If Billy Jack is the best movie of the 1970s, I’m tempted to call The Trial of Billy Jack the worst, but I’ll have to hold off on that until I have the chance to witness the awful sounding Billy Jack Goes To Washington.
For those of you who aren’t up on your mid-seventies Indian movement/hippie movies, Tom Laughlin plays a guy who’s half Indian and half something else named Billy Jack. Billy is a Vietnam vet who also is an expert in hap-ki-do. He loves a woman named Jean, a pacifist who runs the Freedom School out in New Mexico and spends most of the semester getting harassed by bigoted locals.
The film uses a pretty clumsy framing device by having a hospitalized Jean relate to a reporter everything that happened to lead up to the tragic shooting at the Freedom School. This allows the film to present a series of barely connected events with Jean’s narration tying these disparate happenings together. She even tells us a little about Billy’s trial!
The trial of Billy Jack ends anticlimactically and I felt a bit prematurely with a guilty verdict on involuntary manslaughter and a sentence of five to fifteen years in the pen. I was slightly worried at this point since I was under the impression that this movie was about a trial and as far as I could tell, it was all done and the star had lost and been locked away. What would the rest of the movie be about? Heck, what wouldn’t it be about!
See, the rest of the movie is a stunning kaleidoscope of unfocused ranting and raving about every social ill that was popular back in the seventies. The movie abandons any semblance of a story and Jane just starts telling us every little thing that those do-gooders at the Freedom School did.
There’s really no rhyme or reason to why and when any of this goes on. It’s almost as if director/star Laughlin and co-star Taylor trotted out every lame idea they’ve ever had to spread their brand of peace (Billy beats up people, Jean criticizes him for it) and put it into this movie.
Billy Jack disappears for long stretches of the movie and in the meantime we get the run down on the trouble those Freedom School kids have been causing. They tackle issues such as child abuse and Indian land rights and hold all sorts of festivals, including the infamous world’s largest band and drill team contest event called “1984 Is Closer Than You Think.” That must have looked snazzy on the concert t-shirts.
However blinded Tom and Delores are by their far left agenda, they know that the drive-in crowd came to see Billy Jack and not some idiotically-named marching band Olympics, so Billy gets released after doing 4 years of his 5-15 year sentence.
I assume this means that Billy is on parole which in my state would prohibit him from doing stuff like holding the lieutenant governor at gun point, smoking peace pipes, kicking people in the head, throat, knees, gut, and nuts, and they’d probably would want to him to get a steadier job than just “spiritual protector of the Indians and their lands.”
Luckily for us, Billy Jack isn’t the type of half-breed Vietnam vet to let the white man change his ways (we actually learn from Billy that we can only change from the inside!) and he does all this and lots more when he finally gets sprung.
The greatest moment in the movie (aside from Billy Jack slapping Jesus Christ) came when this little girl who we saw in the previous film singing at dinner time, has taken the four years Billy’s been in prison to get her next single in the can and ready to debut it at Billy’s coming home dinner.
A truly treacly piece of syrup that will have you asking for another two stacks of flapjacks just to soak it all up, the lyrics tell of Billy’s absence and the effect it has had on her. Here’s some sample lyrics: “Shed a tear, running dear. Don’t turn back Billy Jack. I am crying. Are you dying just for me?” It’s got a good beat and you can gag to it. I’d give it two boots upside your stupid head, hippie chick.
The film meanders here and there, lurching from issue to issue so that you’re never quite sure if there is actually anything important happening story-wise, aren’t sure who the bad guys are (The guys who want to take away the abused child the Freedom School is helping? The guys stealing the Indian lands? The doctors who won’t treat an Indian? Tom and Delores for being this damn self-important?) and wondering where Billy Jack is all the time these kids are exposing the corrupt practices of the bigot who runs the furniture rental store in town.
As for Billy, he spends an eternity going on a spiritual journey to find himself. This involves a series of increasingly ridiculous scenes that has him painted up all red and wearing some kind of sash like he just took first place in an Oompa-Loompa beauty pageant, all the while meeting a blue-painted version of himself in a cave. It all has to do with spirit guides and finding your center and all that self-improvement speak that makes you wonder if Tony Robbins was an advisor on the project.
Shortly thereafter and for the rest of the film, Billy would open up his strange brand of peaceful whup-ass on various people for various transgressions, while Jean would be there to berate him for doing so.
At the end of the movie, the government moves in and shoots up the joint and the movie demonstrates its subtly in getting its point across by having a soldier shoot a little one armed kid in the back, who was holding the cutest little rabbit I ever seen!
This is worse than your usual bad movie because its 170 minute running time has the power of two terrible films all rolled into one titanic destructive force. It’s really hard to watch them sap all the life out of Billy Jack, while Jean has merely degenerated into a shrill whiner, forever complaining about everything and doing nothing. (At least Billy breaks the occasional knee cap.)
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