Thursday, May 10, 2007

Che! (1969)

Holy poop on a plate this movie sucks.

First, note the title. It's not Che. It's Che! with an exclamation point. That, coupled with the campy dialogue, weirdo performances, and overall atmosphere of hilarity, might convince you that this film was made by the Zucker Brothers. They like making silly movies with exclamation points at the end of the titles, like Airplane! or Top Secret! But, no, they didn't make Che!. They probably wish they did. This is one funny movie.

Egyptian Omar Sharif plays Che!, but that casting seems almost lucid compared to the movie's true masterstroke: Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. Does Jack Palance look like Fidel Castro? Yeah maybe, if you stand really far away from the screen, take off your glasses, cover one eye, down a couple shots of vodka and then look at him. Sure, why not! Fidel Castro!

Look, I'm not going to pretend to be a Che! scholar. I don't know anything about Che! but that's okay because neither did the people who made this movie. Or am I wrong? Did Che, the revolutionary and guerilla fighter, really did wear this much eye shadow? This couldn't possibly be what Che! Guevarra was like. No one would follow this man. The only thing this Che! could convince me to do is rent Dr. Zhivago.

The movie begins with Che! dead on a slab. It ends with him dead on the same slab. You might wonder, "Well why watch the movie?" That would be a smart thing to wonder. The story is told in flashbacks, because otherwise it would be the story of a corpse on a slab and that would be an even more boring movie than this one. Various associates of Che's (played by actors) talk into the camera and share their views of the man ("Sometimes I loved him. Other times I HATED him! But ALWAYS I respected him!"), and then we see the scenes they're describing played out for us by Sharif and Palance in Bronson Canyon. If this technique sounds familiar, that's because it is stolen from Citizen Kane. This is the only way in which Che! is like Citizen Kane. Wait, maybe there's two — does Jack Palance play President William McKinley in that?

The movie is only 95 minutes long, but it's stretching every inch of film to get there. There's at least ten minutes of newsreel footage, and least six or seven scenes of soldiers just marching around through the jungle. No dialogue, no importance to the plot, just flat-out filler. If there was an Academy Award for Best Depiction of Mass Troop Movements Che! would be a shoo-in.

It's hard to describe exactly how bad this movie is; you kind of need to see it for yourself, and observe just how terrible the acting is, and how cheap the production design is, how poor the editing is. Not that I recommend you see the movie. I don't; this thing is so boring it's been prescribed to insomniacs. It's cinematic Ambien. Side effects may include vomiting, rash, burning discharge, and a strange urge to watch Conan the Destroyer.

There are plenty of bad movies, but there are only a handful that are incorrect, misguided, badly executed in every conceivable way. Che! may well be the textbook definition of how NOT to make a movie. It's a wonder they even remembered to put film in the camera.

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