Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)

          With a more coherent script work and a better actress playing the female lead, this insouciant comedy about misfits working for low-rent ambulance companies might have been a solid entry in the M*A*S*H-inspired subgenre of outrageous medical comedies. As is, the picture’s redeeming qualities get drowned out by muddy storytelling and tonal inconsistencies.
          Bill Cosby stars as Mother, a driver at the wildly unethical F+B Ambulance Company. Boozing it up behind the wheel and packing a .357 Magnum for sticky situations, Mother regularly intercepts calls for other ambulance companies so F+B can collect the fares. Raquel Welch costars as Jennifer, better known as “Jugs” (for obvious reasons); she’s the F+B receptionist who longs for gender equality in the workplace. Eventually, Harvey Keitel shows up as Speed, a police detective who needs to make extra cash while on suspension for alleged corruption. These three characters, along with other oddballs like Murdoch (Larry Hagman), a scumbag prone to stunts like trying to rape unconscious female patients, form a tapestry of human weirdness that’s occasionally very funny.
          Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, known for his lighthearted contributions to Roger Moore’s early 007 movies and the first two Superman pictures, contrives lively banter, although the fact that Cosby delivers most of the best lines suggests the actor did some on-set embellishing. When the movie is really cooking, which doesn’t happen very often, Mother, Jugs & Speed cleverly riffs on the idea of trying to remain sane in a world gone mad. Unfortunately, the movie gets derailed as frequently as it stays on track.
          One big problem is the characterization of Jennifer. After she transitions from her secretary role to working in the field, the movie’s focus shifts to the angst she suffers upon encountering the Big Bad World. Jennifer also falls into a sudden (and not particularly credible) relationship with Speed, despite rebuffing the advances of every other dude she meets. Exacerbating matters is the fact that when Mother, Jugs & Speed goes dark, it goes very dark, to the tune of major characters getting shot and killed. Even with reliable director Peter Yates calling the shots, this picture simply isn’t solid enough to sustain whiplash changes in tone.
          Still, there’s plenty for casual viewers to enjoy in the brisk 95-minute film, from Cosby’s impeccable timing to Allen Garfield’s sweaty performance as F+B’s cheapskate proprietor. Fellow supporting players Hagman, Bruce Davison, and L.Q. Jones deliver vivid work, and Keitel is appealing in one of his few real romantic leads. As for Welch, she thrives during light-comedy bits but is startlingly awful during dramatic scenes.

Mother, Jugs & Speed: FUNKY


Tommy Ross said...

I don't know Peter, maybe LAME on this one, or a FUNKY-LY LAME, ha ha. My buddy and I were 13 when we walked out in the middle of this. Of course when you're 13 the only part of this movie that would interest you anyways is Raquel Welch.

Griff said...

"a scumbag prone to stunts like trying to rape unconscious female patients"

And this is in a Bill Cosby movie, go figure.

Cindylover1969 said...

Joseph Barbera executive produced? THE Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera?

Kevin Mac said...

The ambulance headquarters was on a corner of Rose Avenue in Venice blocks from where I grew up. For many years after it was a Mexican grocery.

Guy Callaway said...

No great love for this, but it does bring back memories, which I think many can relate to, when (as a tween) you went to EVERY film that opened at your little local theater.
I actually kind of miss those days when I wasn't as picky...