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Child abuse, the trampling of Indian rights, prejudice, illegal FBI
wire-tapping and subterfuge, television exposes, campus shootings by the
National Guard, the Mi Lai massacre, culture clashes, Jungian philosophy,
police brutality, government corruption, karate, guns, and a spiritual
journey are just some of the subjects explored in this sequel to Billy Jack.
Surprisingly, despite the title, this is not a courtroom drama. The film is
told in flashback, and the trial is over rather quickly. Instead, it's an
angry film that was finished shortly after several of the campus killings
(ie, Kent State) and Watergate. Most of the film's events and
anti-government sentiment were taken directly from the events of the early
The director's commentary on the DVD is very interesting, and my favorite discussion is when Tom and Delores acknowledge they "threw in everything but the kitchen sink." They both wish they had reduced the exposition and some of the plot lines, which would have certainly made it a better film, but they were being true to themselves at the time. Unfortunately, this makes the film too long and too preachy, but I still enjoyed it.
This is one of the BAD films I really enjoy. It is not painful or
boring to watch but instead falls into the hokey and stupid category
that make it great party film. Like Plan 9 from Outer Space, this movie
tries so hard to say something and comes off as a completely laughable
fiasco. The over-the-top completely serious aspects of the movie raise
it to this level. The movie The Apple also rises (?) to this level of
dreck as well.
Our hero (?) is Billy Jack, a half-breed American Indian who teaches peace through the repeated use of bone-crunching violence! It reminds me of the funny segment from the movie UHF when they advertise the fake movie "Gandhi 2" and feature Gandhi kicking butt and driving a sports car. It's so ridiculous, it's great! Amazingly enough, this was the third Billy Jack film (after The Born Losers and Billy Jack) and the first to bomb at the box office. In fact, the also deadly serious Billy Jack (1971) made zillions at the box office--not because it was a good film (though it wasn't quite as bad as The Trial of Billy Jack) but because it was a perfect film for the times. The hippy-ish aspects of the movies worked in 1971 but by 1974, it was reduced to a cliché.
A moment not to be missed in this movie--the little boy with a mechanical claw for a hand being gunned down by the evil soldiers as the boy tries to rescue his pet bunny! Meant to be poignant, it's just hysterically funny instead!
FYI--This film had the dubious distinction of being selected for inclusion in the book "The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time" by Harry Medved. I heartily agree with the choice--but must admit it gets a 2 because it's so darn funny--and it doesn't even intend to be!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) spends four years in prison for his killing
of a sheriff's deputy. During that time, the Freedom School, a hippie
commune led by Billy's lover Jean (Delores Taylor) begins to prosper,
releasing newspapers and TV that stick it to the man, caring for
underprivileged and abused children, and no doubt doing lots of drugs
(oh, I'm sorry - drug use is against the rules there). Billy helps the
Indians and the Freedom School stick up to the crooked landowner Posner
(Riley Hill), who ultimately calls out the police and National Guard,
with tragic (I guess) results.
"The Trial of Billy Jack" is an atrocious film that has to be seen to be believed. On the other hand, that may be too high of a price. While it maintains some of the camp value of its predecessors, any enjoyment, unintentional or otherwise, is done in by the fact that the movie is THREE FRICKING HOURS LONG!!! The movie's pretentious, overwrought and hilariously un-ironic political and social content isn't the problem here; it's the length, and boy does it drag.
The first Billy Jack had a certain purity of form. Clocking in at about two hours, it was a reasonably entertaining film which managed to be watchable, with the camp cheesiness and overwrought hippie world-view only enhancing the experience. The movie could never reconcile its pleas for pacifism with the appeal of Billy Jack's martial arts heroics, but it hardly mattered. The overlong guerrilla theater routines by Howard Hesseman and the interminable music numbers were the biggest flaws, but Laughlin managed to keep himself in check.
No such luck here, as Trial of Billy Jack drips with a potent strain of narcissism. Laughlin's film is filled to the brim of self-indulgence, padding the film's running time with self-indulgence and smug posturing. At least a third of the movie is lengthy, droning performances of atrocious excuses for "music", by people with no talent (most egregiously, Laughlin's daughter Teresa). Billy Jack is continually celebrated throughout as a paragon of virtue, albeit a somewhat flawed one, sung about and worshiped by the freedom school kids - yeah, nice humility, Tom. And of course, Laughlin's smug self-assurance that we'll agree with our heroes and their noxious political viewpoint is rather off-putting as well, but he gets around that problem - sort of.
The politics are by their nature laughable, accepting and endorsing every bit of radical, leftist conspiracy jargon as concrete fact. But the way Laughlin paints the issues is what makes it truly offensive. He juxtaposes the film's climactic massacre with real life school shootings like Kent State, portraying them as premeditated acts of mass murder by the National Guard. The villains are bigoted, greedy, harrumphing straw-men, not even convincing as caricatures. Laughlin and Co. seem convinced that they're so important that they're being investigated by the FBI, CIA, and the US government at large for their "scorching exposes" (Laughlin would, in real-life, use this excuse for the failure of his later Billy Jack Goes to Washington). The journalist interviewing Jean repeats leftist conspiracy propaganda as known fact. The final massacre is so over-the-top, it's simultaneously appalling and laughable; the idea that someone would actually hold this viewpoint, however, is what's truly appalling here (although, not as laughable as believing that thousands of rounds fired by trained Guardsmen could only result in three deaths in a huge crowd).
This is offensive, not because of the politics, but because of the dishonesty; it's easy to paint everyone opposed to you as a brutal, vicious Fascist, and thus (in theory, anyway) renders any possible argument against the film moot. Like, you can't dislike this movie unless you're a paid shill, Man. It's a childish argument, and it says a lot about Laughlin that it's his primary defense against criticism. And we STILL have the problem that Billy Jack is kicking ass is pretty much antithetical to the peace and love message we're supposed to be getting.
Okay, the movie has some camp value. The lengthy Indian vision scenes - where Billy Jack confronts his "spirit double" and a cave full of demons - are pretty darn funny, in a trippy sort of way. A lot of the dialogue and acting is pathetically bad (I love the scene where a hippie suggests that the Freedom School "BOMB THE HELL OUT OF THEM!"). But is so pompously self-important throughout - and so LONG - that it isn't even enjoyable. Two hours in, you'll be pining for the original film, with the "epic" karate fight in the lawn, Howard Hesseman's rambling improv comedy, and, yes, Coven's camp classic "One Tin Soldier" - and you'll realize that there's still an hour to go! But overall, this is a film that even the biggest bad movie buff should be leery of approaching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Truth, that most dangerous of double edged swords, is the weapon of choice for this movie. Warning, spoiler ahead! Unlike supposed 'true stories' which in many cases hide much of the truth, this story shows us, vividly, the abuses that our society have allowed and condoned. From the refusal to treat an indian in a 'normal hospital' to the illegal tapping of phones and investigations, to police brutality and power brokering, this film hits it all, with stunning accuracy. I only watched the movie for the first time yesterday, after borrowing the dvd of it from my father, but my fiance and I both cried out against the horror of the massacre, knowing that similar things really did happen, and were almost certainly as bloody and violent. The movie showed that people were trying to stand against the Status Quo and show how we could live lives filled with love and care. Instead, the government feared that, and did everything in their power to foster hate and division. This has got to be one of my favorite movies of all times, despite it's disturbing details.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The views stated in this film are so unrealistic it hardly deserves the
rating it has gotten, so much most of the commentary from the other
reviewers on this website. I wasn't even alive or born in the era it
was created, but even an elementary school drop-out can tell what is
wrong with this picture and question some of the most ham-fisted script
work, direction, and cast of characters ever put on film. There have
been worse films made since the birth of Hollywood, from prominent
directors to the indie scene, and frankly I'm inclined to say this
ranks amongst the Top 10 of some of the worst. If not the Top 10, then
all three deserve to be in the Top 20.
I choose the second film first of the group because it displays such a lopsided view of reality. In what is said to be an 'expose' of the "corrupt" people around us we are instead given a three-hour preach song and dance which force-feeds it's overall goal rather than raise the bar as far as 'provocative' films go. In all of Laughlin's films we are told that all white people are evil, that the Native Americans are pathetic creatures always getting the short end of the stick, that the President and the government are so gosh-darned evil that they would want to tap into the phone lines of seemingly innocent flower power girls and guys. Rather amusingly, apparently Billy Jack is constantly referred to as a 'dirty in-jun' despite the fact that one could've easily mistaken him for an extra from a long-forgotten episode of TV's "Bonanza". The fact that these themes are evident frequently in all three of his films makes me question the family's sanity; the only good decision I've seen so far in this film were the opening shots of the prairie.
The film borderlines stupidity in which the teens or children in question decide to create some "almighty lie detector" which can tell whether or not people on the media are lying. I'm sorry, but at that point, all motivation to take the film at face value has been lost. In trying to fight against a supposed 'agenda' the film has inadvertently started preaching it's own agenda. Thankfully, films made long after this one have learned not to treat the subject matters at hand with such stupid insecurities and lopsided twists. Things like having the Freedom School destroyed and attacked, children with bunnies being shot, make the film unintentionally funny and in my eyes - lazy.
I find it ridiculous to believe that 'The Man' in this film, be it Washington, the National Guard, or the Army, would constantly go out and kill people or attack certain individuals without remorse and sweep things under the rug as is implied in this film. As a result, the cards are stacked too high and I'm being forced to believe that through the power of really awfully sung folk songs and a one-man killing machine is going to put down his detractors. This is supposed to be a movie in which to tell me that 'non-violent' means of getting a point across and wit, savvy, will triumph in the end. Not the case here: I have to be barefoot and were tight-fitting jeans with a goofy looking black hat.
The acting is awful, the singing is horrendous, and if the DVD commentary is to be believed that Laughlin and his family didn't know what they were doing, then I guess the majority of you can see why we hate this film. By comparison to Rambo, a far superior soldier who underwent far worse conditions in the same war and location, Billy Jack comes off as a very hypocritical, stupid character and more like a fan-fiction "self-insertion" of the director.
In this sequel to "Billy Jack", Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor continue to strongly and clearly convey, via the motion-picture medium, that the situation with which this movie deals is extremely, again, controversial. After all, the movie deals with the matter of bigotry and injustice. It begs a big question. What can a person do within legal limits to stop harassment of minority groups when the law will not cooperate and defend these minority groups? Following, it may also beg the question concerning whether or not Billy Jack is a villain or hero, since the caring person has no mercy on the mean people who do the harassing and does not care what happens to such horrible people. I like this thought-provoking movie. I like it because of the subject matter, but I also like the aesthetic qualities: the west is, in its own way, beautiful. The acting is convincing as well. Whenever I think about the controversial subject matter, I never reach a conclusion, but because of this, the acting, and the beautiful scenery, I will always be glad I saw it.
A lot of people just don't get the point of the
BILLY JACK movies. They are not condoning violence,
they are showing us other ways of getting our points
of view across. Tom Laughlin was and is an expert
in Jungian psychology and he weaves the elements of
the Shadow and Persona in all of his films. This
movie especially is a mini-dissertation in Jungian
concepts. The title is ambiguous in that there is a
court trial for Billy Jack because of the violence
he is guilty of in the movie BILLY JACK (this is the
sequal to that movie). But, the real trials are
between Billy and his inner self. The constant
struggles that Billy Jack undergoes mirrors
everyone's own personal battles. In these days and
times, we need a role model like Billy Jack.
It is impossible for me to describe quite the mind numbing level of
badness this movie represents save without swearing. I compare to one
of the abominable shifting horrors from H.P. Lovecraft's stories. How
anyone can claim it was good without being an intensely close minded
person who honestly believes Laughlin's (sadly not unique) brand of
conspiracy theory frankly seems impossible to me.
The film is so left wing they did all but urinate on an American flag. I would go so far as to say it actively demonizes everyone who could possibly support law and order, or free market, or anyone else who stand for order in society (such as the national guard).
Even without all the political meanderings present in this flick it is horrible. With a bunch of cheesy plot threads and incomprehensible levels of continuity errors that literally make my head hurt.
I am not eloquent enough to properly describe the hideousness of this ultra-left wing piece of tripe, and so I direct you to the in depth review by Ken Bregg of jabootu.com http://www.jabootu.com/tobj1.htm He says what I cannot say here without profanity.
I finally broke down and watched the 1971 film a few days ago. I'm old
enough where I remember these films (but was too young to see them... I
SWEAR they were "R"s on release), which mostly played back to back at
the drive-ins and also remember the relentless parodies in the early
days of SNL.
Shockingly, the 1971 film isn't horrible, it's really kind of good. It has heart and the basic structure of a good old schlocky Walking Tall semi-grindhouse picture. It's wildly dated, yet it's hard not to feel a touch of admiration at the spirit shown by Laughlin and Taylor (Taylor even acts fairly well in the '71 film), even when the filmmakers are so obviously out of their depths in virtually every technical department. "Billy Jack" has the weirdly contagious feel of an improvised film, which it sounds like it almost was.
By contrast, The Trial of Billy Jack is every bit as bad as you've heard it is... a completely unwatchable vanity picture and an monumentally poor one at that. Since the core cast and the Christinas (helming the "script") stayed the same, one can only determine the bulk of the failure lies with the director, and that's "director" in title-only. Don't think for a minute that anyone had control of this chaotic jaw-dropping idiotic free-for-all.
From camping Billy up as a Christ figure, complete with Jesus and Judas in a test in the desert, to bad Kung Fu parodies with wack "effects" that could have been made by shining a Lite Bright into the lens (now you know I'm old) to Laughlin and Taylor having basically the same exchange 50 times ("Damn it Billy, when are you going to learn?" "Aw shucks Jean, what choice do I have?") to Laughlin's over-the-top mind-numbing "gloating" before he "gets physical" with the baddies... all in slow motion.... they literally stand still waiting to be pulverized... to the simply god-awful 3 hour run time (of which 2 hours could easily have been cut) you can't get a better example of how NOT to make a movie.
This was no labor of love.... just one of insanity. Your pet guinea pig could make a more coherent film, and one you'd be able to sit through without that required fast-forward button.
After the first Billy Jack movie where he went to prison for five years
for involuntary manslaughter the freedom school that Delores Taylor was
building on the Indian reservation has expanded quite nicely. There are
a whole lot of young people of all kinds now living there and attending
school and absorbing the radical ideas as the locals see it of the
And the school has done one thing more. They have a pirate radio station on the reservation and are doing all kinds of exposes that some of the powerful locals aren't crazy about. The maddest of the lot is Riley Hill who is the brother of Bert Freed who was the owner of the local Ponderosa in the first Billy Jack movie. Freed moved away after the death of his son, but Hill is the local banker and that position gives him leverage on a lot of the locals.
Poor Taylor whose passive non-violence is being put to some stressful tests in this film as it was in the last film is caught in the middle. And Tom Laughlin is off on a vision quest not be disturbed. That gives the bad guys a chance to do their worst. Which leads to a horrible Kent State like confrontation at the school on the reservation.
This film could easily have told the story in a third to half of its running time. But I suppose producers Laughlin and Taylor couldn't bear to cut a single frame. It really dilutes the story and blunts the impact of the climax.
Still Billy Jack's fans should like The Trial Of Billy Jack.
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