“Comin’ at Ya!” (1981)
by A.J. Hakari
It’s gotten to a point where I’m not entirely sure 3D movies are that fun to make, let alone watch. The gimmick remains one of Hollywood’s most resilient cons, with the worst of those flicks that lean on it filling your mind not with wonder but images of stagehands rolling their eyes and chucking garbage at the camera. When you get the impression that not even the people who are supposed to be in on the charade can believe what they’re selling, the experience becomes doubly miserable. Whether it’s founded or not, this is the sort of feeling that resonates throughout 1981’s Comin’ at Ya!, the brainchild of third-tier spaghetti western auteur Tony Anthony. While the film’s advertising promised a rollicking ride with all manner of perils spilling off of the screen, what Anthony delivered was something more akin to a somber, Jodorowsky-style art house piece. However, that Comin’ at Ya! dared to perform this bait-and-switch isn’t the reason why it turns out to be such a bust; that responsibility falls squarely upon both the picture having no content to support its aesthetic ambitions and the use of 3D ranking among the least enthralling in the hook’s history.
It was supposed to be the happiest day in the life of gunslinger H.H. Hart (Anthony). He and his sweetheart Abilene (Victoria Abril) were finally getting hitched, until the vilest fiends to walk the old west crashed the ceremony. Lowlife brothers Pike (Gene Quintano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios) shot up the church before nary a vow was exchanged, leaving Hart for dead and adding Abilene to their harem of kidnapped women. With his beloved in danger of being sold into servitude, our hero wastes no time in tending to his wounds, saddling up, and riding out in search of the scumbags who took her. Danger lurks around every corner, with Hart encountering ferocious wildlife, the blistering heat, and swarms of enemy outlaws on his quest for vengeance. But the closer he gets to Pike and Polk, the more determined he becomes to see them both meet the business end of his trusty twelve-gauge.
As Anthony’s Stranger flicks brought a more cynical edge to the spaghetti western, something similarly off the beaten path was to be expected from Comin’ at Ya!, as well. In addition to embracing the grit and ugliness that the genre rarely shied away from, the picture comes loaded with one visual flourish after the next. The action kicks into slow motion as often as it moves at a regular speed, and though not occurring as frequently, the color scheme also enjoys switching over to a black-and-white palette on the fly. But there are these lovely little things called points that are wonderful for movies to possess, and as Comin’ at Ya! has none to its name, all its eye candy is stripped of any narrative value. I’m all for stories that aim to rise above their stations and do more than their time-weathered formulas often allow, so I’ve no issue with Anthony or director Ferdinando Baldi wanting to get a bit experimental with their approach. However, the film’s ocular trickery seems to be informed not by desires to subvert genre tropes or glance at familiar cinematic imagery from a unique perspective but by having seen other, out-there works gather acclaim and wanting a piece of the action. This tries faking profundity in the same way a film student would “artsy up” an unfinished project the day it’s due by running random scenes through weird filters; not only are there no ideas or concepts at play to be enhanced, it just doesn’t even look all that cool.
But if stopping any semblance of flow dead in its tracks to show the cast flopping about in slow motion for the ten-thousandth time wasn’t enough, Comin’ at Ya! really drives that last nail into its coffin by incorporating some of the sloppiest instances of 3D in existence. It’s amusing for a little while (like when the opening credits come written on various objects that Hart shoves at the camera), but the novelty’s welcome wears thin shortly thereafter. There are only so many ways to creatively thrust shotguns or lob flaming arrows in our faces until it all starts to get annoying — and considering what little tact Baldi and company displayed with their editing choices, you can count on that nickel being spent lickety-split. As in most cases, Comin’ at Ya!‘s 3D only distances the viewer from the action rather than making them feel a part of it, with the presentation’s growing absence of charm doing nothing to mask how shockingly cheap many of the effects are. You can tell that the movie was counting on looks to be its greatest takeaway, because no mind has been paid towards helping the story or characters come across as anything but paper-thin. Anthony makes for as appealingly unconventional of a leading man as he did in the Stranger franchise, but the role of Hart is a hollow one, with Abril’s Abilene treated even more thanklessly. The only personalities who come close to leaving some sort of impression are Quintano (who also wrote the screenplay alongside Anthony) and Palacios as the ultra-sleazy villains, although they too haven’t much going for them beyond being exceptionally gross.
Too slow-going to be fun and too thematically empty to stimulate the cerebellum, Comin’ at Ya! emerges as kind of a nothing movie in the end. Much ballyhoo has been made over its cult appeal and impact on ’80s cinema (P.T. Barnum would’ve been tickled by Anthony’s PR machine), but it’s just another spectacle that offers nothing very engaging in the spectacle department. With few genuine pleasures to impart, Comin’ at Ya! has no audience to please but itself.