Kitschy 1981 3D ‘Comin’ at Ya!’ Uses Unapologetic Gimmick

by Warren Cantrell on December 20, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

A kitsch relic from the early 1980s, Comin’ at Ya! is an unapologetic stroll through the gaudiest corners of the Western genre. Purposefully over the top, the film’s paper-thin plot, one-dimensional characters, and dreadful pacing are a hurdle, yet allow for a few payoffs that almost make the mess worthwhile. Ultimately, however, the experience is a dreary slog that feels overly self-indulgent and immature: like the work of a freshman film school student having a little too much fun with slow-motion and 3D technology.

Originally released in 1981 in a sort of single-handed attempt to revive the mid-20th century 3D craze, Comin’ at Ya! has several problems, not the least of which is its very reason for existing. For starters, the characters of the film are never really set up, which gives the action no purpose and the actors little to work with. Further, the plot never strives to be anything except a straightforward lost-love rescue story, something that keeps the film mired in clichéd action set-pieces audiences have seen done to death. As a result, Comin’ at Ya! feels less like a movie and more like an excuse to rip-off played-out story tropes using every 3D camera trick ever invented.

It all starts with the recollections of a man, Hart (Tony Anthony), who opens the movie with a flashback of his wedding day. Sometime during his marriage, Hart and his wife were set upon by two men who shot Hart and kidnapped his bride so they could sell her as a sex slave. The present-day events of Comin’ at Ya! follow Hart on his quest to find the kidnappers and retrieve his beloved from the sadistic brothers responsible.

As a set-up, this works well enough in theory, yet in practice, there are a lot of holes to fill with nothing more than this skeletal foundation. Hart seems driven by revenge, not love, and he’s given almost no screen time with his bride (not even in flashback), so it is difficult to care about what happens to either of them. The two brothers responsible for the kidnapping are set up as sufficiently evil via their actions and demeanor, yet their motivations and backgrounds are also never really explored, leaving the audience nothing more than a very deliberate, spoon-fed premise to go along with. As viewers, we’re forced to sympathize with Hart for no other reason than because we saw him get shot up early on, and the movie seems to think that this is enough to carry the weight of the film’s conceit.

And really, when a person takes a step back, it almost is. Comin’ at Ya! seems to have no ambitions beyond wanting to present a familiar spaghetti western without any character complexity, yet all of the expected violence, flash, and sizzle one might normally find in such an offering. In this way, it succeeds at what it sets out to do: it creates a universe where the brutal murders and 3D camera tricks have a place to live, nay, thrive.

Although this may have been a hoot 33 years ago, the sentiment when watching it today is that director Ferdinando Baldi spent too much time playing around with his toys, and too little time developing his script. All of this adds up to something that feels less like a film and more like one long sight gag. In 1981, the combination of Western nostalgia and a 3D novelty act might have been enough to earn a few chuckles and get audiences engaged, yet in the meta-heavy world of 2014, Baldi’s film comes off as little more than a tedious B-movie. Every development in the story can be seen coming from a mile away, and what little fun that might have been had is ruined by a director who doesn’t know when to stop milking his genre-parody jokes and cut to the next shot.

Unlike the far more measured and structured 1973 spaghetti western send-up, My Name Is Nobody, Comin’ at Ya! takes its story seriously, and tries to copy all of the stylistic beats of Leone’s work without infusing its source material with any of that director’s character development and nuance. Still, for what it is (a cheesy and ultra-violent 3D parody of spaghetti westerns), it does okay. The story, dragged down as it is by the torturous slow motion vignettes and 3D gags, keeps things simple and allows for steady action.

Comin’ at Ya! is currently playing in Seattle, and can be viewed as the spiritual love-child of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone in style if not substance. Even so: buyer beware.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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