Goin' South (1978) / Western-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for sexuality, violence and language (probably PG-13 today)
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Mary Steenburgen, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morris, Veronica Cartwright, John Belushi, Richard Bradford, Danny DeVito, Tracey Walter, Gerald H. Reynolds, Ed Begley Jr.
Director: John Pasquin
Screenplay: Marc Lawrence
Review published April 1, 2005

Jack Nicholson (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Prizzi's Honor) stars as horse thief, Henry Moon, who is rounded up by the local posse of a small Texas town and sentenced to hang.  Due to the lack of men coming back from the Civil War, the town does have one law that can save Henry -- those sentenced to die can be saved if one of the women of the town wants to marry them.  It's Julia Tate (Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard) to the rescue, as she agrees to take Moon as her husband, but only so that he might continue digging in the mine on her property for the gold she's sure is in there.  Tensions flare between the couple, sexual and otherwise, but Julia exhibits no interest in Henry except for his labor.  Further complications abound, including a jealous suitor, a land speculator, and Moon's former gang coming to visit.

Directed by Jack Nicholson himself, Goin' South is a spotty Western comedy that offers modest returns.  It does feature quite a who's who cast, with notable early appearances from Mary Steenburgen (her big screen debut), John Belushi (Animal House), Christopher Lloyd (Butch and Sundance: The Early Days), Danny DeVito (Romancing the Stone), and Ed Begley Jr. (Running Mates).  Jack is Jack, who is splendid, of course, but his choice of Steenburgen proves his wisest move, as she handles both the would-be romance and comedy with just the right mix of sweetness and sassiness required. 

For a film with so many talented actors, the tone is curiously lackadaisical, which makes Goin' South's appeal strictly for genre fans and those interested in anything Jack Nicholson.  Although much of the tone is humorous, it's not particularly laugh-out-loud funny.  Although John Belushi was a supporting role, there's little for him to do, save for reciting his lines in a wildly exaggerated faux Mexican accent.  Basically, it's Jack's show, so if you like his crazed mannerisms and caustic, nasal delivery, you'll get that, and plenty of it for the duration.

 Goin' South isn't revolutionary by any means, either as a Western or as a comedy.  It is a curiosity, with lots of manic situations that don't always amount to much.  However, there is refreshing quality to the laid-back attitude that does seem to work, and the strong ensemble of actors imbue a great deal of personality into their otherwise thinly defined roles.  If you're attracted to offbeat Westerns, you might find enough to recommend here, but by no means is this a must-see for anyone not already attracted to something contained in the movie before going into it.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo