Despite his enviable literary reputation, Elmore Leonard’s output can get awfully pulpy, with his storied character flourishes and dialogue taking a backseat to humdrum, plot-driven violence. For instance, the Charles Bronson thriller Mr. Majestyk, which Leonard adapted from his own novel of the same name, has a few eccentric details—not many action heroes make their living growing watermelons, as the title character of this flick does—but in general the storyline is a compendium of chases, fights, and shoot-outs. So while the movie is enjoyable in an undemanding sort of way, it’s hardly memorable.
As often happens in Leonard’s fiction, the narrative revolves around a self-suffiicient badass who’d rather avoid trouble but has no problem surmounting enemies if a hassle arises. Colorado watermelon farmer Vince Majestyk (Bronson) quarrels with local hoodlum Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo), who wants Majestyk to hire Bobby’s workers so Bobby can earn kickbacks. Majestyk refuses, giving Bobby a humiliating beat-down to drive the point home, so Bobby presses charges and gets Majestyk arrested. Thus, Majestyk ends up on a prisoner-transfer bus with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri), a fearsome Mafia hitman. When Renda’s cronies assault the bus to rescue their pal, Majestyk hijacks the bus—with Renda inside—hoping to trade the convict for leverage with the police, because he wants Bobby’s trumped-up charges dismissed. Understandably, this behavior puts Majestyk on the bad side of bad people, so the aforementioned chases, fights, and shoot-outs ensue. (The movie also features a perfunctory love story between Majestyk and a Latino labor leader, played by Linda Cristal.)
Bronson suits this material well, obviously, since he spent most of his career playing tight-lipped tough guys, but the movie’s impact would have deepened if Bronson had been pitted against more formidable opponents—the bad guys in Mr. Majestyk make so many foolish choices they seem like buffoons compared to the methodical title character. Director Richard Fleischer, as always, contributes impersonal but solid work that conveys the intensity inherent to Leonard’s story, and some of the action scenes are exciting, but it says a lot that the movie’s most dynamic scene is a vignette of mobsters annihilating a pile of watermelons with machine-gun fire.
Mr. Majestyk: FUNKY