As you know, in my last post, I asked the question, what the hell happened to Mario Van Peebles? Well, after he directed and starred in Posse (1993) we now know where he went—into the can.
Obviously, this is my humble opinion. After Van Peebles costarred in Heartbreak Ridge (1986) with Eastwood, he then costarred with Wesley Snipes and others in New Jack City (1991) which was probably the best film Van Peebles has been in. So a couple of years after New Jack City, a screw must have come loose when Van Peebles decided to direct and star in Posse. As my regular visitors know, I have a very high threshold for bad movie pain but Posse took me to the limits.
Where to start. Well, the story is presented as a flashback told by an unnamed Old Man with a Cuban prologue during the Spanish American War—one of the most cliché devices I think film makers use. Jesse Lee (Mario Van Peebles) leads the US Army 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers who are fighting in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. The 10th is barely holding its own and is under constant attack from enemy troops. Jesse Lee runs back to the command post of the corrupt and racist Colonel Graham (Billy Zane) asking that the 10th Cavalry be allowed to pull back and regroup. The crooked Colonel offers him a deal: in exchange for shooting a deserter he will permit the retreat. Instead of killing the man in cold blood, Lee shoots a cigar out of his mouth. After killing the deserter himself, the Colonel offers Jesse Lee’s command of the 10th to another prisoner called “Little J” (Stephen Baldwin) (the alternative is a firing squad). Graham then orders the 10th to fall back in order to begin another mission that will require them to wear civilian clothing, as opposed to their Cavalry uniforms, making them spies under the rules of war and deserters under the U.S. Army code of military justice. The 10th is ordered to rob a Spanish gold shipment, which is really a setup to give the Colonel an excuse to execute the entire 10th Cavalry as deserters.
The 10th get the gold and begin to run somewhere as a newly formed “Posse,” always just one step ahead of the evil Colonel. After a number of chase scenes and close encounters, we discover that Jesse is really seeking revenge for the hanging of his father. The run takes the Posse to some small towns where Jesse is known, respected and feared. Eventually there is about a 30 minute battle royale between the Posse and the white town folks and the evil Colonel. Some of the Posse is killed (except of course for Jesse and his Indian squaw) and all of the white folks and soldiers either flee or die a loud death. Then of course there is the climactic battle between Jesse and his arch nemesis the Colonel. Well, I don’t think I need to tell you how that comes out.
Finally, after the bloodshed, the gold and riding off into the sunset, we flash forward to the narrator who is now an old man telling the tale to some journalists and even has a book that Jesse’s father had given him somewhere along the way.
This move is bad on so many levels I hardly know where to start. The film starts out looking good until the characters open their mouths, then it becomes clear that they are so flat, so comic book, so ‘much’, both the good and the bad guys are just over the top bad; I would try to describe them further but my fingers might turn to rust as if a pox were put on my computer. Every stereotype imaginable manages to get a role in this one—right down to their names, like “Father Time” or “King David.” Moreover, throughout the movie we are presented with an in-your-face history lesson of whitey’s oppression of everyone. True or not: save it for the PBS documentaries.
Now here is the worst part: the talent. This movie had a formidable cast. Just look at this list:
Mario Van Peebles – as Jesse Lee
Stephen Baldwin – as Little J
Billy Zane – as Colonel Graham
Melvin Van Peebles – as Papa Joe
Big Daddy Kane – as Father Time
Blair Underwood – as Carver
Isaac Hayes – as Cable
Charles Lane – as Weezie
Robert Hooks – as King David
Richard Jordan – as Sheriff Bates
Pam Grier – as Phoebe
Aaron Neville – as Railroad Singer
Stephen J. Cannell (yes the TV & film writer who recently died of skin cancer)- as Jimmy Love
I mean come on, Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Blair Underwood (L.A. Law)! Van Peebles managed to take a great cast, lots of money and a potential story and create something unbearable to watch. Unfortunately, Posse is yet another classic example of what Hollywood considers its audiences to be—simple minded. I don’t know, maybe they are, but that does not mean I have to like it.