Tired of the slave-like treatment of his team's owner, charismatic star Negro League pitcher Bingo Long takes to the road with his band of barnstormers through the small towns of the Midwest in the 1930's.
Billy Dee Williams,
James Earl Jones,
'Mother' chronicles the adventures of a group of privatized ambulance drivers (in 1976?) working for the Fishbine Ambulance company. You get the usual assortment of stiffs for the mid-70s; the new guy, Speed (Harvey Keitel), the hot chick, Jugs (Raquel Welch), the lecherous loser, Murdoch (Larry Hagman), the overbearing boss, Fishbine (Allen Garfield), the nerdy effete guy, Bliss (Allan Warnick), and your resident smart-ass, Mother (Bill Cosby). Now, these days, you don't think of Bill Cosby when you think of smart-ass, but this was almost thirty years ago. Things were different.
'Mother' is a product of its time, very 70s, with a rant about inflation and how bad the economy is; Mother's partner Leroy (a very young Bruce Davison) gets high all the time, and there's a flap later on when Jugs earns her EMT certificate and wants to ride in the ambulance with the guys. Such a thing wouldn't even bat an eye now, but was an issue back then. But 'Mother' is also amusing. Some of the comedy is obvious one extremely obese black woman is too heavy to carry and her gurney slips from their grip, taking a joyride down a hilly street. But a lot of it is surprisingly sharp, thanks mostly to Cosby's excellent timing and deadpan delivery. Mother has a one-liner for every situation, and, surprise, most of them are really funny.
While the rest of the cast is fine Keitel portrays a slightly nicer version of the cool, collected guy he often plays, Welch is pleasant but her character isn't particularly deep, and Garfield is good as a sort of proto-Louie DePalma the movie is really Cosby's show. From bribing the cops to drinking beer on the job, from buzzing' the nuns with his siren to eating his hamburgers with peanut butter, onions, and mayonnaise on them, Mother is a real character in every good sense of the word. While the film does not always excel and in some places falls sort of flat, Cosby is always spot on here, and it's worth sitting through some of the slower stretches for him alone.
I was thinking as I was watching this film that it would be prime fodder for a remake. Bernie Mac would ace the Cosby role, you could find any number of women to play Jugs (I suggest Heather Graham), and it would be almost painfully easy to update the 70s-isms into modern day slang/events. You could even be topical and switch Bliss from metrosexual to full-out gay (which is implied but never said in the film anyway). In looking up this film on the IMDB, however, I discovered someone already did try to make this into a TV show, so apparently I wasn't the first one who thought this had potential (though TV is the wrong venue; much of the film's humor is ribald, and you sure as hell couldn't call any woman on TV Jugs'). 'Mother' is an enjoyable film, not much more than your average summer filler, but still able to elicit several good chuckles almost thirty years later. It's certainly worth it to see Cosby play the bad boy with aplomb.
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