted accordingly, resulting in less fisticuffs and more dialogue on Spencer’s end.  That might be hard for folks not accustomed to his thick accent (to be fair, they give him little dialogue). Fans of his fist-to-face routine won’t be disappointed though as the finale in an abandoned warehouse offers plenty of that (and some shootouts as well).

With this initial episode, it is also pretty easy to see why Thomas signed onto the role.  First, he got to stay in his adopted locale of Miami and earn some cash. Second, he gets an opportunity to sing a song (he had released two albums by the time this series was being filmed). Finally, he gets an opportunity to be goofy.  After six years of relative seriousness on “Miami Vice,” one can understand Thomas’s desire to show off his funnier side.  From his goofy French accent (which his characters loses, only to retort to Spencer “what about your accent?”) to his losing out with the ladies, the role is as far removed from Ricardo Tubbs as a waist size 32 is from Bud Spencer.  I’d be lying if the long-established buddy relationship with Hill isn’t missed, but Thomas and Spencer have a nice onscreen rapport.

It is curious as to why this show never aired in the US market. It was shot in English with lots of Florida locales, so it wasn’t solely shot for Italian TV audiences.  The series got exposure worldwide (naturally, the Germans ate it up like a plate of beans), but not a single US release on syndicated TV, VHS or DVD.  Even with the subsequent huge success Rochon had in theatrical features in the ‘90s, it still hasn’t seen the light of a legit American release.  She is fine in her role and it certainly isn’t an embarrassing film, so I hope her agents didn’t attempt to block its release.  As it stands, the first episode is an amiable time killer that certainly gets the series off on the right FLATFOOT (all “boos” for that joke should be directed to Tom as it is his and I just stole it).

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