Straight to Hell (1987)
Straight to Hell (1987)

Genre: Action Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: June 26th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Alex Cox Actors: Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Courtney Love, Joe Strummer, Gloria Miralles Ruiz, Sara Sugarman, Jennifer Balgobin, Xander Berkeley, Kathy Burke, Dennis Hopper

 


 

C

ult director Alex Cox helms the “Commies From Mars” production “Straight to Hell,” a B-grade, pulpy, outlaws-on-the-run, comedy thriller. It’s largely nonsensical, incredibly odd, and only mildly entertaining, but it has its place with diehard fans. Cox’s films are never really mainstream; he’s the kind of offbeat filmmaker to relish in weirdness (he bizarrely credits a “sex and cruelty consultant,” in the opening sequence), but does have enough connections and knowhow to gather together funds and some interesting actors and cameos, including Dennis Hopper, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones, and Jim Jarmusch.

Willy (Dick Rude) freaks out when his two partners-in-crime, Norwood (Sy Richardson) and Simms (Joe Strummer), are too drunk to carry out the Mr. Greenburg heist, showing up late and blowing the opportunity for quick cash and much-needed approval from their boss. On their way out of town, they pick up ditzy blonde Velma (Courtney Love), Norwood’s pregnant wife, and rob a bank, clumsily spilling money on the side of the road in a hasty escape. They also wind up terribly lost and decide to hole up in a desert town in the middle of nowhere to bury the loot.

After the foursome gets drunk and spends the night in a shed behind a bar, Velma is warned by a friendly retard about bad men. Moments later, a band of ruthless, crazed, coffee-addicted, “Mad Max” styled bandits roll into town, aiming on disposing of the new intruders. The trio of thieves interfere with a blood feud with the resident McMahon clan, momentarily gaining hospitality from the townsfolk (nearly indecipherable from the enemy gang) – who are all eclectically dressed, some being reminiscent of stereotypical bullfighters, Mexican banditos, Rastafarians, Hawaiian tourists, rednecks, suit-wearing businessmen, a hot dog vendor, an oily-haired barber, a priest, a limo driver, a guy in a pink Nazi uniform, South American drug dealers, cavemen, cowboys, Federalies and more, nearly all filthy, dust-covered, and ugly. People bathe with their clothes on, so they never have to change outfits. Everyone has a screw loose, and most act like they’re mentally deficient.

The story is hilariously pointless, seemingly moving forward with random events just to fill up a feature-length time slot. Characters sing, dance, drunkenly party, scream, chug coffee, fight, and shoot at one another for the sake of cheap thrills. As days pass, marked by title cards counting off every morning, the three outsiders keep getting weirder (blaming sexual tension for their rambunctiousness).

When elderly Grandpa McMahon is brutally murdered, the town’s mob mentality immediately opts to lynch the only person not in the town square: Willy. Norwood steps in to place doubts in everyone’s minds. So the very next stranger to drive into town, of course, is summarily hanged. I. G. Farben (Dennis Hopper) shows up briefly to mysteriously drop off heavy artillery and instill in Norwood the idea that the town can only have one boss. This leads to a final, bloody showdown, with a few people holed up in a saloon, some shooting back and forth through the streets, others attempting to flee with the stolen cash, and countless acts of backstabbing between relatives, partners, and significant others. If it weren’t so inexplicably peculiar, it might be comparable to “A Fistful of Dollars.”

Norwood always has a comb at the ready, Love’s dialogue consists of constant, screechy yelling, and the conversations are so stupid they’re slightly funny. At one point, a character even reads poetry. When Norwood and his crew need to synchronize their watches, they’re as much as 30 minutes apart – but he still claims that it’s “close enough.” The whole film gives the viewer the feeling that a lot of people had some spare time and extra cash and decided to shoot a movie in the desert merely to prove they could. In actuality, the project came about from a cancelled concert tour that gave Cox an opportunity to utilize a wealth of musicians for a speedily improvised motion picture. And it certainly looks that way.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10