Friday, August 2, 2013

Fighting Mad (1976)

          Filmmaker Jonathan Demme completed his productive tenure in Roger Corman’s B-movie operation with this uneven but watchable action picture about a principled redneck standing up to greedy developers. There’s nothing even slightly original about the plot, but as writer and director, Demme fills the picture with just enough idiosyncratic flourishes to keep things interesting during the beginning and middle of the story. Then, during the climax, Demme unleashes an exciting nighttime showdown replete with not only gunplay but also, for novelty’s sake, death by bow and arrow. Peter Fonda (of course) stars as Tom Hunter, a young man who returns to his family’s home in Arkansas only to discover that every private landowner in the immediate vicinity is under pressure from operatives of real-estate mogul Pierce Crabtree (Philip Carey). Crabtree wants to raze low-income homes to make way for a shopping mall, and he won’t take no for an answer, so his goons use lethal force to frighten citizens into selling. Among those who fall victim to Crabtree’s thugs are Tom’s brother, Charlie (Scott Glenn), and his wife. This pushes Tom into ass-kicking mode. Meanwhile, Tom manages his relationships with his young son, Dylan (Gina Franco); his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Lorene (Lynn Lowry); and his salt-of-the-earth father, Jeff (John Doucette), whose property is in Crabtree’s crosshairs.
          The best parts of Fighting Mad feature Tom sticking it to the man, because the tension between Fonda’s laconic persona and his character’s righteous passion is consistently interesting. The star is fun to watch whether he’s commandeering a tractor, planting explosives at a Crabtree work site, or shooting arrows into henchmen. Whenever the action hits a lull, however, so does the movie. Demme’s storytelling is choppy—every time it seems Fighting Mad has kicked into gear, Fonda’s character stops for a beer or a tumble with his girlfriend. Demme also lingers on pointless bits like musical performances, continuing his endearing/irritating career-long habit of losing the forest for the trees. Production values in Fighting Mad are fairly strong for a Corman production, since Demme focuses on real locations with loads of texture, and the performances get the job done; Doucette and Glenn in particular lend humanity to their small roles. However, the music score, by folk musician and frequent Fonda collaborator Bruce Langhorne, is all over the place—the old-timey bits with lots of banjo suit the milieu, while the electronic suspense stings hit their target but seem pulled from another movie.

Fighting Mad: FUNKY

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