Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Timed to the release of Seth MacFarlane’s oater spoof A Million Ways To Die In The West, we single out some favorite Western-comedies.
800 Bullets (2002)
Less a parody of the Western than it is an exuberant eulogy for it, 800 Bullets laments that they don’t make ‘em like they used to by making one like they never did. Flamboyantly shot like a Sergio Leone-remake directed by a cocaine-addled Pedro Almodóvar, Alex De La Iglesia’s best film begins in the past, a stagecoach tearing across the rusty chalk of the Wild West, bandits on horseback in hot pursuit. The action is heightened to a degree that calls attention to its artificiality, and all of the cowboys are having just a bit too much fun, when suddenly one of them slips off his horse and is crushed under a large carriage wheels. Someone calls “Cut!” and all of the actors slow to a halt, but it’s too late for the bloodied stuntman, who slipped before his cue and died before his time.
In the present, the dead stuntman’s young son, Carlos (Luis Castro), is growing up in a banal modern world far removed from an era of gruff gunslinging. Forced to tag along as his shrew of a mother tries to close the biggest business deal of her career, the kid is stuck in a corporate Spain that recalls the befuddled tragicomedies of Jacques Tati. But Carlos’ blood courses with creative violence, and when he starts asking questions about his dad, the boy’s grandmother steers him toward a decrepit theme park in the middle of nowhere—the kind of tourist trap where you don’t even care that you’re being swindled, because you feel so embarrassed for the employees.
It’s there that Carlos meets Julián (Sancho Gracia), his belligerent, charismatically delusional, whore-mongering grandfather, a former stuntman who claims to have driven the tank in Patton and now stars in the theme park’s main attraction, a pantomimed shootout that essentially recreates the opening sequence of The Wild Bunch. Carlos and Julián develop a bond, the kid gets to feel up a naked prostitute, and the gang gets to load their prop guns with real bullets (800 of them) to defend their way of life from the cinema’s most reliable villains, corporate real-estate agents.
Overstuffed with manic energy and broad physical comedy, 800 Bullets is nostalgic to the bone, but never blinded by its love for the movies it’s honoring. Though De La Iglesia’s films tend to err on the incoherent side, this one is held together by the momentum of a party spinning out of control. It may be too busy having fun to decide if it’s an homage or a funeral, but what might feel like indecisiveness in a less sincere movie instead feels like inclusiveness. If nothing else, this irrepressibly jubilant work serves as a reminder that the Western will never die, so long as they’re this much fun to make and watch.
Availability: 800 Bullets is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix or purchased on Amazon.