"Any Which Way You Can," Clint Eastwood's latest knockabout heroic farce for working stiffs, should score a bull's-eye with his regulars. Even occasionals or hostiles may find it agreeable vulgar hokum.
A sequel to "Every Which Way but Loose," a hit two years ago, "Any Which Way" smooths out several of the kinks that left its predecessor in a slightly grotesque tangle. Whatever the limitations of the obstinate image of masculinity he projects, Eastwood has imposed characters to remember him by: Battling Philo Beddoe looks as definitive as Dirty Harry Callahan.
The movie begins as caravans of sporting enthusiasts from the San Fernando Valley converge on a cement plant off the interstate to watch Philo, a trucker and mechanic who engages in bare-knuckle boxing on the side, square off against a fresh overmatched challenger. During or between bouts comic relief revolves around Philo's pet orangutan, Clyde, the great personality discovery of "Every Which Way," an ape with astonishing low-comedy skills. For recreation Philo, his best friend Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and Clyde customarily savor beer and Country & Western ballads at a cozy saloon, where additional brawling is not unknown. At the combination homestead-auto graveyard where Philo resides with Orville and Orville's irascible Ma (Ruth Gordon), the hero can usually be found under a truck chassis or lugging engine blocks around.
The story line involves the promotion of a bare-knuckle championship bout between Philo, reputedly the best in the West and William Smith as Jack Wilson, his surprisingly friendly but formidable counterpart from the East. The match is engineered by Wilson's gangster patrons, who get dangerously insistent when Philo, bowing to the wishes of his loved ones, decides to hang up the knuckles.
The shameless creature who deceived Philo in the first movie, an aspiring vocalist named Lynne (played by Sondra Locke) has been revived in a contradictory romantic role. Encountering Philo at the saloon, she endeavors to make amends: "I didn't mean to hurt you -- I was mixed up." That's putting it mildly. The romantic betrayal in "Every Which Way" was positively vicious: Lynn was ultimately revealed to be soliciting partners for a nasty boyfriend.
A new heroine might have been perferable to this illogically, ineffectively reformed bad girl. As a practical matter, Lynn returns so that she can be abducted by the mobsters, who use her to coerce Philo into fighting. The same purpose might have been served more humorously by Clyde and/or Ruth Gordon. Nevertheless, the ill-conceived reunion of Philo and Lynne provides the occasion for a classic Eastwood exchange. "I don't need any handouts," she says, clinging to her pride. "Handouts are what you get from the government," he retorts. "A hand-up is what you get from a friend." (What is it about the idea of a romantic comedy with Eastwood and Jane Fonda, hopefully in the best tradition of "The African Queen," that appeals to me?)
The more plausible love match in "Any Which Way" is the platonic understanding that develops between Eastwood and Smith. Though often cast as a villain, Smith has always seemed one of the more engaging studs on the screen. In fact, his extroverted nature and imposing physique tend to make him a more likable rugged presence and credible physical threat than the star.
The weakest element in the plot is the lack of a compelling reason for Philo and Jackson to go through with their fight. Basically a good guy too, Jackson helps rescue Lynne from employer's thugs. The climactic punch-out, staged along the streets of Jackson Hole, Wyo., is rationalized by curiosity rather than passion or compulsion.
A generous entertainment of its kind, "Any Which Way" mixes plentiful portions of gauche, robust action and comedy with frequent musical interludes. Fats Domino and Glen Campbell turn up in brief singing appearances that are shot more attractively than the equivalent inserts in "The Blues Brothers." Eastwood can be heard in a talking duet with Ray Charles in the song played over the opening credits, "Beers to You." The Country & Western score features about a dozen tunes, and one of them, "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys," written by John Durill and Snuff Garrett and sung by Durill, sounded especially deft. j
Eastwood specializes in a strong, silent type who maintains his integrity despite intimidation by crooks and creeps or harassment by minions of the law. His characters contrive to defy the odds that frustrate most guys, even pretty rugged guys, in the real world.
Inspired by the success of Burt Reynolds as a Good Ole Boy, Eastwood has staked out his share of the same territory.In fact, Eastwood may now be in a stronger position to satisfy lumpen appetites than Reynolds, who permitted "Smokey and the Bandit II" to degenerate into a dreary psychodrama.