Ace High
Italy / 1968
Directed by Giuseppe Colizzi
Starring
Eli Wallach
Terence Hill
Bud Spencer
Color / 122 Minutes / PG-13
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Paramount Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
This is the middle entry in the "Cat and Hutch" trilogy of spaghetti westerns starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who would later gain international fame as the comedic gunslinging brothers in They Call Me Trinity (1971) and Trinity Is Still My Name (1972). In Ace High the duo takes a back seat to top-billed Eli Wallach, here playing a kinder, gentler and slightly smarter version of his Tuco character from Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
    Saddle tramps Cat Stevens (Hill) and Hutch Bessy (Spencer) think they've pulled a fast one on a corrupt banker, making off with a fortune in easy money. To stop them the desperate banker springs a condemned outlaw, the half-Greek, half-Cherokee Cacopoulos (Wallach), from the local jail. Former partners in crime, Cacopoulos was double-crossed by the banker in the past but is now needed for his special skills. If he kills Cat and Hutch and recovers the money then their old partnership can resume. Instead, the vengeful Cacopoulos shoots the banker dead and goes after the loot himself.
    He rather easily gets the drop on Cat and Hutch, but although he robs them he spares their lives. (He may be an outlaw but he's not a cold-blooded murderer.) The two men immediately set out after Cacopoulos, determined to get back the stolen money that was stolen from them. The trail leads them from Mexico to Mississippi, during which they encounter their quarry on a number of occasions only to be outfoxed at every turn. Cacopoulos actually cares less about the loot than he does settling the score with his former partners, who, along with the dead banker, were responsible for his spending 15 years in prison. When Cacopoulos loses all the money in a crooked gambling house run by Drake (Piranha's Kevin McCarthy), one of the men he's sworn to kill, Cat and Hutch have little choice but to team up with him in a scheme to break the casino. Cacopoulos promises them even more cash if they help him take Drake down. Joining in the plan and vital to its success is Thomas (Brock Peters of Soylent Green), a circus acrobat whose aerial skills are needed to sneak into Drake's establishment. (He's pretty handy with a six-shooter, too.) The confrontation with Cacopoulos' old enemy will either leave the four adventurers dead or richer than they could have ever dreamed.
    Episodic and derivative, Ace High meanders at a leisurely pace from one set-piece to the next with director Giuseppe Colizzi more intent on indulging Wallach's scenery-chewing method acting than telling a good story. Cacopoulos pretty much is the Tuco character, only more good-natured and quirky he even carries his pistol, sans holster, suspended on his hip by a rope as in the Leone film. As Cat, Terence Hill (real name: Mario Girotti) plays it straight; his character is just a bland clone of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name and Franco Nero's Django. Bud Spencer (aka Carlo Pedersoli), although pretty much doing the same shtick he'd later perfect as Bambino in the Trinity films (to include his signature move of punching guys on the top of their heads), is much more interesting than his handsome, higher-billed co-star; his Hutch is almost manic depressive in his wild mood swings. Brock Peters' tightrope-walking acrobat is featured far less in the story, with limited screen time, but is instantly likable. As the real villain of the piece, Kevin McCarthy doesn't even appear until the final 20 minutes or so. The fact that we haven't truly been given enough reason to hate him robs the otherwise satisfying climax of some punch.
    Don't expect a lot of gunfights here. The action is generally well-handled (despite occasionally sloppy editing in a couple of fight scenes) but is spaced far apart. Spencer's brawls with a gang of toughs and a bare-knuckle boxer are pure filler that have virtually nothing to do with the plot. A pitched battle between revolutionaries and peasants in Mexico livens things up mid-film; Hill gets to man a machine gun a la Django. Where Ace High gets interesting and ultimately redeems itself is in the final act, when it becomes a curious fusion of spaghetti western and heist/caper film. Cat, Hutch and Thomas break into Drake's casino during the night and hide inside as part of Cacopoulos' plan to turn the tables on his enemy, using Drake's own rigged roulette wheel against him. The resulting climax is nicely staged and certainly different from your typical spaghetti western fare. So is the setting for this denouement: a gambling mecca in Mississippi, "near Memphis". (I wonder... Is this where they got the idea to build all those casinos down in Tunica?) Though the change of scenery is interesting, as a resident of the area I found it rather amusing to see a large mountain in the distance as Cat and Hutch ride along the banks of what is supposed to be the Mississippi River.
    While director Colizzi is certainly no Sergio Leone (or Sergio Corbucci, or even Enzo Castellari for that matter), Ace High should prove a pleasant enough diversion for serious fans of the genre. Wallach seems to be having fun, and though they play it straight for the most part Hill and Spencer are a reliable screen team. Their participation, along with the atypical set-piece that caps the film, makes it worth a view despite its derivative nature and relative lack of style.

A bargain priced release from Paramount, the Ace High DVD offers a 16x9 enhanced anamorphic transfer in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Minor grain is occasionally evident but otherwise this is a first-rate print. Audio quality of the disc doesn't meet its visual standards, however; the mono track, while clear and distortion-free, sounds somewhat flat. (No great loss considering Carlo Rustichelli's completely unremarkable score.) Not a single extra is included, not even a trailer. It can be found in retail stores like Best Buy for 10 bucks. 5/29/05

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