Richard Fleischer's Che! is neither the disaster nor the comedy classic of its lamentable reputation. True, it is the film of the T-shirt and often simplistic in its motivation - Omar Sharif's Che Guevara has to literally choose between tending the sick or passing the ammunition in one scene while in another fate lands a Molotov cocktail at his side at a crucial moment - but the film is an attempt at a minor revolution in epic biopic standards with its (staged) vox pop interviews and contrasting perspectives. Like Salvatore Giuliano, the drama is framed by the body of its dead protagonist and like Rossi's film it simplified and occasionally rewrites history. Unlike Steven Soderbergh's two-part epic, it's not obsessed with pseudo documentary trivia but opts more for an overview written in broad strokes - but then, with a running time little over an hour-and-a-half, it has to be. As a result, we are kept at a distance from Che for much of the first half of the film, the Cuban Revolution is rushed and not overly convincing and at times it turns into a typical studio picture shot on unconvincingly lit soundstages and at the Fox ranch backlot familiar from a hundred Westerns. Parts of it just don't work on any level, with the moment a Bolivian general talking to the camera excuses himself to go back into the scene seeming like an outtake from Woody Allen's Bananas. The film is at its best when dealing with the failure of Che's Bolivian adventure as he tries to impose his idea of salvation on a hostile population that neither seems to know or care it's oppressed as his followers and his ideals abandon him.
Sharif was an almost impossible to cast star - Genghis Khan, a Nazi officer (!!!) in Night of the Generals, a Jewish gambler in Funny Girl, a German schoolteacher in The Last Valley, a cowboy in McKenna's Gold - but is for once quite well cast here. Palance's Castro certainly isn't the Yosemite Sam cartoon figure contemporary reviewers painted him as either, though there's not much depth in the writing. The characters don't quite seem to know what to make of Che and you get the feeling the filmmakers weren't that sure either. Yet there's just enough leftfield (rather than left wing) ambition in this flawed would-be epic to hold the attention. It would certainly make an interesting double-bill with the equally despised (but, unlike Che!, subsequently partially rehabilitated) Walker.
Optimum's DVD has no extras but a least boasts a good widescreen transfer in the film's original 2.35:1 ratio.