Friday, June 14, 2024

A.W.O.L. (1972)

          Vietnam-era movies about young Americans illegally avoiding military service tended to be angsty dramas, so A.W.O.L. is an oddity not just because it has comic elements, but because it blends drama, farce, political violence, pornography, racial strife, romance, and even sci-fi. Given the film’s obscurity, it’s unsurprising to discover this patchwork approach doesn’t work. There’s a wispy central storyline, but after about 30 minutes the movie seriously loses its way. Although the main character’s journey is central to nearly every scene, the filmmakers lack a guiding aesthetic or a thematic destination—so despite some moderately distracting moments, the whole thing has the vibe of a freewheeling brainstorming session. This project badly needed a sure hand at the helm, which is ironic given that it bears a truly hubristic credit: “Entire Production Under the Supervision of Merrill S. Brody, Executive Producer.”
          After finding his way to Sweden, boyish redhead Willy (Russ Thacker) feels lonely until visiting a porno shop, where he’s recruited to act in a skin flick. This lands him in the orbit of fellow expat Mohammad G. (Glynn Turman), who’s part of a group of lefty radicals that includes lissome blonde Inga (Isabella Kaliff). After several heated exchanges about Che Guevara and the like, Willy and Inga become lovers. They also attend protests that devolve into brutal clashes with authorities. Meanwhile, CIA agent Cupp (Dutch Miller) lurks around the edges of Willy’s life, alternately cajoling and threatening the young man to return to the States. (In one of the movie’s broadest sight gags, Cupp tempts Willy by revealing a briefcase full of American candy bars and soft drinks.) Eventually, the story becomes absurd when the CIA uses futuristic technology, and then the story makes a whiplash turn into bogus heaviosity with a fashionably dark and ambiguous climax.
          Tonally, the movie is a mess, but minor amusements reside in this disjointed hour and a half. In terms of low pleasures, Kaliff has an extended topless scene and some of the CIA-related gags are jarringly goofy. As for incrementally more sophisticated elements, Turman has a couple of monologues in which he blends emphatic ’70s urban slang with counterculture-era political rhetoric, allowing him to chew scenery agreeably. The movie also provides a minor 70s footnote inasmuch as the score was composed by Rupert Holmes, later to achieve soft-rock immortality with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Alas, none of that tune’s smooth melodicism is evident here.


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