[box cover]

Ace High

Tuco meets Trinity in Giuseppe Colizzi's, Ace High ("I Quattro dell'Ave Maria," 1968), a middling spaghetti western starring Eli Wallach and Terence Hill that would also like to be an uproarious caper comedy. Or so it appears. Actually, it's impossible to get a bead on what Colizzi's intentions are here, and the confusion makes the picture awfully hard to enjoy on its own merits, most of which come courtesy of its talented ensemble cast. Wallach plays Mr. Cacopoulos, a condemned outlaw spared the gallows by an eleventh-hour jail break, which frees him to seek out his disloyal partners who abandoned him 15 years ago. Upon beginning his journey, he crosses paths — or, more to the point, crosses a pair of scruffy marauders, Cat Stevens (Hill) and Hutch Bessy (Hill's frequent onscreen sidekick, Bud Spencer), making off with their own ill-gotten $300,000. Cacopoulos, a cruel but not unduly murderous man (he only kills scum lower than himself), leaves them alive, ensuring that they'll track him down, which it appears he wants them to do. Along the way, the duo partner with a trapeze artist named Thomas (Brock Peters) before catching up with Cacopoulos, who gives them all the opportunity to pull off a lucrative casino heist while allowing him to even the score with his chief betrayers, led by the scowling Drake (Kevin McCarthy). This was actually the second part of an informal trilogy of films that would precede Hill and Spencer's popular Trinity series with Enzo Barboni. But while Ace High does boast an impressive sense of scale, Colizzi is at an absolute loss at filling his scope compositions with the bloody, invigorating action of a Sergio Corbucci or the broader comedic flourishes of Barboni. As a result, this is largely a film of sporadically entertaining moments, which, provided one can stick with it long enough, arrive mostly in the last hour or so. There's an amusingly over-the-top punch-up between Hutch and a hulking heavyweight knockout artist named "Tommy Glancingblow" that drags on for several punishing minutes, recalling in its extremity the protracted fistfight between Roddy Piper and Keith David in John Carpenter's They Live (1988). In fact, the most enjoyable moments in the picture tend to center around Hutch, whose preferred method of cold-cocking a combatant is to thump him atop the head like a overgrown professional wrestler. That's the kind of silliness the movie should've embraced, but Colizzi overwhelms these modest pleasures with an excess of plot. It goes without saying that Wallach is a sleazy delight as Mr. Cacopoulos, though he's really just doing a toned down variation on Tuco from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). And while Colizzi fails to stage the action with any real panache, he does stage a moderately inventive final showdown timed to the spinning of a roulette wheel. Paramount presents Ace High in a pretty nice anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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