Saturday, February 15, 2014

This Bud's for You: DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE: BLACK MAGIC (1992)

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious by, well not much this time out.

By international law, all TV shows must have at least one Yuletide episode. Even if that means a little Charlie Brown tree in the corner of Jack Costello's apartment. Yes, Christmas has come to Miami and what better way to express the joy of the nativity than to have Dumas dance around said tree singing a mock-Yiddish song. Hooboy, this slay-ride is off to a rough start.

Fortunately Christmas is also synonymous with La Brujaria! Come on now, how do you think Santa visits all the houses on the face of the earth in one night in an open-air land craft that flies through the atmosphere by wild venison with glowing noses? See what I'm saying? Black magic! You can't argue with logic.

A creepy, stalker boyfriend, Sid (Julian Reed), is trying to get things going again with his woman. She has decided she doesn't want to be with him and in order to persuade her to come back to his loving arms, he slaps her across the face. Suddenly she has extreme stomach pains and visions of black-hooded monks, and a graven image with red, glowing eyes. Of course the most sensible thing to do at this point is to stab yourself in the stomach repeatedly. Which she does.

This naturally lands Sid in court where he tells his sob story of a love-sick lad who just happened to be there when his estranged girlfriend stabbed herself with his knife. Of course no jury is going to buy this nonsense, but fortunately for him, Dumas happens to be on the scene making courtroom sketches. Fortunately for the viewer, Dumas is far more believable as a courtroom sketch artist than a cartoonist. At the same time Costello is visited by an upperclass twit of the year, Laureen Tracy (Victoria Bass), a wealthy socialite whose daughter has gone missing. She simply wants her daughter, Kathy (Sandra Itzin), found and returned home so she can see her dying father who has caught some sort of ailment in Haiti that makes him appear to be impersonating Red Skelton. On her way out Dumas bumps into her and discovers that the bitch is strapped! Dumas finds Sid's story intriguing and tries to engage Costello's enthusiasm for it. Of course neither one of them believe that black magic is real until Maria sees a TV show about "la brujaria", flips out and runs out of the room. Yep, shit just got real.

After months of searching, they finally found two actors who could
make Philip Michael Thomas' performance seem sophisticated.

Hmmmm... could there be something more sinister going on here? Could these cases be connected? Well, ye-ah. That is probably the most time-honored detective plot set-up in the history of the genre. Scores of '70s and '80s television shows would have floundered helplessly in a sea of useless plot points, unable to get the ball rolling without that particular plot convenience. It's like a three-chord blues hook. Just because everyone's done it, doesn't mean it's no good. Or was that Scarlett Johansson I was thinking of?

Also connected somehow is a televangelist named Reverend Coleman (Helmut Griem, cast for the German audience) who pontificates with some priceless soliloquies and seems to know an awful lot about pagan blood rituals. Says Coleman at the top of his show: "Is he a saint that can work miracles or is he an eccentric socialist? Who is this Christ?" A fine question that we never find out the answer to.

Then there is a surf instructor named Zorac (it's Frank Zagarino, did you expect a normal name?) who has a different line of pontification for the ladies, such as "You've got to caress the wind with your sail. Then dominate the waves with your board." Gotta say, if my ghost-white ass ever makes it to a beach again, I'll have to try that one. There is also Sally (Amy Russ), a snot-nosed rich girl who looks down on Jack and his profession because she works as a tour guide at SeaWorld. Rounding out the cast is Dionne Warwick as a smoky-voiced voodoo queen, Mama Limbo, who may or may not be working for the forces of evil, but because it's Dionne Warwick, we are pretty sure she isn't going to be the bad guy.

For some reason, Castellari and the writers (Sandro Moretti and Giuseppe Pedersoli - aka Bud Jr.) felt the need to do a turn in a more traditional detective story, with hints of horror. It must have sounded great on paper: Two fisted private-eye tracks down missing daughter and unravels a twisted plot by a cult of satanists to sacrifice young women to the pagan god Dumballah. Maybe they shouldn't have been worshiping something that is a few letters off from "dumbell" and they wouldn't have been so easily caught. I prefer to sacrifice maidens to the voodoo god Smartassah and have never had a problem. Unfortunately what this all means is that we get a very talky, humorless entry in which there is almost nothing that Spencer fans would have wanted to tune in for.

To be fair, we do get a brief scene in which Costello and Zorac go toe-to-toe, but the solitary point of action is at Sid's trial. When he is found guilty, some twenty chickens that were silently smuggled into the courtroom are released in a flurry of feathers so that Sid can make his escape which promptly leads to a slightly botched car accident and Sid's theft of a motorcycle. Note the way Sid manages to punch baliffs out of his way like Kenshiro in FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (1986), and a car hit that looks way to hard and seems to catch the stuntman by surprise:



I'm not sure what this scene teaches us about Floriday. Either it is that you can only be found guilty of murder in Florida if you do not use a firearm or, the reason Zimmerman was found not guilty was because they didn't want to have to clean up after the birds. The other things we learn in this episode is that Maria is a stripper (what?!) and the only accent Dumas can do that is worse than his French one, is a British one.

The most egregious missed opportunity comes at the end in which the leader of the evil cult throws up his hands and shouts "there's nothing you can do against the forces of darkness!" This is the perfect cue for Costello to step forward and take the wind out of his sails by bringing his fist down on the lunatic's head. Nope, Jack simply shoots him. Honestly it was a bit shocking to see Bud Spencer kill a bad guy, much less shoot him with something as mundane as a handgun.

While, for me it was not a total chore to sit through (I thought that most of "Cannonball" was much worse), it definitely makes me look forward to the change up that will come with season two.

Moments of Clarity:

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