The year is 1916 and the place is rural Mexico. Carmen (Patrice Martinez) heads into a town that's slightly bigger than her own village looking for help from some men who can take care of themselves, and by extension, the villagers. This is because Carmen's home has been threatened by ruthless bandit leader El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) for some time now, and she needs a force to rid them of this blight, but when she enters the tavern, she receives nothing but sexual harrassment and flees. To cheer herself up, Carmen visits the local cinema travelling show, and onto the silver screen ride three men who she is inspired by: The Three Amigos. Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) and Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) may be movie stars, but she decides after witnessing them taking on and beating bandits in the movies that they are the men for her, and so a telegram is sent to Hollywood, U.S.A....
Just exactly when was it acceptable to point out that Steve Martin wasn't funny any more? Was it well into the nineteen-nineties, or had the rot set in earlier, around say, 1986 when ¡Three Amigos! was released? Now don't get me wrong, the film has its diehard fans, but it wasn't welcomed with the same reverence at Martin's skills as his previous efforts were, and that "thinking he's clever but actually being very stupid" act was beginning to wear thin. Look only a few years earlier and you'll see The Man With Two Brains, a far more consistent comedy that showcases the comedian's talents far more engagingly; it's not that he unlikeable here - even the villains are amiable in this film - but the inspired lunacy has been replaced with something far milder here.
Working from a script by Martin, onetime Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels and singer-songwriter Randy Newman, the unbowing innocence of the Amigos is it's distinguishing feature, but also a drawback as it grows tiresome fairly quickly. After seeing them in their silent movie, we next visit them debating a salary rise with producer Joe Mantegna who is unhappy that their previous opus, a marked departure in plot, was a resounding flop. With this in mind, he proposes a return to what audiences want to see them in, but when Lucky, speaking for the three of them, demands a pay rise, they are not only shown the door but lose their clothes and mansion house as well. It just so happens that the telegram arrives as they're standing in the street looking forlorn, and they believe it to be a big money personal appearance down Mexico way, not realising that they're being hired to fight bandits.
If this sounds familiar, it's not only because it's based on The Magnificent Seven, but also because Pixar lifted the idea for their animation A Bug's Life over ten years later, only they handled it better. It takes almost half the film for our blissfully unaware heroes to twig that their lives are in danger, as in the meantime they think that they are instantly recognisable as celebrities even though hardly anyone is interested. And when Lucky is shot in the arm by one of El Guapo's men, the penny drops and they flee, leaving the villagers to fend for themselves. However, when the Amigos learn that Carmen has been kidnapped, they have an attack of conscience and make up their minds to save her. Would this have been better as a musical? Newman contributes songs to the soundtrack, and the too few scenes where the stars sing are rare highlights (although the singing bush could do without its own number). But largely the laughs are restricted to the odd chuckle, as with the "Throw down your guns" business, and ¡Three Amigos! is desperately bland: Sam Kinison was cut out of this and perhaps he would have woken everyone up a bit if he'd been left in.