Argh! COVID strikes again . . .
The Comeback Trail, which made its world premiere at the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival on October 12, 2020, was initially scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on November 13, 2020. However, due to the affects of COVID on theaters, Cloudburst Entertainment has — instead of going the streaming-premiere route of the recently COVID-derailed Run and Tom Hanks’s Greyhound — pushed the release date to sometime in 2021. Then there’s the case of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet: Warner Bros. decided to eschew a VOD-only release and tough-out COVID with a theatrical release, only to see diminished box office returns.
We glossed over the The Comeback Trail with a recent “Drive-In Friday” tribute to Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz, the writer and director of the shot-in-1974-released-in-1982 original*, so let’s take a deeper look into this remake from the pen n’ lens of George Gallo of Bad Boys fame.
The original film concerned the low-budget, down-on-their-luck exploits of two independent film producers, E. Eddie Eastman (Hurwitz’s longtime producing partner and actor, Robert Statts) and Enrico Kodac (the always welcomed Chuck McCann, who the B&S About Movies crowd knows from Hamburger: The Motion Picture** and Sid and Marty Krofts’s CBS-TV kids series Far Out Space Nuts), in a somewhat semi-autobiographical Hurwitz tale about an against-the-odds poverty row film production starring washed-up cowboy star Duke Montana (Buster Crabbe*˟, in his final feature film).
During their celluloid adventures (played as broad slapstick, with a side of sexploitation spicing the reels), Eastman and Kodac (yuk-yuk) meets “Professor” Irwin Corey (The Mad Bomber in 1976’s Car Wash), the “King of the One-Liners,” Henny Youngman (Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie and History of the World: Part 1), publisher Hugh Hefner, and New York TV and radio icon Joe Franklin as themselves; the keen eyes of B&S About Movies’ readers will also notice our beloved Sy Richardson (Shattered Illusions, 5th of July, and Petey Wheatstraw) in the cast.
Now Petey Wheatstraw, courtesy of Blaxploitation purveyor Rudy Ray Moore, is worth mentioning since The Comeback Trail (the 2021 version) is another “Hollywood story about Hollywood,” in this case Dolemite Is My Name, which chronicled Moore’s career. And speaking of washed up actors: you’ll also see a touch of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood in the frames of this Gallo remake. Me? I also see a bit of Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel Get Shorty, which Barry Sonnenfeld turned into a 1995 film. Sharper B&S surfers will remember Allan Arkush and Joe Dante’s 1976 romp Hollywood Boulevard and Mel Brooke’s The Producers from 1967 in the frames of the 1982 Hurwitz original.
“You’ve got 72 hours. After that . . . I choke you to death.”
— Reggie Fontaine
This time out — sans Hurwitz’s slapstick and sexploitation propensities — we met uncle Max Barber (Robert De Niro) and his ne’er do well nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff), two incompetent movie producers who had their latest “epic” about gun-toting Nuns derailed by the Catholic Church. And local mobster Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) — in a bit that reminds of Alan Sacks’s duBeat-e-o — wants a return on his $350,000 investment in the film. So, after watching a news report in which big time producer James “Jimmy” Moore (Emile Hirsch) nets a large insurance settlement after the on-set death of action-star Frank Pierce (Patrick Muldoon of American Satan), Max’s dopey nephew concocts a scam: hire the alcoholic, retirement-home bound western actor Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones), insurance him to the hilt, set up an on-set “accident” to kill him — and pay off Fontaine with the insurance windfall. Only one problem: Montana proves to be as tough-as-nails in real life as he was on camera all those years ago.
If you haven’t figured it out, this ’70s retro-romp is rife with black comedy and insider showbiz satire, and old pros De Niro and Jones are more than up to the challenge. And kudos to George Gallo for seeing the major studio potential in an old Harry Hurwitz film.
And again, Mr. Gallo, we dare you to do a remake of Safari 3000.
We dare you.
But please, don’t CGI the baboons.
Disclaimer: We weren’t provided with a screener nor received a review request from the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.
** Be sure to check our Drive-In Friday: Slobs vs. Snobs Comedy Night featurette.
*˟ Be sure to check out our review of Buster Crabbe’s contributions to the Star Wars cycle of films with his roles as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, courtesy of our Exploring: Before Star Wars featurette.