Fans of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns probably never wondered how Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name would have contended with erectile dysfunction, but helmer Mike Wallis has made it the central gag of his comedy “Good for Nothing,” a droll New Zealand parody with a tone so deadpan it becomes laugh-out-loud funny. Proper positioning might have won the film a better theatrical shot, and perhaps even a cult following. But a robust afterlife should follow its limited opening.
Where “Blazing Saddles” imposed a modern sensibility on the conventional Western, and Hal Needham’s unsung masterpiece “The Villain” transformed the standard oater into a live-action cartoon, Wallis mines humor from reality. The gunslingers are terrible shots, they run out of bullets, and the pain is real; the Sheriff (Jon Pheloung) actually cries when his wounds are treated.
It’s unclear exactly when or where Wallis intends his action to be taking place — it could be New Zealand, or it could be the Old West of John Ford — but as soon as prim and pretty English lass Isabella Montgomery (Inge Rademeyer) is deposited there among some very lonesome cowpokes, she’s targeted for sexual assault. In fact, the Man (Cohen Holloway) simply shoots her escorts and throws her over his shoulder, as he leaves a crusty frontier bar where the card players, mirroring the movie’s split personality, are shot in an homage to Cezanne.
The Man’s problem is that once he gets Isabella where he wants her, his machinery breaks down. (“Ma dick’s broke,” he tells a doctor, in a way that indicates that, sometimes, the strong, silent type is simply stupid.) Isabella does all she can to get away, but it’s a frying-pan-and-fire situation. Dragging her from doctor to Chinese herbalist to native medicine man, the Man tries to find a solution for his ED problem, with the captive Isabella ever terrified (kinda) of the proverbial fate worse than death.
He, of course, is progressively more enchanted. “How come your teeth so white?” he asks Isabella, to which she responds, “I clean them.” All the unspoken truths of the Old West — bad oral hygiene, unspeakable pain and, as the Gene Wilder of “Blazing Saddles” put it so succinctly, morons — are exploited for great comic effect, against a rather spectacularly ersatz Old West.
The pacing of “Good for Nothing” could have been a bit brisker, but Kiwi star Holloway is a terrific cowboy/homicidal maniac, and the South-African-born Rademeyer, making her screen debut, is intriguingly beautiful, facing the obvious perils of her character’s position with a certain starchiness. The result is a winning balance of humor and pluck.
Production values, with some credit going to Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, are first-rate.