The Trial of Billy Jack
Holy shit are we in for a treat, and by treat I mean shit. I am going to review The Trial of Billy Jack. I can say, without hyperbole, this is the worst movie ever made. The prequel Billy Jack is awesome. It's full of itself sure, but it makes up for that by having Billy Jack run around kicking ass. The Trial of Billy Jack takes every thing good about Billy Jack and eliminates it while taking everything bad about Billy Jack and tripling it, including the running time. I swear this movie is like 12 hours long.
To start off I'm going to give you a brief history lesson on the Billy Jack series. Make sure to take notes, this is going to be on the exam. During the 50s Tom Laughlin and his wife Delores Taylor traveled to Hollywood with the dream of making movies with a message. Tom Laughlin had come up with the idea of a half breed protector of Indians who would stand up against the white man's injustice. This hero was named Billy Jack.
The couple had a tough time selling the idea of Billy Jack to studios. In order to fund the meaningful movie about ill-treatment of Indians Tom Laughlin made The Born Losers a meaningless movie about Billy Jack beating up bikers. The Born Losers became the highest grossing American international release until 12 years later when The Amityville Horror came out.
With success under his goofy hat Tom Laughlin was able to make the film he wanted to make all along, Billy Jack. Billy Jack has a complicated back-story regarding its release that involves contract disputes, lawsuits, re-releases. In the end Billy Jack took in more then 40 million dollars and Tom Laughlin changed the way movies were marketed and released. Of course a sequel would be made!
So basically Billy Jack was made to make you think as well as be entertained. Maybe its due to me watching it 38 years after the fact but I didn't do a lot of thinking but I did do a lot of being entertaineding. Here is a quick run down of the plot. Billy Jack is a bad ass who doesn't like how white people treat Indians or hippies. He lives on an Indian reservation which is next to the most racist town ever. Also on the reservation is The Freedom School, ran by Jean, played by Delores Taylor, who is also Billy's love interest. The Freedom School has become a refuge for young hippies who run away from home or get kicked out of their homes and have no place else to go. The town people hate hippies almost as much as they hate Indians.
Billy Jack is basically the only thing protecting the school. Over the course of the movie he defends the students against the town people, protects a pregnant hippie whose dad is abusive and also a sheriff, and is generally a bad ass who uses Akido to solve all his problems. Billy finds out Jean was raped which sets him off on a revenge spree that ends up with him holed up in an old church surrounded by the police. Billy refuses to give himself up initially, but Jean convinces him that if he dies it will be the end of the school and the end of her. Billy surrenders on the condition that the school receive funding and be left alone. This leads to the tear jerking scene of Billy Jack being led away by police while being saluted as a hero by the children set to the tune of Coven's cover of One Tin Soldier. It is awesome.
So, if there is going to be a sequel we have to get around the fact that Billy Jack has been arrested and there is definitely going to be a sequel since the previous movies have been so successful. So we get The Trial of Billy Jack which is a logical progression to a movie that ends with Billy Jack being arrested. Its a lot more interesting then The Bond Hearing of Billy Jack.
The film opens with scenic aerial shots of the desert. The name of a school will pop up with how many student protesters were gunned down by the army. I guess it happened at more then Kent State, way to play favorites Neil Young. The people at Southern University deserve to have their story told. It ends with The Freedom School.. I guess Tom Laughlin wanted to showcase the violence the government perpetuates against its own people just because they are hippies who hate war, but it sort of devaluates the actual violence when most of the actual ones are less violent then the made up one.
After what feels like half an hour of watching an Indian funeral progression walk through the desert we cut to a hospital room where Jean is in a bed talking to reporters about The Freedom School massacre. Jean says that “police types” go around shooting teenagers all the time but nobody stops them. Then they give some facts about Kent State with all the subtlety a funducational film. They just blurt out how the government covered up the whole thing in very very awkward dialoged. I understand they have points they want to make but you can't have characters making these points while sounding like they are giving a speech to their social studies class.
A nurse kicks out the reporters but one stays behind so that Jean can give her the full story of what happened. The reporter suggests Jean start four years ago at Billy Jack's trial. Alright, this is what we've been waiting for. Time for court drama. I was expecting the entire movie to be like the last 15 minutes of Law and Order where the person is on trial and it looks like they are going to go free but a surprise piece of evidence at the last minute makes them confess or be found guilty.
Reporter asks “Wasn't Billy Jack's main belief that a man who doesn't go his own way is nothing?” to which Jean replies, “that's right, that's why they tried Billy.” Setting us up to believe that the only reason Billy Jack is in the slammer is because the government wants to oppress and stop everybody they can't make fit inside a box. Billy Jack shot a bunch of police officers, but it was because of his beliefs that they locked him up!
We flashback to Billy Jack's trial. His defense is an interesting one. Mostly centering around Billy Jack explaining to the prosecution how death is his constant companion, eating, walking, and sleeping with him; later they talk about Vietnam. The prosecution for its part claims that Jean wasn't really raped in the prequel based on the proof of, well nothing. They don't have any proof and apparently were just expecting her to say “You got me, I lied about the rape.
I don't care if they have eye witness testimony of Billy Jack shooting cops, no jury is going to side with a prosecutor who goes around claiming a woman lied about her rape for no reason and without any proof. He doesn't even go about it well. You would think he would try to be empathetic about it, maybe dance around the question a bit, show he is sensitive to her situation in the chance that she was raped. Nope, he just point blank says, “Isn't it true you made up being raped” nearly causing the hippies in attendance to riot.
Billy Jack takes the stand again to talk about Vietnam. He brought up charges against his superiors about war atrocities involving the killing of unarmed women and children which we performed with his superiors knowledge. The army then charged Billy Jack with being a coward, which is foolish because he is fucking Billy Jack. Billy Jack is basically Walker Texas Ranger but with a cooler hat. He was walking around Vietnam round house kicking Charlie in the face and knocking Soviet bombers out of the sky with his massive blue penis. Billy Jack's lawyer asks Billy to tell them what happened to cause him to be declared a coward and we flash back to Vietnam. Whoe man, a flashback within a flashback, this is some trippy Shakespeare shit right now.
Billy Jack's platoon was ordered to capture a village filled with women, children, and old men who aren't allowed to be in war because they are old. The townsfolk were forced to sit in a ditch all day until orders came in to execute them. The only soldiers to refuse are Billy Jack and the one black dude. They walk off when told they have to slaughter the innocent. This helps show that white people are the devil. Well the black guy is shown later shooting a little kid in the back, so I don't know, maybe he was just walking off to get his gun. I'm actually a little disappointed in Billy Jack. Stuart Gharty from Homicide: Life on the Street did pretty much the same thing when he was in Vietnam and he was fat. Billy Jack should have started throwing karate at those racist honkies.
Billy Jack then goes on to talk about My Lie for awhile and how Nixon was a hypocrite for flip flopping about convicting those responsible for it and how the spirit of America is broken due to people not caring enough. This really has nothing to do with Billy Jack's trial but the movie isn't going to let a little something like relevance get in the way of the message.
Billy Jack is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He killed a few police officers in a shoot out where he was holed up in an old church, so really its about as good as he could hope for. If he was serious about not going to jail Billy Jack probably shouldn't have worn a jean jacket to the trial.
So Billy Jack is sent to prison. As it turns out the title is a metaphor regarding Billy Jack trying to overcome his violent tendencies later in the movie. If the movie was about the court case then it would only be 20 minutes long and all that jazz about The Freedom School being shot up wouldn't make any sense.
With Billy Jack rotting away the kids of The Freedom School decide to make The Freedom School into the best fucking school for teenage hippy runaways possible, so that Billy Jack will be proud. They start out by finding an abandoned military academy and renovating it. I guess were suppose assume one of the kids was checking out real estate ads and found it for sale but the way Jean tells the story it seems to imply that they were just wandering around the desert one day when they happened upon it one and started living there. The school is pretty much a commune. Its run by the kids who have a committee and nobody has any real power or needs it because the kids have love and when you have love you don't care about if you have power or not. That's how teenagers work. Remember high school? It was all about love and acceptance.
Those who go to the school get all the supplies through donation, cause we don't need the greedy government sending them food right? Its better to beg. Jean also explains the various programs at the school, such as meditation, body awareness exercises and belly dancing. Notably missing, shit you need to know to graduate high school. I guess in the 70s you could do whatever you felt like in high school and they let you pass. There's also “Yoga athletics” which is just normal sports but without worrying about winning or losing. So its like when little league has to stop keeping score because parents of kids who suck complain about their kids being sad about sucking so much.
Jean this whole time is just using a voice over telling us about the school. There's no dialogue or anything. In case you were wondering, long narrations are boring.
Jean explains that the grant money Billy Jack got the school in the first movie was used to set up a recording studio, so I guess they didn't beg for everything, did they Jean? With the royalties from the recordings they started an institute for abused children, which made them realize that orphanages are corrupt so they began a magazine which exposed government corruption, such as when they discovered that the entire fuel crisis and Israeli war were manufactured by oil companies and the white house. They also have a TV studio that was built after they put on the worlds largest marching band competition.
Keep in mind that Billy Jack is still in jail at this point in the flashback. He was only in jail for four years. The speed The Freedom School accomplishes things is just absurd. I'm pretty sure the renovations themselves would have easily taken a year. Add in the time it takes to organize building a radio station, or building a TV station, or creating an institute for abused children, or creating a magazine, or holding the world's largest marching band competition and it becomes painfully obvious that reality has no bearing in the mind of Tom Laughlin. All that matters is that he wants to address child abuse and what happens if you expose government evils and he doesn't care if it doesn't make sense in the context of the story.
Oddly enough after all this build up of how awesome these kids are at fighting the man the one example they show on camera of them actually doing something is pathetic. Some lady had her furniture repossessed from a rent to own company after she didn't make payments for three months. I'm not sure what there is to fight for. The lady could have kept the furniture if she had made the payments. She was fully aware of the contract but thinks she should have her money returned to her even though the company didn't do anything wrong. Tom Laughlin has obviously decided he doesn't care about realism, why not have the kids fight a cause that's actually worth fighting or at least shows corporate or government greed.
Don't worry about the government shutting down the school for exposing corruption because not only did the kids invent a machine that lets them know when their phone is tapped, but they invented a lie detector that works based solely on a person's voice, even over the phone or TV, so they can never be fooled.
The inventor is asked for an explanation of how the machine works and he says “Just by a person's voice alone off the telephone and off the television its even more accurate then the normal lie detector.” Please note that what he said doesn't actually explain how the machine works. We just have to take on faith that some random guy living in an alternate high school created something more advanced then the technology used by the government. To prove the machine's worth they watch a TV interview and marvel at how the machine does something apparently. Sure it could just be malfunctioning or making random bleeps since nobody knows how it works, but the kids are impressed none the less. I think as long as you assume a person is lying the machine will beep and you can pretend its doing something.
Since the movie is called The Trial of Billy Jack and not Those Spunky Kids and Their Awesome School Billy Jack actually returns to the movie after being gone for a good 20 minutes in the form of a three second scene of him sitting in a jail cell. Look how stoic he is. Then Jean starts yammering on about how the Freedom School was one of the few places in America that could help abused children because all the others were corrupted by the evil government and money. This sets up a sub plot (one of about 40 subplots in this behemoth of a movie) about a kid who had his hand cut off by his dad. Due to the abuse the kid is all coo coo bananas and hates the world. Carol the therapist at the Freedom School is the only one who won‘t give up on him. Go Carol, you can do it because you have the power of love!
Then hey, Billy Jack is back! Its his release day. On the way out one of the guards hits Billy Jack and tries to goad him into a fight. This is because all prison guards hate the inmates who are quiet, mind their own business, and don't cause trouble. Yup, that's right. Its because they are employed by the government and the government is evil.
The Freedom School is holding a conference on child abuse. If it seems like I'm jumping from one subject to the next with little coherence its only because that's what the movie does. Jean explains how The Freedom School's program of using love to solve all problems stops child abuse with a 90% success rate. As long as you show love to those who abuse they will stop abusing. Sure I've seen some heart wrenching examples at my job of kids who love their family and their family not giving a shit, but who am I to argue with filmmakers that have no idea what their talking about?
As Billy Jack is getting his belonging back from the prison the warden suggests that they go over what Billy is going to tell the press, but Billy is way to much of a bad ass motherfucker to even respond. I'm surprised the press is there. Its been four years since Billy Jack has been in the news. People in the 70s must have had longer attention spans then people now. Its hard enough to get people to pay attention to a news story for 3 months much less 4 years and Billy Jack isn't even a Hollywood starlet.
One prisoner says that he thinks Billy Jack is going to be back, but another one says Billy Jack has been marked to be killed. You would think the government killing Billy Jack would be an important plot point but it doesn't come up again for about 5 hours.
Jean is waiting for Billy Jack next to a cliff. Luckily the person giving Billy Jack a ride knew where she was. He drops Billy Jack off and drives away. I hope Jean has her car or else getting home is going to be a pain. What I know is that she has is Billy Jack's signature hat. I feel bad for Billy Jack, it's the first time he's seen a woman in four years and she's totally flat. Jean kind of looks like Edgar Winter
The sun starts setting as they share a kiss. Then in the next scene its daytime and they are by a river. I guess the spent all night in the wilderness fucking. Billy Jack summons a hawk by smoking a pipe, because Indians can do that? There's a guy watching Billy Jack through binoculars. I bet nobody believes him when he reports that Billy Jack a bird land on his arm.
Billy and Jean return to The Freedom School where Billy Jack talks to the only two children that were in the previous movie. It looks like Billy Jack is about to punch a girl, but he actually just pumps his fist in the air. Billy Jack's return celebration includes a girl singing a song about how he is Christ and is dying for their sins. This is the most boring part of the movie. Its like when you're at a party and all of a sudden somebody pulls out the acoustic guitar. Hanging out drinking beers and talking wasn't good enough for this shin dig, now everybody gets to sit quietly and watch one person enjoy themselves. Alright, I get it buddy, you like attention and know how to play Hey Jealousy, that doesn't mean I don't want to keep having fun, so why don't you take the four people who actually want to listen to you and go play in the basement so I can get back to socializing and mooching cigarettes.
Since this movie is like a roller coaster of awkward transitions we are suddenly outside where Jean is practicing karate with a couple of Asians and several shirtless muscle men. Billy Jack is surprised that Jean is practicing Akido since it is so unlike her. Some person yells “Think of all the men out there who would want to get their hands on her sexy little body” although she yells it twice for some reason, editing error? It's a funny joke because Jean was raped. If you think this karate scene sets up the scene later in the movie where Jean uses the Akido she has learned to get Billy Jack out of a jam then congratulations you're a better writing then Tom Laughlin.
Now, I've watched this move a few times in order to review it, and I have no clue why, but the kids are suddenly on top of a snow covered mountain saving some lost Indians. Well I know why, some other Indians asked them to help, what I don't know is why the kids at The Freedom School are all of a sudden the ski patrol or where in Arizona they found snow
Or why they have helicopters. At this point of watching you're best off just giving up on anything making sense. Grab a stiff drink and just try to power through it.
The Indian they rescue is named Running Deer. He ends up being tried for trespassing since the land is owned by the evil banker Mr. Posner. The judge says the minimum sentence is one year, but because the prosecution voluntarily asks for a lesser charge he gets ten days in county. This makes all the hippie in attendance boo for some reason. Sure, I guess it would be better if he didn't go to jail at all, but he did break the law. I think it was pretty nice of the prosecution to volunteer such a lenient sentence.
Coming back from the trial The Freedom School bus gets pulled over and the students are being searched because the police suspect they have drugs. Of course its really because the police are part of the evil government and will take any opportunity they can to hassle free thinkers. Some random dude in the crowd yelling about how the police need a warrant in order to search a person, which I'm pretty sure isn't true. He throws an orange and four police officers chase him down. I think he actually hit the bus, not anything the police would care about, but they are just all so eager to beat him up due to their being evil and all.
One of the remaining officers starts feeling up one of the girl's since according to this movie most people with even a little bit of power are evil. Jean intervenes and says he won't be feeling her up, of course not Jean, you don't have boobs.
Some horny chick who looks like Dr. Frankenfurter runs in and tells the cop he can feel her up. See Mr. Policeman, you don't have to force yourself on girls, there are many who are more then willing to let you paw at them.