Christopher J. Jarmick | Seattle, Wa. USA | 01/04/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Not many people were interested in seeing an overly talky film about politics on the heels of the non-ending Watergate coverage. Few were interested in the rather naive and over-earnestness this extremely flawed re-worked, re-make of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington offered.I was a big fan of Billy Jack in `72 and I must admit that I also enjoyed Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. I had not seen Trial since 1974 until recently. It's a pretty awful film. Now I've seen this film. There is some "dangerous" material in the film that probably did upset people in political power who saw the film. It does show how some corrupt politicians work. It wasn't a great revelation to anyone in 1977 however that our political system was loaded with corruption. We had just been through an over-dose of Watergate. The film can be over-analyzed today and you can see some prophetic things in the film if you want to. Let's not go there.The film plays like an over-produced t.v. movie. There are some impressive location shots in Washington D.C. and around the Grand Canyon. There was a very expensive and detailed sets built to replicate the U.S. Senate accurately. There were some real actors in the film. People like E.G. Marshall and Sam Wanamaker . It was one of the last films Pat O'brien was in, and it was the first one for Lucie Arnaz. Frank Capra Jr. was one of the producers of the film which borrows quite a bit from the classic Frank Capra film. Mr Smith Goes to Washington. If you expect the film to have some action or even a couple of good martial arts fights you will be very disappointed. There is a brief, poorly choreographed fight scene that occurs in about the middle of the film. Future bad action director Hal Needham was stunt coordinator. And Dolores Taylor who always turned the other cheek rather than fight, actually is part of the fighting in this one. Sometimes pacifists get angry and kick ass too I guess.The film is more interested in its message and in showing us how the mechanics of political corruption work and how one man might change the system and fight corruption. The structure is close to the Mr. Smith film.E.G. Marshall does put in a watch-able performance and Tom Laughlin who would only be considered a decent actor if you put him next to someone like Chuck Norris is better than you would think. He's still a stiff, soft spoken guy, but there's a natural quality to his performance through most of the film. He's not trying too hard to act (which is good because he can't). But through most of this film you don't get the feeling he's looking for his camera marks or too conscious of where the camera is.A Senator suddenly dies and the top secret document he has is stoeln by a mid-level lobbyist. Senator Joseph Paine played by E.G. Marshall, calls Governor Hymie (I'm sorry Dick Gautier plays the Governor and when I see him I think of him as Hymie the robot from Get Smart) to go over possible replacements for the Senator. At the meeting is Bailey (Sam Wanamaker), a rich power broker who's got Senator Paine and others in the palm of his hand. He doesn't agree with Govenor Hopper's choice of Billy Jack for Senator. Hopper likes the demographics Billy Jack appeals to and since he's been pardoned of his felony conviction he's in. He won't be too difficult to control for the few months he's in office it's decided.Ah but of course Billy Jack isn't easy to control at all. He puts through what everyone believes to be an innocuous bill for a National Children's School. Unfortunately it's proposed location happens to the be same place as the nuclear power plant all the heavies have been maneuvering to put through.Senator Paine who was one partners with one of Billy Jack's relatives must save his political career and destroy Billy Jack and ignore that he was once once a champion of lost causes. Eventually the deck is stacked so heavily against Billy Jack it looks as if he can't possibly win or even save face. Ah but then it's time for the famous filibuster scene. Laughlin does better than you think in the scene that will of course remind you of the classic one with Jimmy Stewart. Some of the same lines are used as a matter of fact. Laughlin isn't just ripping off the film though, he is using the movie to deliver a message about how the people really do have the power to change a corrupt system. It's an optimistic message. The film does offer a couple of good scenes. Most of them however play like scenes from an episode of an old version of West Wing. The film is sometimes very dull with scenes allowed to go on for several minutes too long. Establishing shots are also stretched a bit too long. There are several scenes that fade to black... which adds to the t.v. movie feel of the film-- you almost expect there to be a commercial. If you have any affection for Billy Jack, the film is worth seeing and is not the total disaster you might have been led to believe. It's corny, cliche'd and rather predictable, but there are a few scenes that have enough edge to them as to be borderline daring for their day.There may be some truth to what Laughlin says about the film not being distributed because of political pressure. I don't think there was much interest in distributing a somewhat controversial film after the country had been through Watergate. It was a minor reason however to not push the film too hard. If distributors thought they could make money, they would make money and distribute just about any film. The main reasons the film wasn't distributed was because it wasn't a very good film, it was critically savaged at press screenings, it came after Watergate, the recently released film Master and The Gunfighter starring Laughlin was a box-office disaster and it had been over three years since Trial of Billy Jack which had been only a modest success. Laughlin was not well liked in Hollywood and he had certainly lost a lot of his Billy Jack fan base.Billy Jack was a film much like a one hit wonder. It appealed briefly to a wide demographic for a variety of reasons that had little to do with quality. The success of Billy Jack went to Laughlin's head and he burned a lot of bridges talking about how he was single handedly responsible for its success and he knew how to make important films that spoke to the people. He claimed he had important things to say and he was going to be not just a big powerful movie -maker and star, but a force that would make changes in politics. Wait a minute said people who saw Billy Jack. We liked the film because it was cool, not because Tom Laughlin was beating the system and proving he knew what the public wanted by its success.For five minutes he scared some people, but when the public took a closer look at Laughlin they decided they didn't like him. He wasn't a good actor, writer or director and he was just another egotistical guy who thought he could have a ministry based on making movies, rather than being a t.v. evangelist. He wore out his welcome and he refused to accept the public responded to his film for a variety of reasons, not just because of Tom Laughlin or an optimistic message.Laughlin still very much believes in himself and his message. The message is one that involves personal responsibility and morality. If you listen to him part of you will scream out, who the hell does this guy think he is and part of you might agree with what he says. But Laughlin isn't John Lennon and he still tries to convince you that doors have been slammed shut on him because he wants to tell people the truth about conspiracies and corruption. Because of his limited talent, he has an every man kind of appeal. But he's an ends justify the means kind of guy, and he believes he alone has figured out the way some things are. That type of thing changes from being interesting to being annoying, unrealistic and then just plain tired. I'm glad the world has people like Tom Laughlin in it, but I wouldn't want him to run things anymore than I would want another Nixon or Gingrich to. And Laughlin's idealism is fused with his huge ego. What no one can ever take away from Tom Laughlin, is that he did accomplish something pretty amazing. He forced himself onto the American screen and for a brief period of time was embraced by a very fickle public. When it was time for him to fade away he didn't want to give up his fame and celebrity. He over-stayed his welcome and I hate to say embarrassed himself, but that's what he did. When a shaggy underdog gets some success and is perceived as a pompous ass, it's time to lay low. He didn't. He misread the market, over-estimated his own talent and abused the bit of public goodwill he had won over. I don't know that he's even yet realized exactly what has happened. Perhaps he still believes that he crashed and burned because a secret society of power brokers wanted to silence him. Then again maybe he knows this very well and realized if he continued to play his role, he wouldn't completely fade away into obscurity.Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder Avai"
PROPHETIC LAST SAGA OF BILLY JACK
KELLY PERKINS | Tyler, TX | 05/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Until this movie was recently released on home video, I knew very little about this movie, since there was no general release to the public. In many ways, this is the best and most ambitious BILLY JACK film. With almost crystal-ball-like accuracy, Tom Laughlin shows us the seedy side of Washington; the way both political parties are bought off by the special interest groups and power brokers. In the light of the last twenty years of political history, this is an amazing feat. Mr. Laughlin has more insight on the conscience of the human condition and how the shadow side of our personality must be dealt with than most professors that have a string of letters following their names. This is a must see!"
Billy Jack Shows Washington For What It Is.
Daniel Weston | Fullerton, CA | 04/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This final movie in the Excellent Billy Jack Saga, shows thecorrupt dealings that go on in our nation's capital. Billy Jack haslearned his lesson about violence not solving anything, and attacks with political power instead, (though there is one excellent fight scene that is purely self defense and not vengeful). This Billy Jack movie truly stabs at the heart of the problem of our country and calls out for action on the part of us all. Billy Jack shows us the shadow side of Washington and gives us an idea of what a few truly dedicated and concerned citizens could accomplish. My only regret is that this is the last installment of the series to date. Thankfully Tom Laughlin still carries on Billy Jack's cause. This movie is therefore a must see!"
Interesting Contrasts to Modern Washington
Brad Moffitt | 04/30/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Billy Jack fans will love this movie, critics will hate it.... but who cares what critics think. The thing I find the most interesting about this movie is how it seems to be quasi- Nostradomus like in predicting future corruption in our capital. The murder of a Washington insider seems to reflect the Vince Foster mystery. The big business influence on legistalors and their irresponsible behaviors reflect the many scandals we've witnessed through the 70's and 80's. You have to hand it to Mr. Laughlin for his ability to look into the future with the scenes that constitute this movie. In the book that was written about the making of the Billy Jack series, it talks about how some legislators were shaken by this movie.... and how some even threatened to kill the project so it would not get to theaters. Billy Jack fans need to get this in their collection. Also-- visit the Billy Jack Website.... it's worth a look."
What if Jimmy Stewart had a black belt?
Jeffrey Ellis | Richardson, Texas United States | 03/16/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Billy Jack Goes To Washington is a curious little film. Originally made in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the downfall of Richard M. Nixon, the film is both a nearly word-for-word remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and the fourth (and, to date, final) cinematic exploit of Billy Jack. The alter ego of actor Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack was a character who could have only come out of a combination of the confused idealism of the late `60s and the self-righteous cynicism of the 1970s. Half-white man and half-Native American, Billy Jack is a graduate of West Point, a veteran of the Viet Nam War, and America's greatest pacifist. In between vision quests and speechifying, Billy Jack helps his wife Jean (blank-faced Delores Taylor) run the Freedom School; a collective a young people who are dedicated to exposing establishment corruption. And, of course, Billy Jack is a black belt who can handle himself in a fight. In his previous adventures, Billy Jack proved himself to be one of the more violent pacifists in history. In short, Billy Jack is Ralph Nader by way of Little Big Man by way of Clint Eastwood. And, in his final film, he becomes a member of the U.S. Senate. Following Watergate, the idea of remaking Mr. Smith certainly wasn't a crazy one. However, the idea of turning it into a Billy Jack movie was.
As the film opens, Billy Jack is appointed to the seat of a recently deceased Senator - this despite having been convicted of a murder or two in the name of peace in his previous movies. However, the state's clownish Governor (a nice comic turn by Dan Gauthier) figures that Sen. Jack will be able to do little damage in the two months left in the term and, as well, appointing Billy Jack will help him with the youth vote. After going on the prerequisite vision quest, Billy Jack accepts the appointment and goes to Washington and it is here that it becomes glaringly obvious that there's a lot of difference between Jimmy Stewart and Tom Laughlin. Since the script follows, almost word-for-word, the original film, Billy Jack is suddenly revealed to be an amazingly naïve man who is shocked to discover that even his hero - E.G. Marshall as Sen. Payne - has been corrupted. This from a character who has spent three previous films uncovering all forms of corruption and savagely fighting back with his bare feet. Fortunately for him, Billy Jack has a cynical aide named Saunders to help him survive Washington. Unfortunately for us, Saunders is played by Lucie Arnaz, in her film debut. While Jean Arthur, in the original film, offers a truly corrosive cynicism, Arnaz simply seems to be pouting. When she rails against the way Washington works, Arnaz might as well be complaining about the local PTA. As well, whereas the original film featured sparks of romance between Stewart and Arthur, Billy Jack's love for Jean has already been established in three other films. As a result, Arnaz more or less vanishes halfway through the film and Jean is left with little to do but stand around looking confused; a victim of the fact that Mr. Smith didn't have a wife and, as a screenwriter, Laughlin was apparently too lazy to bother to do much more than copy the original script verbatim.
Though made in the late `70s, Billy Jack Goes To Washington didn't see the light of day until Laughlin and Taylor released it on DVD some 20 years later. On the DVD's commentary track, Laughlin explains that Billy Jack Goes To Washington was suppressed by the obviously terrified establishment. While this is a possibility, it's also possible that the film sat on the shelf because it's an amazingly dull, almost painfully bad film. Laughlin had an undeniable screen presence but he was never much of an actor. He looked good in action scenes and it was these scenes that gave the previous Billy Jack films whatever spark they had. However, in Billy Jack Goes To Washington, Sen. Jack engages in only one fight. And it's one of the few scenes in the film that actually shows any life; that produces any reaction beyond inertia. For the rest of the time, Billy Jack talks. And talks. And talks... The majority of the other actors are bland - not really bad as much as just interchangeable. Even Marshall, playing a role that seems tailor-made for him, fails to capture the audience's attention.
That said, Billy Jack Goes To Washington does have it's occasional strengths. As villainous political boss Bailey, Sam Wanamaker is such an avuncular presence that it's hard to take any joy to seeing him defeated. Indeed, you find yourself wishing that the continually dour and self-righteous Sen. Jack would just leave the man alone. As in the previous Billy Jack films, there is an improvised scene of Billy Jack "rapping" with a bunch of younger activists (in this case, nuclear freeze proponents) and these unscripted scenes have an endearingly awkward authenticity to them that magnify just how artificial the rest of the film is. Whatever his deficiencies as an actor and screenwriter, Tom Laughlin was not a half-bad director. Though it's obvious he has no idea how to keep his story moving forward (indeed, he resorts to a seemingly endless lecture delivered by a folksy off-screen narrator at the beginning of the film), Laughlin does have a strong visual sense and some of the early scenes of Billy Jack meditating amongst the cliffs and vistas of the American west are almost breathtakingly beautiful. However, in the end, Billy Jack Goes To Washington works best as a relic; one final record of the conflicted mindset behind the New Left of the `60s and `70s. If the first films in the series revealed what made the New Left so attractive, the self-righteous and unintentionally smug Billy Jack Goes To Washington reveals why it eventually failed. "