Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas) is a bad man of the Old West, who is out to steal as much money as he possibly can. Or he would if he was any good at his chosen profession, illegal as it is he cannot seem to get simple things like jumping aboard a moving train right. Today he is in an Arizona smalltown, and plans to rob the bank there, so that night he strides up to the back door and knocks on it, telling the bank clerk he is the Sheriff. Once inside, he finds the clerk doesn't know the combination to the safe, so uses dynamite instead - which destroys the bank, but leaves the safe intact...
If Kirk Douglas was going to be a success at any type of comedy, then surely playing the live action version of Wile E. Coyote, with the slapstick violence to match, would be ideal for him? Apparently not, as The Villlain, retitled Cactus Jack outside of North America, was a flop and yet more proof that the star was having trouble picking the right movie for his talents in the late seventies and early eighties. Yet for those who did see this in the cinema, it holds, if not a special place in their hearts, then a nice memory of a defiantly silly film that managed to entertain.
Better to leave it in the past, perhaps, but once it gets its plot, slender as it is, underway there are a few decent laughs here. It's simply that they're rather too few and far between, and if director Hal Needham was hoping for another Burt Reynolds-sized hit, then he should have prepared himself for a letdown. The casting sounds right, with Ann-Margret as a daughter, called Charming Jones (eh?), of businessman Strother Martin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as her meatheaded protector, and the likes of Jack Elam and Robert Tessier in support.
Alas, their talents are somewhat squandered when you see the material they are saddled with, and when Jack's trusty steed Whiskey runs away with the acting honours you know that they were in trouble. Schwarzenegger especially comes across as embarrassingly amateurish, ruining half-funny lines with his tone deaf delivery, and you can see why he was better the next decade in roles such as The Terminator where he didn't have to put over quite so many lines in a broadly humorous manner. Couple this to the fact that the cast are playing cartoon characters, and nothing quite settles the way it should.
Still, if you ever wanted to see Kirk Douglas play scenes with Paul Lynde, then this is the film for you. Once we have all that preparation for what is a very simple idea, that is that Cactus Jack is after the cash that Charming and her new friend Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger - didn't put much thought into the names, did they?) are transporting back to her father, then we can get to the meat of the entertainment. Which turns out to be Douglas falling off cliffs, getting crushed by boulders, being dragged behind the horses, and generally ending up in perilous situations thanks to his greed. Much of this could have done with snappier timing, but a few chuckles emerge, if only it wasn't so achingly familiar from a million Warner Bros. cartoons. Music by Bill Justis.