Saturday, February 22, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: CONDOR MISSION (1993)

“It appears the producers took their down time between seasons to evaluate what their target audience really wanted out of a Bud Spencer TV series – namely action and comedy.” – William S. Wilson, Feb. 17, 2014

Ah, the good old days of enthusiasm, naiveté, and youth.  A lot can change in 5 days.  Did I say that the producers of the EXTRA LARGE series had figured out the formula for a Bud Spencer TV series?  I was just fooling myself, it seems.  To be honest, the signs were all there.  Why, for example, was almost 90% of the action featured in the opening credits from the “Lord of the Sun” episode?  I didn’t want to admit that they might do this to me again.  But after they buried my heart at Wounded Knee-to-the-groin with the “Indians” episode, I knew I had to be on my toes.  The bad news?  They decided to step on them.

Every serious detective TV series has to have a certain number of staple episodes.  The most commonly seen one is the variation of “someone from our main character’s past comes back” plot.  Just how did our lead become so angry/bitter/caustic/deadened etc. and how did they reach this point in their life?  Not only is it seemingly a detective series requirement, but it also is the perfect avenue to open the character up a bit.  “Condor Mission” is our peek into the past of Jack “Extralarge” Costello.  The episode kicks off with Jack and Dumas the 2nd enjoying a relaxing day of fishing.  This is interrupted by a helicopter whose crew informs Jack that Lt. Bosely has been looking for him.  Why?  Some “VIPs from Washington” are looking for him.

Me finding out I didn't have to review the “Indians” episode:


Turns out that Jack’s old D.E.A. pal Col. Kurt Olsen (Klaus Peter Thiele) wants to recruit him for a mission.  In one of the series’ more emotional lines, Jack comments that since they last worked together that he is now “about 70 pounds heavier and a century older.”  Damn, hanging out with Maria and double Dumas sure takes its toll.  Olsen entices Jack with the lure of not only a $1 million dollar payday, but also the prospect of settling an old score. You see, 12 years ago Jack lost a partner while working against drug lord Rosario Partega (Ray Datz) in Cartagena, Colombia.  Not only did he lose his friend, but the agent’s wife went insane after finding out and Jack took that hard (as evidenced by flashbacks in black-and-white).  Man, Jack versus drug dealers in the jungle?  This is gonna be good…I think...I hope.


Jack opts to go it alone, much to the dismay of Dumas and Maria, who thinks he is seeing another woman.  He begins assembling his team of old pals by heading to a homeless encampment under a bridge and getting into a fight with Indian (special guest star Sonny Landham).  Apparently friends who haven’t seen each other always have a fist fight to catch up.  Also, it is apparently cool to let your old friends be homeless when you don't have a mission for them. Indian is pretty easy to persuade though as Jack just says, “You got a job now. $10,000 a day. Let’s go.”  The other team members include Frank (Jimmy Rogers), who just shows up randomly in Jack’s apartment, and Joe (Norman Maxwell), a bomb expert who Jack smuggles out of jail in a suitcase after greasing some palms.  The men settle down in a hotel suite to go over their plans when that pesky Dumas shows up like an overly attached puppy. Figuring he can’t get rid of him, Jack allows him to join the team and soon they are off to locate Ortega’s base of operations.  It is pretty easy actually as they put a gun to Ortega’s son’s neck and say, “Where is he?”

Soon this force of five is heading into the jungle under the guise of being Yale archaeologists.  They establish this by wearing khakis and bringing along microscopes.  Along the way they befriend Don Felipe (Ramon Cuevas), a priest who is delivering supplies to a nearby village.  When they discover the villagers killed by Partega’s men, it becomes even more personal (even though none of these guys knew these villagers).  It just establishes these are bad dudes.  Jack and his team commandeer a helicopter and soon they are flying to Partega’s headquarters (aka the biggest abandoned factory the production company could find).  Partega must have been paying on the cheap for his men as Jack and his guys stand outside the fence, lined up with guns drawn and not arouse any suspicion. Naturally, this results in a lot of explosions.

Following up “Indians” – the EXTRA LARGE episode Tom and I unanimously agree is the worst (so far) – may have been a blessing in disguise for this entry.  While this one might not live up to expectations, it was no “Indians.”  In fact, during a rather slow middle half, I kept repeating to myself, “At least it is not ‘Indians’…at least it is not ‘Indians.’”  To be honest, the biggest thrill I got from this episode was seeing Sonny Landham show up as the special guest star.  And what a showcase it was for the versatile actor.  Tom said it best: “It was nice to see Landham stretch his acting legs with the unique role of an American Indian with a rough demeanor who frequently wears army fatigues and cowboy hats.”  At the same time, the casting of Landham made me think of what a missed opportunity the rest of Jack’s team was.  I was hoping for some more washed up ‘80s actors or maybe some Italian staples.  Sadly, we got neither and were left with two regular guys who made as much emotional impact as the surprise twist at the end of the film. Yes, I’m sure you can figure it out from just reading my plot breakdown. It’s dumb and pedestrian, but then again we are dealing with a script where Jack finds out he was betrayed because Partega just happens to have a framed picture of himself and the traitor in his office. Yes, because drug czars love their turncoat BFFs enough to frame pictures of them.

“Condor Mission” (readers note: that title should be sung to the CONDORMAN theme) ends up playing more like an episode of THE A-TEAM, but with a more violent streak (spoiler: everyone on the team except Jack and Dumas gets shot to death). That is essentially the biggest issue with this episode – this could literally be any old TV show.  You could switch in any TV character from Kojak to Robocop and still get the same result. The one thing it isn’t is uniquely Bud Spencer.  Hell, he uses an Uzi instead of bopping villains on the head.  As Tom pointed out in our post-viewing summit, it is odd that Spencer’s son, Giuseppe Pedersoli, co-wrote this episode (in addition to co-producing the entire series) but seems to have no idea what makes his father popular among his film fans worldwide.  They don’t want to see him acting like Arnold; they want to see him acting like Bud.  So, yes, the aforementioned notion that I opened the review with that the producers had solidified the EXTRA LARGE foundation is not true and we're on shaky ground episode to episode.

That isn’t to say this is a terrible entry.  It has its moments and it is nice to get some background on the Costello character.  And, most importantly, it wasn’t “Indians” and actually delivered some good action scenes (including what may be the biggest explosion in EXTRA LARGE history).  So I can be thankful that it wasn’t “Indians.”  Now stay tuned for Tom’s review of the next episode “Diamonds,” which is co-written by Rosario Galli, who wrote “Indians.”  Haha, I win!   PS: Did I mention this was better than “Indians” yet?


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