Wow, here’s a prime slice of out-and-out trash, directed by and starring French wannabe Fred Williamson Max H. Boulois. Boulois was a fascinating character, an actor and writer who, having featured in a forgotten Spanish B-Movie Cabo di vara (78) and Sergio Garrone’s Italo-Turko-Spanish poliziotteschi Killer’s Gold (79) decided to start making his own movies. In doing so, he did something that was almost unknown in Europe; he made blacksploitation movies. Black actors had appeared in European cinema for many years, with stars like Earl Cameron and Harry Baird appearing in racially conscious movies in the UK in the 1950s, John Kitzmiller becoming something of a star of the neo-realist movement and the likes of Woody Strode, Harry Baird (again) and Wilbert Bradley becoming familiar supporting actors in Spaghetti Westerns and peplums. Valerio Zurlini’s Black Jesus (68) has even been cited as an influence by the makers of Superfly TNT. But Boulois did something slightly different, he was a half-penny auteur who made films that, unlike Black Jesus, Burn!, Paisà (46) or Senza pietà (48), had no artistic intent, they were targeted firmly at the flea-pits and second run cinemas. Although his execution can be questioned, he certainly can’t be faulted for his ambition.
Vietnamvet Jo Johnson (Boulois) is about to lose his cherished gym and, what’s worse, he’s in hoc to some dastardly loan sharks who are about to call in his debts. But he has an idea! What could it be? Oh yes, to gamble (achem, lose) all his remaining cash in a desperate attempt to make the readies. Unsurprisingly he loses, which means that when he receives an anonymous phone call offering him a cool million bucks he has little option but to listen. And what does he have to do in return for this fortune? Well, it’s not an easy gig: he has to act as the prey in a big game hunt for two wealthy sportsmen; if he wins he can keep the money, if he doesn’t, well… Despite the risks, he accepts.
Dropped off by a helicopter in the middle of night and god knows where, Jo prepares himself by running around like a nutter, changing into a gym vest and shorts that have appeared out of nowhere and guzzling on some wild roots. When the sun rises – back in his trademark army fatigues, because Jo’s a dude who likes to face the freezing night in less layers – he sets about laying some false trails and creating some ad hoc traps. Before long, and with a frankly tedious degree of ease, he’s worked his way though all the safari suited hunters, managed to single-handedly bring down a helicopter full of killers and has made his way back to the big apple. Quite rightly distrusting the villains, he plans to grab his cash and escape out of the country; but he’s up against a well-funded, well equipped organisation that will stop at nothing to keep him quiet. Fortunately, he has a couple of allies in FBI agent Jim (Dan Forrest), who has been charged with putting a stop to all this nonsense, and Pentagon representative Mary Ann (Virginia Mataix) (‘Hmm, military women… I’ve seen this in Playboy’); although whether they can really be trusted is another matter entirely.
A cheapjack riff on The Most Dangerous Game and The Deer Hunter, for the first 40 minutes or so at any rate, I guess this could charitably be said to have anticipated First Blood, which was released two years later. Unfortunately, it loses track as the narrative progresses, lacking confidence in its own central idea and changing tack to become a standard revenge scenario. This second half is actually better made, from a technical point of view, but it’s less interesting and much less amusing. During this second half of the film the succession of fist fights and shootouts becomes wearing, especially as none of the characters – with the possible exception of Jo and his Tomas Milian-lookalike friend Bob (William Anthon) – are developed in any way and, furthermore, there’s little effort made to generate atmosphere or tension.
Mad Mex is riddled with glaring continuity errors, although in its defence some of these might have been less apparent in the longer Spanish version. Nonetheless, it appears to have been edited together without much in the way of care or attention to detail, and not all of this could be attributed to post-production tinkering. The production values are extremely low: some of it looks to have been filmed in America, no doubt guerrilla-style by Boulois and a cameraman without any kinds of licenses, but for the majority it’s either shot in a Spanish park or a succession of indistinguishable rooms. The running time is made up by lengthy flashbacks to Jo’s time in Nam (which are mainly composed of him carrying his mate through some long grass or sitting in a room being debriefed), shots of him sitting on a bed while dialogue is played back over the soundtrack and either walking or driving around aimlessly.
Boulois directs it all in a rudimentary fashion, utilising a firmly nail-down-the-camera style and displaying absolutely no understanding of how to handle an action sequence. He does attempt to play on the racist nature of the villains, who refer to him as a monkey (or other terms) and at one point they seem unable to distinguish one black man from another. As a performer, he doesn’t exactly exude charisma, but he does have a solid kind of presence, kind of like a less charming, black Bud Spencer. But he ain’t no actor; his lack of expression is staggering and at times he doesn’t even seem aware of where in the frame he should be.
The main villain is played by the debonair looking Tom Hernández, a Spanish actor who spent most of his career working in American TV, but much of the rest of the cast is made up of unknowns. Boulois went on to direct two more films: Black Jack, a caper movie with a comparatively a-grade cast including Peter Cushing, Claudine Auger and, achem, Brian Murphy and Black Commando, with the equally weird combination of Tony Curtis, Joanna Pettet and Fernando Sancho.