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Wayback Wednesday: Three Amigos (1986)

“You son of a motherless goat” will never not be funny.

Happy New Year! 2019 is here and yesterday, my family and I enjoyed the first day of the new year by grilling up some steak, snuggling with our cats by the fire, and watching a comedy movie we watched a lot when I was younger. By the way, because January is a veritable no man’s land for holidays, expect a random smattering of movies for Wayback Wednesdays. However, if you have a favourite movie you’d like to see me review, or even just one you want me to tear to shreds, let me know in the comments or on social media! Okay, let’s talk about Three Amigos (1986)!

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Credit: / Orion Pictures

Three Amigos follows three washed-up silent movie stars; Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms, and Ned Nederlander, played by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short respectively. Mistaken for the heroes they portray in their films, the Amigos wind up unknowingly volunteering to save the Mexican village of Santo Poco from the villainous bandit, El Guapo. Naturally a comedy of errors ensues as the trio are more equipped for song and dance numbers, and less so for any real heroics. Okay, so obviously the talent onscreen is top-notch and believe me, we’ll get to them, but first I really need to take a minute and talk about the amazing creative forces behind this movie. From the start, you know the movie is in good hands because of its director, the genius John Landis. Not only did he co-write one of my all-time favourite movies, Clue (1985), but he’s also directed such iconic comedies as Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Coming to America (1988). Yeah, Landis knows how to craft a killer comedy. Co-writing the script with Steve Martin are Saturday Night Live (1975 – present) legend Lorne Michaels, and believe it or not, acclaimed songwriter Randy Newman. Newman penned a handful of original songs for the movie which comes as no surprise, but actually having a hand in writing the script? Like, the dialogue and jokes? I’m flabbergasted. Flabbergasted, and yet, more than satisfied with the end result.

The creative talent behind the lens is matched by the talent in front of it. I mean, come on: Martin, Chase, AND Short at the height of their careers? You cant top that. Each actor is given the opportunity to standout and shine, with each one landing their own laugh-out-loud moment. For Martin, it’s the iconic comeback, “you son of a motherless goat,” which to this day is one of the most inane, nonsensical disses ever. I strive to use it every day. For Chase, it’s holstering his gun and shooting a hole right through the holster. Come on. Western humour just doesn’t get any funnier than that. For Short, it’s simply acting lovably naïve for the entire runtime. Speaking of, while all three stars certainly play dumb, I’m relieved to report that it’s in an endearing way and not in a, “my God, I don’t need this, shut up and go away,” way.

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Credit: / Orion Pictures

Having the movie be set in a time outside of the 1980s helps Three Amigos to avoid feeling dated or like a product of its time. A masterful example of parody done right, the movie’s humour succeeds in not taking itself too seriously, while simultaneously never slipping into juvenile territory. You’ll find no poop or barf jokes here. You get the sense the movie is playing to its strengths and not trying to be something its not. Instead of high-brow intellectual humour, you get side-splitting slapstick and classic punchlines. It’s old-fashioned, but hey, it works. Plus, the over-acting is delightful. Spoof movies, take note. This is the standard to which you should hold yourself. At times, if you take away the humour and jovialness, Three Amigos could almost pass itself off as a real gunslinging adventure, like those classic John Wayne movies. In fact, I’d argue that the movie hits its comedic and thrilling highs after the main characters decide to become heroes, their proposed seriousness making us howl even more with laughter. That’s the turning point where the movie embraces the ridiculousness and the actors are really able to let loose with their characters. Three Amigos carefully walks the line between a grounded and real Western, and then will unashamedly lean into its own absurdity and features scenes with an invisible swordsman and a magic singing bush. A magic singing bush I tell you!

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Credit: / Victoria Jones / Orion Pictures

Speaking of singing, Randy Newman is at the top of his game here. Comedically. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story (1995) will always be his best, don’t even try it. With fantastically funny songs like “My Little Buttercup” and “Blue Shadows on the Trail,” I’d go as far as to say some of the movie’s biggest laughs are thanks to Newman’s wonderful whimsy. “My Little Buttercup” is so silly and stupid in the most entertaining way, I defy you not to laugh as the Amigos sing this jaunty tune to a bar full of bandits who mistake them for assassins. Huh. Mistaken identity is a heavily recurring theme in this movie. “Blue Shadows on the Trail” is not only a stellar and authentic country song that has all the wild animals bopping their heads along with the Amigos, but it also features singing horses. Singing horses I tell you! Look, I know I say this A LOT, but this movie could totally be turned into a stage show. It already has the music! Other elements that support Three Amigos being turned into a musical comedy show are its concise plot, the sharp pacing, and the “plethora” of endlessly quotable lines. Wink wink, nudge, nudge.

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Credit: / Orion Pictures

More than anything, Three Amigos really reminds me of one of Mel Brooks’ movies. Something like Young Frankenstein (1974) or Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) that lampoons a genre without turning the entire thing into a mindless and idiotic farce. While not as widely recognized or celebrated as other work by the cast and crew, I believe Three Amigos has endured the test of time because of how universally appealing it is. No matter who you are or what your taste in movies is, I guarantee you will find something to laugh at in Three Amigos. It’s a low-stakes, lighthearted, adventure-comedy that’s the perfect compromise on family movie night. Millennials, your parents will love you for suggesting it. If you’re still unsure, let me leave you with this: It’s basically the original Tropic Thunder (2008).

Are you a fan of Three Amigos?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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