"STRAIGHT TO HELL," a movie by Alex Cox, is a sort of post- apocalyptic spaghetti-western parody -- which already makes it sound better than it is.
Cox, who made "Repo Man," assembles a punkpourri of rock and film celebs acceptable to hip urbanites, such as musicians Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, Grace Jones and the Pogues, as well as film culties Dennis Hopper and Jim Jarmusch. And he lets them swagger around aimlessly in a Spanish desert town -- the same set used frequently by spaghetti western king Sergio Leone. They sweat under the dusty sun. They tote anachronistic gangster pistols and machine guns. Some of them have bad teeth.
Cox seems to have made this with unpretentious abandon, so "Hell" doesn't merit serious lambasting. But that abandon is boring. The weird-for-weird's-sake antics are unexciting and the black comedy is scanty. Even as a stargazer the film disappoints; none of the stars appears to have screen presence, Strummer, Costello and Jarmusch included. And Hopper (a sneaky deluxe ranch seller) has worn out his countercultural welcome -- seen one Dennis cameo, you've seen 'em all.
The plot, such as it is, concerns money, of course. Four renegade people (Sy Richardson, Dick Rude, Strummer and Courney Love) steal money from a bank and try to escape the white-suited mastermind who organized the heist (Jarmusch as Mr. Dade). They take refuge in Blanco Town and get to know a rather demented collection of characters known as the MacMahons (most of whom are played by the Pogues Irish punk-folk band). These inhabitants appear to be either inbred punk-rock groupies or "Road Warrior" extras. And they're inexplicably addicted to coffee.
It's a devil-may-care world where people kill indolently. When someone dies, a woman apparently imitating Charlie Chaplin measures the bodies for coffin size, and then a strange preacher gives them a hurried service with words like, "Let's get through this part quickly Lord and then on to the revenge." For kicks, the MacMahons make a geeky hotdog seller sing bad songs for them. ("Let's make that wiener kid sing his song! Wanna?") Then they throw vegetables at him and toy with shooting him.
There's a shoot-'em-up finale where everyone seems to be aiming at everyone except the coffin maker. The movie ends, mainly because it has run out of people. If there's a message, it's in two parts: 1) Don't be greedy for money. 2) If Alex Cox asks you to be in his movie, read the script first.
STRAIGHT TO HELL (R) --
At the Key.