Representing an unsuccessful attempt to transform spaghetti-Western star Terence Hill into an American box-office attraction, Mr. Billion is one of those unfunny comedies with so many action scenes, onscreen smiles, tarted-up visual transitions, and upbeat musical cues that its desire to please the audience seems desperate—because, ultimately, Mr. Billion offers everything an audience wants except genuine entertainment. The story is a simplistic fable in the Frank Capra mode. When an American billionaire dies, he bequeaths his fortune to his Italian nephew, Guido (Hill). After this revelation, the billionaire’s nefarious executor, John Cutler (Jackie Gleason), flies to Italy intent on bamboozling Guido out of his inheritance. And while Guido initially seems like a rube—he’s a childlike soul infatuated with American cowboy movies—Guido insists on taking time before acceding to Cutler’s demands. Thanks to an iffy plot contrivance, however, Guido must arrive in San Francisco by a specified date in order to accept his money. And since Guido is afraid of flying, he travels by boat and train, allowing the filmmakers to present a “madcap” trek, during which Guido meets such stereotypical characters as ignorant rednecks (Slim Pickens alert!) and jive-talking African-Americans. Cutler also hires a prostitute, Rosie (Valerie Perrine), to seduce Guido into signing away his money—which means, of course, that Guido falls in love with Rosie and must eventually save her from Cutler’s henchmen. There’s not a single original idea in Mr. Billion, and director/co-writer Jonathan Kaplan can’t quite muster the right tonalities. Among other dubious choices, he shoots the picture in a dark, run-and-gun style that feels more suited to an exploitation movie than a laugh riot. Plus, while Hill is incredibly likeable, he’s hamstrung by the inability to master English dialogue. Furthermore, Perrine lacks the charisma that’s necessary for this sort of piffle, and Gleason’s performance feels utterly perfunctory.
Mr. Billion: LAME