Netflixable? An Italian slapstick revival — “Watch Out, We’re Mad”

Once upon a time, at the tale end of the Golden Age of the Spaghetti Western, a couple of canny Italian producers and directors figured out that at home and abroad, a big chunk of the audience for those oddball sagebrush sagas was boys, and men who never grew out of “The Three Stooges.”

It wasn’t the iconic themes, the soaring score and the Italian take on (Spanish) Western vistas these folks showed up for. It was the fancy gunplay, the over-the-top brawls, silly characters and the nonsensical stories slapped together between “the cool parts.”

Slapstick was more important, and you can see traces of this even in Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” But other pictures such as “Aces High,” “Boot Hill” and the “Trinity” films — “They Call Me Trinity,” “Trinity is Still My Name,” etc –went all in on the laughs. They were throwbacks to an earlier era in screen comedy, when “slap” fights were a big part of slapstick.

The stars of these films were often a Laurel and Hardy pair of Italian actors given English names, Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer — a thin, handsome chap teamed with the burly, ever-grumpy Big Man. They even made action comedies without horses. One of them was this goofy farce about a road race and a prize these two clowns could not decide how to fairly split up — a red dune buggy.

“Altrimenti ci arrabbiamo” this 1974 film was titled, “Watch Out, We’re Mad.” And in the world’s frantic search for that next pitch those content-craving suckers at Netflix will buy, it’s been revived for a new slap-happy slapstick farce, a reboot/sequel that’s as dated as a dune buggy, with only occasional flashes of the “Stooges” silliness that marked the original.

Edoardo Pesce and Alessandro Roja are the new Spencer and Hill, mercifully not given “Hollywood” names, cast as the sons of the two oafs back in ’74, who as kids took the dune buggy out and promptly lost it to a couple of bikers.

Now, “some years later” (Don’t do the math.), the former 13 year-olds are lured into a new “Road Rally” involving matched Beemer beaters on an offroad course, a race in which they finish in a tie. And damned if that 1974 dune buggy doesn’t become the bone of contention for a new generation and a pawn in a new game involving a rich, scummy developer (Christian De Sica), his dense, no-good-at-racing son (Francesco Bruni), the developer’s on-payroll motorcycle gang led by the a biker (Massimiliano Rossi) and a circus parked on land that the developer covets.

Torsillo is the man who orders his son to steal the dune buggy, which the rich man put up as a prize for a “rally” race that no one came to watch.

“It’s more fun to get something when you don’t deserve it.”

The endangered circus features a fetching tiger-tamer (Alessandra Mastronardi), and assorted clowns, sideshow characters (dwarves, et al) and a not-that-sharp strong man (Michael Schermi).

It took five credited screenwriters to back engineer this tale of the town or Tortuga into a new movie, and that aptly-named director Younuts of the teen comedy “Under the Riccione Sun” was parked behind the camera.

What works is what always worked, the slap contests and slap fights. Any fan of action cinema will spot how funny the stage punches all are when they’re open-hand slaps and obviously fake “stage punches” turned into “stage slaps.

There are a couple of decent brawls that precede a grand finale which is kind of funny. But even in that bust-up-the-developers’ big “launch party” scene, even bigger laughs are missed or simply blown because five screenwriters and Younuts notwithstanding, none of these pasta di giornos is an undiscovered comic genius.

The leads are passable, with Pesce summoning up memories of the late Bud Spencer and his fellow Italian slapstick “Big Man,” Israeli-born Paul L. Smith, who played Bluto in Robert Altman’s “Popeye.”

But even when you’re remaking junk, you’ve got to bring more to the table than look-alikes and faded memories of a movie that you’re remaking.

Rating: TV-14, constant fisticuffs

Cast: Edoardo Pesce, Alessandro Roja, Alessandra Mastronardi, Christian De Sica, Francesco Bruni, Michael Schermi and Massimiliano Rossi

Credits: Directed by Younuts, scripted by Vincenzo Alfieri, Giancarlo Fontana, Tommaso Renzoni, Guiseppe Stasi and Andrea Sperandio, based on the 1974 film. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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