Sunday, February 27, 2011

Django 2: il grande ritorno (Django Strikes Again) (1987)

As I mentioned in my review of Sergio Corbucci's original Django (1966), the release (and success) of that film was followed - in usual Italian fashion - by dozens of tributes, rip-offs and imitations with names like Django, Prepare a Coffin (with future Trinity star Terrence Hill), Django the Bastard, and Django the Last Killer. Oddly, while original star Franco Nero appeared in a number of westerns - sometimes retitled to take advantage of his Django fame - neither Corbucci nor Nero made an official sequel to their film for another twenty years - long after the popularity of Spaghetti Westerns had faded. Even odder, this sequel abandons the muddy Spanish locations of the original for the jungles of Colombia and trades in Corbucci (who died a few years later) for the bland direction of Nello Rossati, who needlessly reinvents Django as an 80s action hero.

Following the events of the first film, Django has abandoned his life as a gunfighter for a quiet, peaceful life as a monk until he's visited by an unnamed woman (possibly Maria from the original film?) who tells him that she's dying, and that they have a young daughter named Marisol. However, by the time he decides to visit her, his wife has died and Marisol has been kidnapped by an evil Hungarian riverboat enthusiast (Christopher Connelly from Manhattan Baby (1982)) who is both forcing (really) young women to work in his bordellos while simultaneously forcing male slaves to work in his silver mine. Yeah, this guy is a real slime-ball. This time Django takes his licks very early, getting horribly beaten and enslaved during a weak attempt to rescue Marisol, but after an escape (aided by Donald Pleasance in a small role) he retrieves a familiar weapon from a gravesite (marked Django) and decides - with the help of a young villager - to get some revenge.

Despite the formidable presence of Nero, Django Strikes Again feels - literally - a world away from the Western environment of its predecessor. Indeed, not only has the location changed to boats, silver mines and jungles, but aside from the brief graveyard scene (which brings some welcome nostalgia for the original film) and the character of Django himself, there's very little that would mark this as a sequel. Even Nero, with his beard and slicked back long hair, looks little like the blue-eyed anti-hero that made him famous. He's been white-washed as a sort of low-rent Chuck Norris, with his final scene (where he basically devotes himself to fighting injustice wherever he can) feeling particularly removed from what we know of the character. We don't even get an echo of the famous Django theme music which was used to such great effect in the original film.

However, when removed from the context of the original film, there are a few things to enjoy here. While (badly) post-synced, it at least appears that we finally get to hear Nero's voice as the character, and he has a charisma that makes him significantly more appealing than the film that surrounds him. While the photography is quite flat - despite some impressive locations - there are a few interesting action scenes, and it's fun to watch Django trade a few quips as he does away with dozens of interchangeable baddies. Connelly is particularly demented as the "El Diablo" Hungarian leader, and is given a few odd quirks that at least make his eventual comeuppance feel earned, and they give him an edge of racism that at least ties him to the plot of the first film. These are all rather cheap thrills, however, and while some of the performances have inspiring moments, the accents on display are occasionally impenetrable.

Packaged on DVD with the original Django, Django Strikes Again makes for an interesting curio for fans of the character, but can only be seen as a rather massive missed opportunity. The decision to abandon much of what defined the character, as well as the Western setting, feels like it has much to do with the popularity of Jungle action films of the time (and the availability of the Colombian setting) and the whole thing ends up feeling painfully generic. In the end, it's sad to think that even the numerous films which borrowed and stole from Django paid more tribute to its influence than its own sequel.

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