Sometimes nostalgia is best left in the mind. It can be fun going back and reliving those fond memories, but at times it can be an unkind kick in the head. That’s kind of how I felt after watching Billy Jack this weekend. Harsh reality kicked the living shit out of my fond memories of this Cult classic.
I first saw Billy Jack as a kid. No clue how old I was probably under ten. I remember watching it at school. As I wrote in another article published on Squidoo, I was lucky enough to be exposed to some really cool films at school. Billy Jack was one of them.
To say it had a huge effect on me is a bit of an understatement. When the other kids wanted to play cowboys and Indians, they would be the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy or Tonto. I was always Billy Jack. OK, sometimes I was the Lone Ranger, but mostly I was Billy Jack, the ass kicking half breed former Green Beret.
And I still think kindly on it, but I had this fear re-watching it for the first time in years. I had read all the bad reviews, and faintly remembered that the last time I watched it, the magic had faded.
And my fears were pretty much true. It really isn’t a very good film. The acting is pretty bad all around. Billy’s girlfriend, Jean, was especially memorably bad. The fight scenes, that were all so cool as a kid, now look very amateurish and staged. The dialogue is silly at times, along with the story and plot. The characters other than Billy Jack, seem uneven and not fully developed.
The main villain, Bernard is probably the most pathetic spoiled rich kid ever. I think I know where they were going with his character. Trying to show someone who lived in the shadow of his father, and was full of big talk, but really was a coward. I think that’s what they were trying anyway but it just didn’t work. The rape scene is supposed to be shocking, but instead it’s just sad and almost laughable.
The movie does deal with subjects that are still relevant today such as racism and bigotry. However it delivers it’s message in such a ham fisted way, it’s near impossible to take it seriously.
Sadly there isn’t a lot to really recommend about Billy Jack, and yes I was disappointed. But I still love this movie and the character of Billy Jack. You see, the one thing I can recommend is the character himself.
There is just so much to like, at least for me in the character. What’s not to love about the soldier, who has turned his back on war. Billy Jack is a man who values peace, and is tired of war, but who is all to willing to fight to protect those he loves. As far as I know Billy Jack was the first “Half-breed” action star. At a time when race relations were at a fever pitch, he stood not only for the rights of indigenous Americans, but for blacks, hispanics, and all those who weren’t a part of the white majority. Billy Jack was a hero for everyone who felt oppressed.
If Tom Laughlin had one thing it was screen presence and swagger. He was larger than life, and he made Billy Jack larger than life. Under a better director and writer, Billy Jack could have been the great American hero, but Laughlin kept the reins all tightly in his own hands, and those hands were not’t capable enough to deliver the goods.
So Billy Jack isn’t a great movie, it isn’t even really a good movie, but I can’t bring myself to call it a bad movie. The worst I can do is label it a guilty pleasure. And it’s a part of Cult Movie history, and it needs to be seen and appreciated, even with all it’s flaws. Plus it has the coolest closing theme song ever. If you do decide to check out Billy Jack look out for Howard Hesseman, apparently preparing for his role as Dr. Johnny Fever.