Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mr. Billion (1977), Renegade (1987), and Virtual Weapon (1997)

Mr. Billion (1977)

When an esteemed businessman dies, he leaves his entire $1 billion dollar fortune to his distant Italian relation Guido Falcone, who never asked him for anything more than a pair of American cowboy boots. This upsets the greedy business partner Cutler, who reluctantly bids a hearty welcome to Guido, inviting him to the States, but then doing everything in his power to make him miss the week-long deadline to claim the inheritance. From hiring a seductive PI to distract Guido, or hiring gangsters to kidnap him, it seems everything is against Mr. Billion, but he'll find plenty of help along the way...

Mr. Billion was Hollywood's attempt at bringing Terence Hill into the American mainstream, and it was a gamble that flopped. There are a few reasons for this. Much had been made of Mr. Billion's failure being down to hiring a hot foreign actor, then getting them to do different stuff to what made them famous. This is true to an extent, but I think there is a little more to it. This is a bit different to his usual fare (no Bud Spencer for a start!), but it's not that different, not as if you hired Buster Keaton to be a serious dramatic actor. I think that may have partially contributed to the low performance, but it could also be attributed to mismarketing, or just plain bad luck.

While it does feel awfully American, Mr. Billion is quite a fun ride. It's your typical 70s chase movie, but it does a few things that make it stand out. The lead gets a great introduction, with the scenes in Italy being vibrant and funny, as we see the local Italians do a recreation of old American westerns. I also liked how the movie portrayed

The behind-the-scenes for Mr. Billion were a little tumultuous, according to director John Kaplan. Lily Tomlin actually wanted to be in the movie, but the studio refused, instead bringing along an actress who hated the shoot and didn't get along with Terence (she began introductions by making a lewd joke about lighting cigarettes with her pussy/vagina, much to the mild-mannered and sweet Terence's shock).

The director wanted Lily Tomlin for the role, and she wanted to, but the studio refused, instead bringing along an actress who hated the shoot and disliked Terence. What a missed opportunity! Jackie Gleason also sounded like he was a bit put out of joint by having to work with a new young guy. But I like to think that was just early nerves, and any tension was soon dissolved.

Guido is a likable and charismatic hero. An all-round nice guy who you wanna see succeed over these assholes, and honour all his promises. Something I feel the movie really nailed was in embracing the country of its new breakout star, instead of ignoring it and pretending he's a born-and-bred Yank.

Rosie on the other hand is a real bitch, and I was hoping Guido would kick her to the curb and find someone else. Thankfully he does discover her true intentions fairly quickly, which means an end to the awkward rigmarole, and any interactions after this point will be honest. I still didn't want her to be the love interest, but if it was going to be an inevitability, I'm glad she at least mellows out by that point and becomes nicer.

The rest of the cast is pretty neat! Some overact more than others, and a few don't appear as much as they could've (this being a road trip means they mostly only get one scene each) but they still make an impression. The villains meanwhile are a conniving bunch, who'd cut each-other's throats for a dime or two (billion).

The ending is absolutely wonderful. A perfect culmination of the film's message and characters, it really fixes things up perfectly! The whole movie I was wondering if the company plus American love interest would mean Guido would stay in America, to which I said 'No, go back to your family in Italy, it's way better!'. And thankfully he gets a chance to do just that, in a really effective conclusion.

Terence Hill is a fine lead, while Valerie Perrine is alright if you like her. Jackie Gleason is fun as the dastardly villain, and the rest of the cast is populated by a few familiar faces, such as Slim Pickens, Chill Wills, R.G. Armstrong, and Dick Miller.

The direction is pretty standard stuff, good all the way through, but there are some moments that are filmed really impressively, like the whole Grand Canyon confrontation, where the camera soars through the sky, capturing the action all in one take. As overblown as the movie can get in places, it can also be really good.

Overall, Mr. Billion is a flawed movie, but by no means terrible, and wasn't deserving of being a box office disaster. It's well worth a watch nowadays, even if it may be a little different to Hill's usual output.

Renegade (1987)

Luke is an aimless drifter, going from town to town with his trusty horse Joe. One day he's abruptly saddled with teenager Matt, the smart-alec son of an old friend. Luke is pressganged into taking Matt to his father's new property, but soon discovers it's a hot piece of real estate, with crooks of all kinds trying to muscle in on the duo, or make attempts on their lives...

Renegade is an enjoyable road movie coming straight from the American way of Italy. It always amuses me just how much other countries understand the U.S., often better than the locals. With special praise going to Italy of course. They really knew what made American movies tick, and were therefore able to deliver great 'local' content like it was nothing.

Renegade comes fairly late in Terence's filmography, when his buddy comedy days were almost over, and he was getting older. But not too old to have a fun goodhearted scrap though! The story never lets things go on too long, as the road trip section actually ends only halfway through! From then on the movie settles into a new position, as it expands on the plot and villains.

The characters here are nice and strong. Luke is your typical drifter. Charming, a little lazy, and an all-round fun guy to be around. Matt on the other hand is a little shit, but as the movie progresses we see better sides of him, and his sarcasm, smart-talking, or general bad attitude never goes too far and makes him genuinely unikeable. The villains are alright. Fun when they appear, but they're always just goons. The main villain doesn't show up till nearly the end. He's interesting, but sorely underused.

Something I liked about Renegade is the way both the bikers and communal religious folk are presented, for the same reason-They aren't assholes. Groups like these typically are, in movies and in real life, but not all are bottom-of-the-barrel bastards, and it's nice to see an occasional movie reflect that.

The action in Renegade is dynamic, with lots of fun and creative brawls and encounters, as well as many car chases, each containing their fair share of chaos. Cars get smashed or crashed left, right, and centre. The movie also has a few jawdropping moments, like what happens with the house (really wasn't expecting the movie to go that far!), or Luke's reaction upon seeing the main villain, which is ridiculous and implausible, but really sells the moment, and is great to see.

The climax is anticlimactic in a way. The visuals are superb, and really excelled by the music, which builds this up in a spectacular way. But as soon as the bikers show up, the battle is already won. No need for a fight, as Robert Vaughn is immediately busted, and everyone goes home. The ending is a bit prolonged too. All good, don't get me wrong. I like how it wraps everything up. It's just weird in that the main villain is busted 15 minutes before the end, and the movie seems to have a couple points where it could've ended, but just kept on going. With good scenes, at least.

The actors are all good here. Terence can do roles like these in his sleep, but never gets complacent, always getting as much fun as he can out of them. Hill's son Ross makes for a nice lead, and never does his presence come off like nepotism or anything. The duo have good chemistry together. Robert Vaughn is an ok villain, but really only appears in the last 25 minutes.

The direction by longtime Hill collaborator Enzo Barboni is great. Some shots really stand out, with great use of colour, silhouettes, and natural vistas.

The soundtrack is exactly what you'd expect for a midwestern adventure. Lots of twangy country rock music, which isn't really my thing (at all), but it's still good. There are some softer tracks I liked better, that are used to great effect.

Renegade might not be for everybody, but even though I'm ostensibly one of those people, I still had a fun time with it. A love for Terence Hill trumps my dislike of the American midwest any day of the week, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it's a fun movie in general...

Virtual Weapon (1997)

Bill Skims is an ex-cop turned computer businessman. He returns to his old city, much to the delight of his friends, and his old partner Mike. Though this delight quickly turns into exasperation when it takes a grand total of one minute of being together again before someone shoots at them. It turns out Skims is here on an undercover mission to locate a master criminal and neutralise a mysterious operation involving deadly microchips...

I only recently learned of the existence of Virtual Weapon, and I was open-mouthed at not having heard of it sooner! It's a late-90s Terence Hill film, a buddy cop sci-fi film, has a black partner ala Rush Hour, and is directed by none other than Antonio Marghereti! So many things I'd never expect to see in one of his movies, all in a period I didn't know he'd still be doing it.

Given its time, and director, Virtual Weapon is a movie that could have gone very wrong. It could come off as too late into the man's career, he might not fit into a Rush Hour type story, and Antonio Margheriti's films are not exactly known for their quality at times. The man often made good (even great) films, and also made plenty of amusingly bad ones too. This film has a lot going against it...and so it's all the more impressive that it is really good! I mean it!

For a start, Virtual Weapon doesn't look at all like it's a few months shy from the year 2000. The film stock its shot on makes it look like it's from the 80s, and yes, that is a good thing. It also feels straight from that era of Italian cinema, like it could have easily been a Hill and Spencer vehicle at the height of their careers. With his advancing age, the role is tailored more for Terence as an older cop, but he also proves he's still got it when it comes to fighting, and his boyish looks and charms. You'd never guess he was 55 here!

The movie gets off to a quick start, with plenty of fun action. We're introduced to the characters well, and they quickly get on the case, with sneaking and fighting galore. The plot is fairly standard stuff. Nothing amazing, but told well, and always moving along at a decent pace.

Where the film gets the most interesting is the 'Cyper cop' angle. Summaries, trailers, and indeed the name itself give the impression it happens immediately, but actually it takes more than half the film. On one hand I'm glad it takes its time rather than rush things, but it maybe woulda been nice to get an earlier start on this. But despite coming later than expected, it's still handled pretty well, with some good moments. The computer stuff is amusingly of its time, but more in a time capsule sorta way, rather than dated.

Some note that Virtual Weapon could've been more ludicrous, and that is true to an extent. It could've been fun, and maybe it would've been better than what we got. But the film is always consistent with itself, so even if it doesn't go all out, at least it never feels like something its not.

The characters are all good. Skims is a fun protagonist, and always likeable. Mike is your typical exasperated partner, grumpy all the time, but cares for his buddy. Single mother (and former cop herself) Chelo and daughter Lily are a great addition, providing plenty of heart to the movie, and good connections for Skims.

The villains are probably the weakest element. Gleefully evil, there's not much to them, and they don't appear a huge amount. They get across the bare minimum, but more would've been nice.

Something I liked about Virtual Weapon is its running them of getting Skims (and by extension others) to learn Spanish. There's a good non-judgmental attitude about it. Perhaps because this is an Italian film, meaning they'd have a vested interest in getting Americans to lighten up about learning a little Espanol.

The acting is all good. Terence is a reliable lead, fun, dashing as always, and still packs a punch. Though it is hilarious to see the Italian Terence Hill, accent and all, acting as if he doesn't know Spanish. Marvellous Marvin Hagler is a good sidekick, and plays the 'black partner' role without it being a dull stereotype. Jennifer Martinez is nice in her role, and I would've liked to see her act in more films. Giselle Blondet is nice too. The actors playing the bad guys verge on the cheesier side.

The music here is nice, especially the main theme. It feels like a typical Italian movie theme. An 80s style romance song that gets you in the mood, despite seemingly being a poor fit. That's how you know you're dealing with Italians, when they can open a cop film with love songs and make it work!

Virtual Weapon feels like a perfect film, not because it's the greatest ever made by any means, but rather because it succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Even if a movie is just a simple good time, if it manages to pull that off, then that is something to be celebrated and admired. A perfect movie to end this post on, Virtual Weapon is lots of fun, especially for Terence Hill fans...

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