Monday, August 19, 2013

The Brothers O’Toole (1973)

          Near as I can tell, TV funnyman John Astin—best known as debonair but insane Gomez Addams on the ’60s sitcom The Addams Family—only received top billing in two theatrical features, including this bland comic Western and 1972’s Wacky Taxi. (He also starred in another comic Western, 1972’s Evil Roy Slade, but that project was actually made for television.) With his enjoyable slow-burn tantrums and his nimble way of delivering complex dialogue, Astin is by far the best thing about The Brothers O’Toole, which is bogged down by mechanical plotting, substandard production values, and vapid supporting performances. Representing a convergence of clichés, the plot begins when con man Michael O’Toole (Astin) finds himself lost in the desert after a scheme goes wrong. Eventually, Michael tracks down his idiot brother, Timothy O’Toole (Steve Carlson), before entering the frontier town of Molybdenum, Colorado. (As an example of how far the movie reaches for jokes, several flaccid attempts are made to wring humor from the mispronunciation of the town’s name as “Molly Be Damned.”) Michael gets thrown in jail after being mistaken by local authorities for a criminal named Desperate Ambrose. Timothy, wrongly assuming the incarceration is part of a scam Michael is running on the locals, “plays along” while getting into mischief of his own.
          All of this becomes very tedious, with a love story, a subplot about the discovery of gold, and the supposedly hi-larious antics of small-town kooks thrown in to spruce up the storyline. In the same way that Michael is kept behind bars for most of the movie, the filmmakers restrain their strongest asset, leading man Astin. He’s charming and funny and smart whenever the filmmakers remember to utilize him, but the movie loses all its energy whenever he’s off screen. At the picture’s nadir, Timothy enters the town’s “Spitting, Belching and Cussin’ Contest,” which should be an outrageous highlight but instead merely comprises a limp montage of people expectorating. The only redeeming element of this dull sequence is a speech that Michael delivers afterward, reprimanding the crass people of Molybdenum: He describes the town as “a festering pustule on the face of the Western slope.” One of only two features directed by veteran character actor Richard Erdman, The Brothers O’Toole is amateurish on nearly every level, and the cast is peppered with B-listers who deliver perfunctory work. (For instance, onetime Miss America Lee Meriwether has a dreary extended cameo as Desperate Ambrose’s girlfriend.) Still, Astin fans will find much to enjoy in his performance, since Michael O’Toole exists outside the campy realm the actor usually occupies.

The Brothers O’Toole: FUNKY

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