[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]
Although the advertising works hard to suggest Mother, Jugs and Speed is “a black and blue comedy” in the tradition of M*A*S*H, the actual film bears little resemblance to Altman’s in the areas that count. It’s a cynical comedy and it deals with unsentimental souls on the periphery of the medical profession; there the resemblance ends. Peter Yates’ direction and the agreeable-enough performances come nowhere near the textural crossriffling of Altman’s movie, and the script’s gestures toward the acknowledgment of human pain in the world out there feel as if they’d been plotted on a graph, rather than simultaneously emerging from and validating the subterranean desperation of the characters’ lifestyle.
Mother, Jugs and Speed is much more comparable to those gritty proletarian comedies Jimmy Cagney used to appear in at Warners–First National in the early Thirties: it’s about an off-the-wall line of work—managing or driving for a private ambulance service in a slum district—in which the issues of survival and quick-witted adaptability are confronted as a matter of course, and it’s at its best when it doesn’t push its kookiness too hard. Of course it lasts a bit longer than the 70 minutes those pictures used to run, but there’s no place for program pictures of proper program-picture length these days, so Yates and Mankiewicz are not to be blamed too severely for inflating the movie beyond its appropriate modest proportions. Bill Cosby and Allen Garfield are permitted to mug too much, Raquel Welch has reverted to pre-Lester archness, Harvey Keitel retains an edginess that interestingly complicates a non-Scorsese film, Bruce Davison gets a nice oafishness into his abruptly terminated performance as “Mother”‘s (Cosby’s) partner, and L.Q. Jones does a yeomanlike job as a city cop. If you don’t go expecting a lot, you might find the film makes for a half-evening’s worth of laidback diversion.
MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED
Direction: Peter Yates. Screenplay: Tom Mankiewicz, after a story by Mankiewicz and Steve Manes. Production: Yates, Mankiewicz.
The players: Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Allen Garfield, Larry Hagman, Bruce Davison, Severn Darden, L.Q. Jones.
© 1976 Richard T. Jameson