Partly a blaxploitation thriller but mostly a failed attempt to give European star Lino Ventura some international crossover appeal, Three Tough Guys—sometimes known as Tough Guys—contains about two-thirds of a moderately entertaining movie. The first stretch of the picture, setting up a convoluted plot involving various parties connected to stolen loot, is murky and tedious, too many disconnected events and not enough character development. Things pick up during the second stretch, when an ex-cop allies with a rough-and-tumble priest to search for clues. And then, in a case of too little too late, things finally resolve into proper thriller mode during the last stretch, when the ex-cop and the priest square off against a swaggering criminal.
Typical of the movie’s shortcomings is the number of scenes without musical scoring, because the producers hired Isaac Hayes as both composer and costar, then failed to fully utilize his talents for manufacturing industrial-strength funk. It says a lot about Three Tough Guys that the most enjoyable sequence is a nothing vignette of a car driving across town, simply because that’s when Hayes gets to unleash a thumping R&B theme without any interruptions. Oh, and don’t get your hopes up for attitudinal scenes of costar Fred Williamson sharing the screen with Hayes, since Williamson is barely in the picture for the first hour. Despite the misleading poster, this is a Lino Ventura vehicle featuring Hayes and, to a much lesser degree, Williamson. Ventura’s fine, even with his halting English, but the material isn’t good enough to properly showcase his affability.
Set in Chicago, the picture revolves around the theft of $1 million, the murder of an insurance investigator, and various other narrative threads that fail to generate much interest. For reasons that are never particularly clear, Father Charlie (Ventura), an ex-con and ex-prizefighter, defies his monsignor’s directives by investigating the theft/murder/whatever. Over the course of several days, he sees a mysterious black dude watching him, and then the dude, Lee (Hayes), asserts himself just in time to rescue Father Charlie from certain death. They bond, again for reasons that are never particularly clear, though it’s amusing to watch Lee iron the priest’s pants and cook him eggs by using the still-hot iron as a griddle. So domestic! Caught in the middle of the intrigue is Fay (Paula Kelly), a gangland moll connected to slick crook Joe Snake (Williamson). Blah, blah, blah. Three Tough Guys has some colorful fights, the filmmakers use Chicago locations well, and Hayes and Ventura both exude the same sort of casual cool. There’s some vibe here. But will you remember a single thing about Three Tough Guys after it’s over? Not likely.
Three Tough Guys: FUNKY