Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let's All Gather 'round and Sing the Lonesome Ballad of Billy Jack: Movie Review

*Deep, deep sigh*

I always knew it would come to this. I knew at some point I would cross paths with America's most-loathed half-breed Native American kung fu action hero, Billy Jack. I just wish it didn't come so soon.

The product of self-indulgent dipshit independent film director/writer/actor and hippie activist Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack is a (massive) tool which it's creator uses to preach all kinds of outmoded 1960's idealistic hippy shit that no one wants to listen to. He also uses KUNG-FU to spread his message. These movies are what would happen if that one person you know who's so far up their own ass they're head is coming back out their neck again got some money together and took his self-righteous bullshit to cinemas near you.

The Billy Jack character appeared in a series of films, including such promising titles as “Born Losers”, “The Trial of Billy Jack”, and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”. Yes, I'm serious. Today we're diving headlong into the most plausibly titled film of the series, simply called “Billy Jack”. This is actually the second entry in the series, following Born Losers, but I feel safe skipping that earlier film because Billy Jack is known for being, essentially, a remake of Born Losers with minor tweaks. Two birds. One Stone.

“There are probably no two people on this earth more opposite from each other than myself and Billy Jack” a woman intones over aerial footage of barren urban streets. She prattles on about coming together, falling apart, tragedy, bloodshed, and the sheriff visiting his deputy (?) in a flat, monotone voice, promising Hot Thespian Action to come.

And so the sheriff arrives at the deputy's house and says they've found his daughter in Haight-Ashbury (again). Dad says he can't be bothered to collect his child because he wants to go Mustang hunting. Wonder why she ran away. Sheriff asks if six cents a pound for horse meat sold to dog food companies is worth missing out on your daughter. YOUBETCHA~! YEE-HAW!

Ooh, promising. Nothing makes me hopeful like the words “student film”.

Opening credits play under a really, really terrible folk song (One Tin Soldier). “Go ahead and hate your neighbor/Go ahead and cheat your friend/Do it in the name of Heaven/Justify it in the end!”. Great, the hippie is invoking fucking God and Jesus. Nothing like a religious cannabis fiend to make you just love life.

More promising credits, for sure.

So, anyway, deputy and friends have wrangled some wild mustang into a corral so they can shoot them like fish in a barrel. Deputy offers a friend the first shot, but buddy wants his son Bernard to do it instead. Bernard wants no part of it but has no choice. Oh, wait, never mind...he does. He throws the gun down. Deputy and his firing squad just have at it until a mystical synth chord catches their attention - seriously, they can hear the film score and look around for where that music could possibly be coming from. Cliché native-American drum beat heralds the arrival of

BILLY JACK. Yes, that cracker is supposed to be our NATIVE-AMERICAN HERO. Billy Jack reminds the men they're trespassing on Indian land. “When policemen break the law, there isn't any law. Just a fight for survival”. The preaching has begun. The men try to draw their guns on Billy Jack, but he's quicker on the draw and runs them off. “You know my meaning!” I don't know what that means, actually. Monotonous Woman returns to inform us that Billy is Indian Law~!, an anti-war former war hero, anti-society, and a guardian to the community. AND A HALF-BREED. Some BS about “sacred initiation ceremony”, too. Deputy returns home just in time to be surprised when his daughter doesn't want to speak to him. “My first instinct is to beat the hell out of ya, you know that” Deputy threatens. AND YOU WONDER WHY SHE RUNS AWAY?! The girl, Barb, complains of two-days starvation, Hepatitis, and an abscess tooth. Wow, Haight-Ashbury sucks. And she's pregnant, too. And she's a slut. And she doesn't know who the dad is. Deputy promptly lives up to his promise and beats the hell out of her. END SCENE.

I know it's horrible to say, but right here, domestic abuse is hilarious.

Elsewhere, Billy Jack finds Barb, battered and unconscious, on the preservation..or somewhere. At the hospital, the doctor says Barb is on the verge of losing her baby and one more beating from papa will send her off the cliff into miscarriage. What to do, what to do? Sheriff suggests Billy Jack hide her at “THE SCHOOL”. Billy Jack et al arrive at “THE SCHOOL” to witness Monotonous Woman giving horse-riding lessons. Monotonous Woman then discusses the history of “THE SCHOOL” in voice-over, explaining how she always knew she'd have trouble because she set-out to let any kid attend, no matter their background. There are but three rules:

1.No drugs (bullshit)
2.Everyone “carries their own load”
3.Everyone has to get “turned on by creating something”. You mean like a doobie?

No, she means things like basket weaving, film making, “psychodrama” (what, they have to drive each other insane?) and role-playing. “Things the townspeople would never understand”. Role-playing is how Barb gets introduced to the group or, more accurately, how they introduce her to herself, man. They want to play a game where she has no fucking idea what character she's playing, but has to figure it out based on how everyone reacts to her.


This poor bitch is pregnant and abused and just looking for a place to chill. Couldn't they just let her be? I don't know why, but forcing this girl to do anything other than, oh, tend to herself and her child befuddles me. Barb even says she can't do this shit because she's, ya know, knocked up. Everyone agrees she's carrying the next Messiah.


The groups surrounds her and...well...I don't even fucking know.

Inexplicably, the scene ends with the black power fist being raised by a bunch of whiteys.

To the cafeteria, where lunch hour is also variety hour, as everyone is encouraged to share their latest self-indulgent, preachy, pedestrian piece of shi- uh, er, that is they're encouraged to share the art they make. Some girl says she wants to sing a song about her brothers, but then she breaks into an anti-war folk protest song instead. Johnny died last Friday. Everyone is left in stunned silence, the awfulness of this song crushing their spirits dead.

Some guy asks Billy Jack about becoming brothers with a snake who bites him??? What the...

After another folk song it's...another folk song, actually...while Billy Jack and Monotonous Woman talk about the kids at the school. The kids wonder if they're in love. What gave them that idea is beyond me. One girl sings a song about how dreamy Billy Jack is. “Self-indulgent” is definitely the theme of this review.

“THE SCHOOL” takes a field-trip into town, where they befuddle everyone with those mysterious hand gestures known as peace signs. Deputy, sitting in a barbershop, vows to shoot three or four of the kids just to show them who's boss. Man I hope he lives up to that promise, too. In a bar, some guys offer Bernard fifty bucks to hit on a girl. What, is he gay? You have to pay him to show interest in women? Does he not otherwise? I don't get it. Anyway, the chick gives him a big Up Yours and the bet is lost.

Chick walks over to the other kids from “THE SCHOOL” and asks why they aren't going into the store they're staring at. The reason is because “INDIANS KNOW DAMN WELL WHERE THEY AREN'T WANTED!!!” Then, remembering that they're white, they cheer up and walk on in to buy some ice cream. Except, I guess they aren't white (“Half-breed, that's all I ever heard...”) and the soda jerk won't serve them, saying he ran out of cones as an excuse. A girl points out the GIANT BOX OF CONES and the jerk calls her “smart”, prompting Bernard to plead for an end to the “violence”. And then Bernard goes into full-on inspirational speaker mode, breaking down the dilemma into layman's terms and demonstrating one of many possible reconciliations by coating the half-breeds in flour to make them white.

Yes, I was being serious.

As if sensing the “violence” through a sixth sense, Billy Jack (oh yeah, that guy they named the movie after) solemnly approaches the ice cream shop. His mere presence makes Bernard cower and ask for his daddy and the sheriff. Looking at the confectionery scene before him, Billy Jack cannot contain himself any longer and he explodes in KUNG-FU VENGEANCE!!!!! With chops and high kicks and I think a flying mare or two, Billy levels the racist bastards ( who happen to look more ethnic than the white kids they harassed), even sending one through the window.

The synth chord everyone can hear returns as a mystery hand disconnects something in someone's car engine. Using his seventh sense – the sense of automobile tampering – Billy Jack instinctively knows that his engine has been booby trapped and goes for a walk instead. The white folk surround him and, oh yeah, it's already time for more KUNG FU. Police chief Asshole walks up and cackles over the scene like Riddler when Adam West Batman is surrounded by henchmen. Billy Jack is defiant. “I'm gonna take this right foot and whop you on the side of your head...and there ain't nothin' you can do about it”. AND HE'S RIGHT.

Billy Jack then lays waste to all the henchmen with his feet of fury. Shades of Bob Backlund when Billy Jack runs wild with LEG SWEEPS. That is until someone clonks him over the head with a flap jack or something, and everyone takes turns beating his limp body. Sheriff and deputy arrive and callously ignore the felled man as they make small talk with the whiteys. An OFFENDED~! onlooker asks why charges aren't made and sheriff has no good answer.

Back at “THE SCHOOL” some kid named Martin tries to ride his horse without an instructor present and winds up falling off and breaking his whatchamacallit. After putting the boy in a cast, ol Doc No Name makes sure to warn Monotonous Woman that Deputy is sniffing around “THE SCHOOL” thinking his Barb might be there. Immediate jump cut to said Doomsday scenario, as the coppers arrive with a search warrant. Instant gratification: one of the pluses of hopelessly inept film making. Monotonous Woman tells the kid that “they don't really have a right to search here, but we'll let 'em if it makes them feel like big men”. I'll leave it to you to find the many, many stupid aspects of that statement. Angry Guitar Girl says to hell with this and runs off to write a new protest song right now on the spot!


And yes, we get THE WHOLE SONG. The cops find nothing and decide she must be with Billy Jack. The cops ask where he is and Monotonous Woman says they don't know where he lives, he just comes whenever his Eighth Sense – the “Honey-Do” sense, I guess – goes off. “We need him, and he just shows up!”

Chief suggests a thousand-dollar reward for any kid who tells them where Billy Jack is. Deputy tries to tell everyone, but they just sing over him. “Darn hippie creeps!”

In the woods, Billy Jack shows Barb his home – some ancient Indian pueblos built into a mountain. For some reason, this incurs a “scary/suspenseful” tune on the soundtrack.

Once inside, Barb sees an old man DUN DUN DUN!!!!!! (?)

In town, a hearing is in session regarding the ice cream shop incident. The townsfolk demand that the darn kids from “THE SCHOOL” be banned from town...except between noon and four on Saturdays.

And then: the thrill of town hall meetings! Yielding the floor! People talking over each other!! Awkward pauses!!! Calls for order!!!! DID THEY FORGET THEY WERE MAKING A KUNG FU MOVIE? It just keeps going and going like any regular town hall meeting, with all the tedium that comes with it. The girl with the song about the brother but not really reads a speech about such things as “preserving law and order” and “protecting the streets” and then she says “Guess who wrote it! HITLER!”


Yes, dear reader, law and order are just another form of Nazism. Tears are falling from my eyes. Tears of pure, sweet joy. This movie is so fucking amazing some times.

Anyone remember what this movie is about? I don't.

I don't know what's happening here, but it deserved to be captured for posterity, whatever it is.

After something like ten minutes of that town hall pap, we're back at “THE SCHOOL”. The committee has come to see what the kids are like in their natural environment. "THE SCHOOL" sees fit to hold a play about pot smoking to show the townsfolk how law abiding and not at all hippie-like they are. The play ends with the pot smokers turning out to be cops, much to the committee's chagrin. So they do a skit incorporating the committee as actors playing...teenage potheads.

Plot. Kung fu. Whatever happened to that? I am utterly befuddled. They're. Just. Playacting. For ten minutes. How I would kill for that ice cream scene again right about now.

Anyway, apparently the committee are convinced of the worthiness of “THE SCHOOL” and encourage Monotonous Woman to invite the whole town up to see how wonderful (?) it is. Elsewhere, Barb and Monotonous Woman head out to see Billy Jack become brothers with the snake, which entails being bitten until the venom sinks him deep into unconsciousness. If he lives, he is rewarded with a vision telling him what his life's mission will be. Gee, I'll bet it involves protecting the children with kung fu. And so everything we were promised comes true as Billy Jack is bitten half to death, collapses, and has his vision. On a rocky outcropping, Bernard sits by with a sniper rifle waiting to take Billy Jack out. Oh, the gun's not loaded. He just wanted to know if he could get the shot lined up.

We are less than one hour in to this movie. Just thought you should know. It feels like days for me.

Using their binocular eyes, Bernard and his pal spot Barb MILES AND MILES AWAY.

Monotonous Woman and some kids go to town. Martin is sent to pick up paint but instead runs into Deputy, who demands help locating Barb or else. Or else what? Or else your life! Dun dun dun

MORE ROLE-PLAYING~!~! This time it's in the streets of town, and the teachers are playing out a cops and robbers routine to get the sheriff's attention. And then, in a moment worthy of the Marx Brothers or perhaps Abbot and Costello, they trick him into unwittingly becoming an actor in their play, resulting in him thinking his gun is a prop so he has no qualms about letting them have it. Or was it all part of the show? Was he in on it? Are they actually on an elaborate backdrop at the school? The whole scene changes context and setting in one edit and becomes utterly bewildering. Suddenly the sheriff is just in on it and they all step out of character and the kids are all there and I don't know what happened.

Elsewhere, Bernard harasses a student for info about Billy Jack. She has none so he starts stealing her clothes. Using the ninth sense – the molestation sense – Billy Jack knows to arrive just then and save the day. Monotonous Woman doesn't want any kung fu antics involved and instead recommends driving Bernard's car into the lake. Billy Jack gives Bernard a choice between the two and the boy chooses the watery grave despite the car being brand new and bought with his dad's money. Bernard escapes unharmed only to be berated by his police chief pappy once the cops show up to tow the car out. Bernard says he was a-feared of Billy Jack and dad calls him a fucking pussy. Chief tells Sheriff to do something about that school lest the townsfolk form a mob with torches and pitchforks.

Back at “THE SCHOOL” Monotonous Woman spots Barb hanging around half-breed Martin but does nothing much about it and just leaves. Barb asks Martin why he hasn't laid her or even tried. Martin says it's because she's a whore and doesn't want her to think he loves her for sex. And then, for no reason, Martin gives Barb a card with St. Francis' prayer on it.

Ever elsewhere, Bernard has his rifle and is waiting for that half-breed to show up so he can treat'em like a half-breed. Instead, he spots Monotonous Woman and watches her skinny-dip in the river. Uh...she's like fifty by the looks of her. EW! (But she was played by Tom Laughlin's wife, so...self-indulgence once more). Later, while taking a nude nap on the shore, Monotonous Woman is caught with her pants literally down by Bernard who takes her at gun point.

Back at “THE SCHOOL” Barb rides a horse, falls off, and hopefully induces miscarriage just to end this plot. At the river, Bernard has Monotonous Woman tied up. At the hospital, Doctor says Barb is gonna lose that baby. HOORAY~! Monotonous Woman threatens charges of kidnapping and rape, but Bernard is undeterred. Rapin' time~!~! Later, the kids find Monotonous Woman and free her. Monotonous Woman warns the kids not to tell Billy Jack, because he'll kill Bernard and she's a pacifist and all that crap. Time to talk about the futility of violence, again, this time with tears ala the anti-pollution Indian. God I want to slap this woman so hard right now.

Using the tenth sense – the accidental abortion sense – Billy Jack has arrived at the hospital to be with the students in the waiting room while Barb slowly ends her meandering, pointless storyline. Doctor confirms the death of Barb's baby. Everyone heads off for the mountains for an injun funeral ceremony.

After the funeral, Billy Jack and Martin do what anyone would do at this tragic time – discuss “MENTAL TOUGHNESS”. “Mental Toughness is the ability to accept the fact that you're human, that you're going to make mistakes – lots of 'em – all your life, and some of them are going to hurt people that you love very badly.” That sounds more like existential despair to me, but whatever. And then Billy Jack accosts Martin for being too forlorn to comfort Barb.

In town, Deputy and Doctor talk about Barb's baby in the barbershop. Deputy calls Doc a damn liar when he says the baby was white. Doc leaves in a huff.

HEY, MORE ROLE-PLAYING~!~!~!~!~! This time the kids act out a scenario where a man chooses not to stand for the national anthem at a sports event, but everyone else around him hassles him to try and get him up. In the most blunt, boneheaded metaphor ever, the skit ends with everyone beating him to death while still singing the anthem.

Deputy and Chief and their thugs try to invade “THE SCHOOL”, but Sheriff keeps them at bay with his rifle. Like ten seconds later, they kidnap Martin and some girl and then it's the next day suddenly and they're a whuppin' the boy on a hillside. At “THE SCHOOL”, Sheriff tells Monotonous Woman that there's nothing to be done. Barb offers to go home long enough to put an end to this, and then run away again. At the whuppin, the girl grabs a rifle from the Deputy's truck and threatens to shoot. To prove she's serious, she starts taking potshots. Girl tells Martin to leave without her – she must hold the men at bay so he can escape. They stop her instantly and follow Martin.

By the lakeside, Martin and Bernard have a standoff and the normally pacifistic Martin finally puts his gun to use. Using the eleventh sense – the damsel in distress sense – Billy Jack knows to show up and save the girl from Deputy. Deputy holds girl at gunpoint and threatens to shoot if Billy Jack won't lay down his gun. Billy says go ahead and shoot – I'll kill ya right back! Deputy backs down and Billy Jack sends the girl on her way. At the lake, Barb finds Martin's bloody corpse in the water. Wow, that was harsh. Sheriff vows revenge.

Back at “THE SCHOOL” (boy is that old), Billy Jack's twelfth sense – the rape sense – helps him guess that Bernard raped Monotonous Woman. She begs him not to kill anyone, but he won't listen. Some crap about there's nowhere to go where people don't hurt each other and how that justifies blah blah...

Using the thirteenth sense – the poontang sense -Billy Jack finds Bernard's den of lovemaking and bursts in on the boy mid-fucking of a thirteen year-old. Nice. Bernie tries and epic fails to shoot Billy Jack and then it's KUNG FU TIME~! Billy Jack karate chops Bernard in the throat and kills him. Magnificent. Using the magical power to transport, Billy Jack shows up at, you know where, as Deputy and the boys offer up a search warrant to Monotonous Woman. Billy Jack takes Barb and winds up in a shootout with Deputy. Billy Jack takes his head off with one shot. Billy Jack and Barb hole up in an old church.

Billy Jack reveals the source of his power – a bag full of owl feathers and snake teeth, which keep him in tune with “the flow of life's forces”. Oh God dammit, even his super kung fu powers are psychedelic. Jesus Christ. Monotonous Woman comes in to try and talk Billy Jack into giving up, pointing out that he's shot and bleeding to death (so much for that bag). Monotonous Woman admits she loves Billy Jack and doesn't want to see him die – but with the cops there, his demise seems inevitable. Barb refuses to leave with Monotonous Woman, preferring to die since life is “just a big shit brick”. Monotonous Woman believes Billy Jack has taught Barb well.

So the cops move in, guns ablazing. Billy Jack tells Barb to keep her head down or “I'll knock it off”. So her options are death or death, both of which she wants. So why does she put her head down? Billy Jack beats them back, but Barb has a bullet in the leg. Doctor is allowed in to carry Barb off for medical help. Barb makes sure to muddy the plot waters by randomly changing her attitudes about death and begs Billy Jack not to die. The standoff lasts into the night. Monotonous Woman and Sheriff and Doc all come in to try and talk Billy Jack down yet again. They tell him he can draw attention to the PLIGHT OF INDIANS IN AMERICA by going peacefully. WHAT~? Billy Jack says he'll have an answer in the morning.

Billy talks about how he and Monotonous Woman are different. Contradicting her opening narration, she says they aren't different. She hates as much as Billy Jack does. Morning comes and Billy Jack lays down his conditions for surrender:

1.“THE SCHOOL” must be guaranteed to operate for at least the next ten years, no interference from the coppers, and Monotonous Woman be given a ten-year contract as directoress.
2.Barb must be put into Monotonous Woman's custody
3.Governor's office must have annual press conferences to update the public on “THE SCHOOL”

The cops agree to these terms. So Billy Jack comes out, they cuff him and off they go. The kids all give the black power fist as Billy is led away. Why? One Tin Soldier returns to play us out and with that this movie fucking ends.


God damn is it hard to sit through this shit, let alone write about it. You're justing being preached to for two hours and the whole time you can feel Laughlin looking down on you and your dirty, white, American ways. I mean, seriously, they criticized “law and order” at one point, claiming it to be Nazism. This movie is full of shit. Trippy, rainbow-colored, pacifistic, whiny, liberal shit. I'm surprised there wasn't some pro-vegetarianism shit in there to complete the circle. And it only got far, far worse with “The Trial of Billy Jack” and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”. Do not expect me to subject myself to the agony of reviewing them anytime soon. If your lucky, Billy Jack movies will be, at best, an annual tradition for ol' redunbeck, but that's all I can handle. Even an asshole like me can only take so much bullshit.


The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

This movie sounds like somebody watched "Little Big Man," and decided you could make it better by removing all the warmth, humour and decently-observed social commentary. And by adding kung-fu, which is the only decision they made that I can't fault them for.

Redunbeck said...

I suppose I'd have to see Little Big Man before saying anything on that front, but yeah, the kung fu was a good idea, for comedy if nothing else. The throat chop of death ought to be legendary. Probably would be if the rest of the movie didn't suck so many cocks.