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  Dudes West Life
Year: 1987
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Stars: Jon Cryer, Daniel Roebuck, Flea, Lee Ving, Billy Ray Sharkey, Glenn Withrow, Michael Melvin, Marc Rude, Catherine Mary Stewart, Cal Bartlett, Pete Wilcox, Vance Colvig Jr, Ancel Cook, Wycliffe Young, Red Wing, Christina Beck, Molly Matthiesen
Genre: Western, Comedy, Thriller, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Life could be better for three friends in New York City - sure, there's a solid punk rock band to see most nights, but the whole place is seriously starting to get them down. They congregate in a diner after one gig and Grant (Jon Cryer) begins to lament his lot in life, thinking up suggestions for where they could go instead. Then a girl catches his eye and once her towering boyfriend leaves to go the counter, he ventures over and lights her cigarette for her, but alas the boyfriend sees this and a brawl ensues. This makes up Grant's mind: to California they will go!

Punk might have moved on in eighties Britain, but in the United States there were still bands and fans carrying on the tradition and Dudes was a film that attempted to marry those attitudes with, of all things, the outlaw spirit of a classic western. That's because our three punk rockers never actually reach California (not that we can tell, anyway) and end up travelling cross country in their Volkswagen when they are waylaid by a mishap. It's the sort of "we don't like strangers round these here parts" plot that could have arisen from any number of seventies drive-in movies.

Yet here it was in 1987, helmed by a director sympathetic to the worries of the kind of people who would seek this out, Penelope Spheeris. Before she hit big with Wayne's World, she made her name in cult circles with her Decline of Western Civilisation documentaries and the three heroes in Dudes could have stepped straight out of the first in that series. Therefore this is a somewhat eccentric work, with plenty of American punk records on the soundtrack accompanying vast swathes of desert scenery that truly leave the heroes looking as if they are in the middle of nowhere.

And oddly vulnerable for all that, as if they could handle themselves on the streets of New York City but plonk them down in the Wild West and they are way out of their league. This is no more evident than in the scene that occurs soon after the opening credits where they are sleeping out under the stars when suddenly a group of rednecks show up, terrorise them and end up killing Milo (Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea, who was in Spheeris' previous film Suburbia). The remaining two, Grant and the mohawked Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck) are left shocked and pondering their next move.

As if the soul of all those westerns they have seen finally gets to the duo, after the police make it clear they're not going to investigate (the body was never located), Grant decides he is going to have his revenge, although Biscuit needs more persuasion. First they have the problem that they must track the gang down, which leads to a road movie of sorts where they meet mechanic Jessie (Catherine Mary Stewart) who becomes a sort of love interest for Grant, and teaches him the ways of sharpshooting. They also meet an Elvis impersonator and a ghostly cowboy, all of which lands the duo dressed up as an Indian warrior and Wyatt Earp and more determined than ever to seize vengeance. If Dudes is flimsy in the plot department, then it has a spark of energy about it that speaks of the personalities in Spheeris' other films, although it is more conventional than it might have preferred to admit. Music by Charles Bernstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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