Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hercules in New York

I had never heard of this movie before, but it ended up getting thrown in the DVD player during a party that involved alcoholic beverages. It was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first film, and his Austrian accent was so impenetrable that he had to be dubbed over by another actor for the theatrical release. We watched it with the original audio though of course, with subtitles on to make it a bit easier. I am not kidding when I say this is probably the worst film I have ever seen. The production values are non-existent, the direction is inept, the plot makes absolutely no sense, and with one special exception, the acting is universally terrible. But we sure had a great time watching it, as everything that went wrong almost seemed perfectly designed to illicit laughter.

Basically, the title is very accurate. Demigod Hercules decides he is bored of Olympus (which looks exactly like a city park) and descends to Earth, intending to see the world but mostly just staying in the city that never sleeps. For some reason this angers Zeus, who contrives with others in the pantheon to get Hercules to return. Zeus claims that he wants Hercules to come back because he isn't fit for that world, though since the character is half-human and spent most of his time in the old myths with humans, you'd think it would be fine. Zeus never mentions the real reason why Hercules should not be down there, which is that he's a fucking idiot. Apparently in the thousands of years he lived with the gods he never bothered to keep up with human culture besides learning a strange Austrian version of English, because he doesn't understand simple concepts like how vehicles can run without horses pulling them and that it's not okay to lift other people and then throw them.

Despite these flaws he still manages to make something of a life in the city, thanks to the intervention of down-on-his-luck Brooklynite Pretzie who shows him the ropes (so named because he sells pretzels, you see). Hercules quickly gets a girlfriend after impressing her by breaking a few of another suitor's ribs and a job as a heavyweight wrestler after he is seen assaulting an escaped zoo bear in Central Park. Things go great, with his girlfriend mistaking his honest statements about being of divine origin for a demented but harmless running joke, and much success in the ring that we never see once, even for a second. The conflict comes in when a few mobsters try to muscle Pretzie into... something. It's never adequately explained. They seem to want some sort of rights with regard to controlling betting on Hercules in fights and other contests, but Pretzie admits to having no such rights whatsoever even while they're bullying him, being only Hercules' friend. Although he is forced to sign the paper they put in front of him, I have no fucking idea in the world what it is he actually signed. Later some trickery causes Hercules to lose a weight-lifting match, and the goons chase him and Pretzie because... I don't know. As I've said, it makes no sense.

More than just being hilarious on a so-bad-it's-good level, we all truly came to love and appreciate Pretzie as the film went on. He was a bit annoying at first, but once you get past the grating accent, he's really a good guy. There's a really sweet scene near the middle where Pretzie drinks himself to sleep, distraught over the meaningless sheets of paper he signed, and Hercules not only lays him on the couch, he also gets him a blanket and turns out the lights. It's a true friendship that the movie should have spent more time exploring. And when he eventually returns to Olympus, the scenes of Pretzie lamenting the loss of his buddy and their final goodbyes are honestly heartbreaking. Pretzie was played by Arnold Stang, a long-time character actor who also did a fair amount of voice work in cartoons featuring classic figures such as Herman the Mouse. We were all shocked to learn that he passed away as recently as a few days before last Christmas, but were glad to know he had a long, full life with a good career and a loving family. You will be missed, Pretzie.

Arnold Stang: 1918-2009

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