Presumably envisioned as some kind of macho parable, writer-director Richard Brooks' batshit-crazy adventure story concerns a 700-mile horse race across the untamed American West. Gene Hackman stars as an enigmatic character who only gets riled when people hurt animals, so he's appalled that racers including James Coburn, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Candice Bergen are willing to drive their horses to almost certain deaths just for a shot at a $2,000 purse. So how does Our Hero express his disdain? By joining the race. No, really. It's that special breed of a weird movie in which character motivations are so opaque as to be nonexistent. Because by the end of the picture, Hackman is a madman driving his suffering steed harder than any other animal in the contest, a brutal ordeal depicted with lots of lingering shots of foamy equine sweat. Most of the actors are on autopilot, but Vincent contributes memorable swagger as a trash-talking youth who emerges as the worst of the animal abusers; this aspect of his character leads to a violent vignette of Hackman taking the young pup to task for his insensitivity. The strangeness of Bite the Bullet is exacerbated by the utter commitment with which Brooks films absurd scenes. Hackman and Coburn chasing after horse thieves in a primitive motorcycle/sidecar contraption while lobbing sticks of dynamite at the baddies instead of shooting them? Ex-prostitute Bergen revealing that she also happens to be an expert frontier dentist? Hackman inexplicably stopping in the middle of the desert (and the middle of the race) to eulogize his sainted freedom-fighter wife, at exhausting length? By the time the picture gets to veteran Western star Ben Johnson rhapsodizing about why his colorful life led him to risk death in the race, the movie's become as overstuffed and as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, only without the (intentional) yuks.
Bite the Bullet: FREAKY