It’s been a long journey for Three Amigos to be considered a classic worthy of a 25th anniversary Blu-ray release. The film hit screens to a resounding response of critical and audience indifference in 1986, but has gradually come to be regarded as something of a cult classic. It’s difficult to know why it failed. Maybe it was because it was a Western made past the genre’s expiry date, maybe the release date was ill timed, or maybe it’s just a strange comedy that was always destined to appeal to a small, but loyal fanbase. Regardless, the film now seems to have the reputation it deserves as one of John Landis and Steve Martin’s more beloved comedies and while the new Blu-ray isn’t exactly overflowing with nostalgic special features, it’s still a nice treat for fans. Hit the jump for my review of Three Amigos on Blu-ray.
One thing that’s interesting about Three Amigos and says a lot about the film’s enduring appeal is just how often the central conceit has been successfully ripped off in subsequent years. The film stars Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short as three silent film stars known for playing three Mexican cowboy heroes who liked to stand up for justice in the ole West and toss in the occasional song n’ dance number along the way. Out of work and penniless, they are thrilled when the get a telegram to come work their magic in Mexico. However, when the three idiots arrive they are shocked to discover a poor village who are convinced the Amigos are real and need them to stop the evil El Guapo and his gang who are terrorizing their community. Of course, the actors are terrified at first, but eventually learn to become real heroes. The concept has since been rehashed in varying degrees in films like Galaxy Quest and Tropic Thunder. Now, both of those comedies are strong enough to stand on their own, but there’s no denying that Three Amigos mined that material first and in some ways, did it best.
If there was a single word that sums up the tone and style of Three Amigos, it would be “silly” with the possible addendum, “really, ridiculously silly.” The film was written by Steve Martin (weirdly, along with Lorne Michaels and songs by Randy Newman) and while it doesn’t quite reach the manic, surrealist heights of The Jerk, it definitely has the pleasantly silly tone of his early work. At times, the movie can even feel like a cartoon with all of its slapstick, bright colors, exaggerated costumes, deliberately fake backdrops, and impromptu musical numbers. The performances from Martin, Chase, and Short are all quite over-the-top with plenty of mugging, but never in a grating way. This is big broad comedy at it’s best with three guys who know a thing or two about pratfalls. Their natural chemistry together is so strong that it’s a shame the movie wasn’t successful enough to warrant a sequel, though I suppose these characters might not be as funny without the central concept and you can only really do that once. Though not outshined, the three leads are at least matched in hilarity on several occasions by the Mexican outlaw villains. Landis cast the villains and background roles as if he was making serious Western, so they are a rough and tumble bunch lead by Alfonso Arau’s El Guapo (fulfilling Landis’ director cameo casting mandate as the man is responsible for a number of films including Like Water For Chocolate). Seeing these grizzled character actors capable of being genuinely threatening playing surreal comedy sequences like arguing over the definition of “plethora” or gleefully exchanging sweaters as birthday presents in the middle of the desert is endlessly hilarious.
There’s no doubt that Three Amigos benefited a great deal by having John Landis in the director’s chair as he was able to create the scope and style of a real Western. Landis doesn’t get much credit for this because he’s typically just thought of as a comedy filmmaker, but he was one f the first major movie geek directors. All of his movies are exercises in reviving an old genre whether it be the musical in The Blues Brothers, Universal monster movies in An American Werewolf In London, or a 30-40s era socially conscious comedy in Trading Places. The man knows movies and filled his projects with in jokes and references to his favorites long before it was fashionable. Three Amigos was Landis’ crack at the Western and he gives it the big, brash, colorful look of a glossy 50s studio outing in the genre. It never gets in the way of the comedy and the attention to detail adds a great deal of atmosphere. His lovingly crafted silent film parodies are so spot on that you’ll almost wish he made an entire silent movie. Landis clicks with Martin’s surreal comedic style better than most directors and effectively matches the goofy writing with larger-than-life, cartoony visuals.
In the end, Three Amigos is nothing more than fluffy entertainment. There’s no attempt at social commentary or genuine emotion like Martin and Landis achieved in other comedies. No, this time they just wanted to entertain, which is why it’s so odd that it never connected with audiences at the time. Ah well, at least it’s loved now. HBO’s new Blu-ray features a very nice transfer overall. Some sequences look a little washed out or grainy, but for the most part the vast western landscapes and bright colors really pop off of the screen. The silent movie sequences in particular look gorgeous and it’s the first time on home video that you can really appreciate the attention to detail Landis and his crew put into recreating that lost form of filmmaking. In terms of special features, there are a handful of deleted and extended scenes from a recently discovered workprint. They mostly take place in Hollywood before the Amigos leave for Mexico and are quite amusing, but sadly the long discussed deleted subplots with Sam Kinison and Fran Drescher appear to be gone forever. There’s also a brief vintage promotional interview with the stars from the set that’s enjoyable, if insubstantial. Finally, the disc comes with a booklet reprinting a reunion with the stars and director for Empire magazine that’s fantastic, if frustrating that no one was there with cameras running for a DVD feature. So, it’s slim pickings extras-wise, but at least they’re all worthwhile. If your in tune with the Three Amigos’ uniquely goofy sensibility, this disc is pee-your-pants funny and a must own. If not, then we’ll never exchange the Three Amigos salute when we meet in public and that’s a sad state of affairs.