Yet another dud from the Fred Williamson assembly line, this somewhat nonsensical thriller features Williamson, who also produced and directed, as a Vietnam vet who drifts in and out of homelessness and jail before reluctantly accepting a gig as a hit man for the mob. One can sense that Williamson meant to make a statement about America’s failure to find useful work for its returning warriors, and there’s also an element of race, because a prologue depicts the title character getting hassled by a white commanding officer. Yet Williamson’s storytelling is so clumsy that huge pieces of the narrative seem as if they’re missing, and thematic points are delivered by vague implication instead of actual literary devices. It’s also distracting to see Roddy McDowall hilariously miscast as an Italian mobster, and to see Elliot Gould play a cameo as some kind of hyper-articulate street poet. Williamson obviously called in some favors, but the effort was wasted. Anyway, the bulk of the film concerns the relationship between ex-GI Johnny Barrows (Williamson) and mobster Mario Racconi (Stuart Whitman). When Johnny arrives at Mario’s restaurant one night looking for a free meal, Mario recognizes Johnny as a former football star and somehow knows everything about Johnny’s military service. So when Mario’s family becomes embroiled in a mob war, Mario persuades Johnny to kill for Mario’s family. Left unanswered is the question of why Mario doesn’t already have competent gunmen in his employ, and why Mario expends so much energy recruiting Johnny. No matter. Mean Johnny Barrows unfolds in a series of sludgy vignettes, most of which are boring and trite. Gould’s one scene is amusing, and R.G. Armstrong lends his signature flair to the role of a scumbag auto-shop owner, but too much of the film comprises Williamson posturing his way through macho behaviors that never coalesce into a believable character.
Mean Johnny Barrows: LAME