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"Excuse us, we're not Mexicans..."
on 4 July 2012
"We're just going to have to use our brains."
Back in 1986, Three Amigos! was considered a bit of a disappointment considering the talent involved, but it's aged surprisingly well even if it's more pleasantly amusing than side-splitting. The idea's pretty foolproof, replaying the old Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven plot of a village beset by bandits (led by Alfonso Arau, Emilio Hernandez's sidekick in The Wild Bunch, but promoted to lead villain duties here) calling on a bunch of down on their luck heroes to defend them. Only this time, instead of ronin or guns for hire, after mistaking a movie for the real thing they call on three silent movie stars who have just been fired by their studio without even the shirts off their back in the form of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. The hapless trio aren't any the wiser either because the poor villagers couldn't afford to send them a detailed telegram, and from the ten peso version they ended up with they think they're just making a personal appearance south of the border where they still have some fans left...
It never quite makes enough of the comic possibilities, but even if it's more of a steady canter than a gallop it throws in just enough that does work or raise a laugh, much of it based on the various characters' ignorance (no-one knows what infamous, plethora or foreplay mean). It's a thoroughly good natured film, filled with a love of old movies and old Hollywood, and along the trail there's an invisible swordsman, Joe Mantegna playing his studio chief like Jimmy Durante, co-writer Randy Newman cameoing as a singing bush, a genuinely charming campfire singalong that attracts the local wildlife and a splendidly rousing and heroic Elmer Bernstein score that plays it all perfectly straight. And it's a lot more fun than A Bug's Life.
While the DVD release was barebones - just a trailer on the PAL DVD and not even that on the US DVD - HBO's remastered US Region A-locked Blu-ray makes up for it. From the surviving deleted scenes included, it's clear that it's a film that was badly compromised by a studio in too much of a hurry to get its three hapless heroes to Santo Poco. While it's understandable cutting some of the additional footage of the Amigos on the Hollywood backlot, it's pretty hard to explain the rationale for dropping the rather well-staged original opening sequence of El Guapo raiding the village, especially since it's what sets the whole plot in motion. Sadly too much is missing for a proper director's cut - most of Fran Drescher's scenes as a rival star and all of Sam Kinison's part as a cannibal mountain man were thrown out - but the 18-minutes of scenes taken from an earlier cut of the film are pretty decent quality and worth keeping in the picture. Aside from unedited footage of a brief and very flat on-set interview with the three stars that finishes just as they're starting to cook a little and a booklet containing a reprint of an Empire article reuniting the stars and director it's the only extra but, aside from a slightly oversaturated opening scene, it boasts a very impressive transfer.