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Blood and Meatballs: A Review of TOO MANY SERGIOS

Directed by Alex Cox; starring Efren Ramirez, Jonathan Goldsmith, Jim Carrey, Jason Statham, Robert Rodriguez, and Alex Cox 

It’s 1960 and we are in Andalusia, Spain, with two young Italian filmmakers as they sit crouched on a hillside surveying a wide, sweeping valley. They are scouting locations for an epic Bible story. It is a boring assignment for a boring film. A hawk drifts lazily in the sky. The purple shadows of clouds creep across the plain. One of the men says to the other, “You know, this is the perfect setting for a western.” From that moment forward, the two men raced to get their movies made.

This apocryphal tale of cinematic rivalry is the leaping off point for Alex Cox’s meta-spaghetti western Too Many Sergios. The protagonists are very loosely based on the men who practically invented the genre: Sergio Leone (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and Sergio Corbucci (DjangoThe Great Silence).

The Repo Man and Sid and Nancy director puts a murderous spin on the friendship between the two and turns their rivalry into a blood sport played out on the big screen. In Cox’s world, Sergio Amore is a fictionalized Sergio Leone, a crass, hard-partying filmmaker whose Grave Full of Corpses, an ultraviolent oater featuring an unnamed assassin who moves ruthlessly through the American West, becomes an unexpected box-office hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Though it’s a shock to see Jim Carey in the role Clint Eastwood made famous, he acquits himself admirably in the role of the laconic bounty hunter with a slippery moral code.

Sergio Dali (i.e. Sergio Corbucci) counters with a story about a bounty hunter named Banjo, with Jason Statham reprising Franco Nero’s role in Django. Though the quirky film was popular with American critics, Banjo doesn’t find an audience in the United States, but is exceptionally successful in Italy, Germany and Japan on account of its extensive S&M sequences.

Cox leaves it for the viewer to decide how much of his story is “true” and how much is hyperbole, but he knows the genre. His passion for spaghetti westerns includes the book he authored: 10,000 Ways to Die. In Too Many Sergios, however, Cox has as much fun with the set pieces from his bastardized remakes as he does telling the story of Amore and Dali.

Amore continues with his Unnamed Assassin series with A Couple More Corpses and The Dying, the Dead and the Putrid, each film a bigger hit than the last. Dali, however, follows a more unorthodox path, deriving perverse pleasure in working against expectations of what a Western should be. While Amore sets his films on the high desert plains, Dali shoots his in the mountains during the middle of winter. Amore’s heroes are men of few words; Dali gave his leads speech impediments.

When the demand for westerns dries up, they turn to other genres: detective stories, treasure-seeking adventures, mythological quests, and even biker movies. Dali’s films are respected by the critics, but Amore’s movies make money, a situation both find frustrating. Amore tries his hand at a Dali-esque story about a painter whose models disappear after they sit for him; Dali makes a lesbian buddy cop film. Both are disasters, and they revert to their original styles.

The film takes a gruesome turn when Sergio Tarantula, the American filmmaker with an Italian surname, announces his intention of shooting a remake of Corbucci’s Banjo. Tarantula’s kleptomaniacal appropriation of shots and scenes from Amore’s and Dali’s films over the years prompts the Sergios to take a stand. The filmmakers, now old men, hire a hitman – another Sergio – named Surge Alexi, a Russian mobster played convincingly by Alex Cox himself, who seems to take great pleasure in his role of hunting down Tarantula and torturing him with a can opener in the film’s climactic scene.

Cox has made a heartfelt homage to the artists who kicked John Wayne to the curb forever and created the hardboiled horsemen who taught us the West was wilder and weirder than we realized.