Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some sexual humor
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Allen Garfield, Larry Hagman, Bruce Davison, Dick Butkus
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Tom Mankiewicz
Review published January 22, 2003
Mother, Jugs & Speed is one of many seriocomic work-related movies to come out in the mid-70s, not too dissimilar to Car Wash and FM, with an ensemble cast of eccentric characters, sporting a hip (for the time) soundtrack and a marriage of fun with drama at the end. This one centers on ambulance drivers, in a somewhat cynical look at the commercialization of the health care industry, which puts the patients welfare in the backseat while chasing down the almighty dollar.
Set in Los Angeles, MJ&S focuses on the goings-on at the F+B Ambulance Company, which is in heated competition with Unity, a rival ambulance company, to try to be the first on the scene at all accidents, because it's first-come first-served in these parts. Cosby (Meteor Man, Uptown Saturday Night) plays Mother, the veteran crew member, who is as jaded as they come, but is a good influence on how to get the job done with the less careful drivers. Welch (Fuzz, Legally Blonde) is Jennifer, aka Jugs (for obvious reasons), the hottie dispatcher that all the guys flirt with, while she's trying to be one of them by getting her EMT license. Keitel (Taxi Driver, Mean Streets) is Speed, the new guy who joins them straight from the police force, where he was suspected of dealings in a shady drug operation involving kids.
Peter Yates, director of the acclaimed films Bullitt and Breaking Away, has a hard time handling the sometimes jarring mix of zany comedy and deadly serious drama, never really making a real impact in either department enough for the tone to gel. The comic elements seem to work well, as you'd expect with a film starring Bill Cosby, and while Keitel is a terrific dramatic actor, he is vastly underutilized in a role that has little meat to offer someone of his caliber. Welch, while certainly easy to look at, isn't really the best actress for a role like this, especially having difficulty showing genuine emotion during a critical scene involving an impromptu childbirth.
Perhaps the biggest complaint one could make about Mother, Jugs & Speed, other than the disjointed thematic elements, comes from the poor scoring and some of the bad disco songs that are part of the soundtrack. The worst example is the main theme song, Paul Jabara's annoying disco opus, "Dance", which is not only a horrendously bad piece of music, but it also makes no sense being the beginning and end song in a film about ambulance drivers. One gets the feeling A&M records just wanted to make a push for the song while the disco craze was hot. On the plus side, The Brothers Johnson contribute two gems, including the borderline-profane, "Get the Funk Out Ma Face", and their incredible jazz-funk instrumental, "Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin' Licks".
There is a certain quaint charm in watching a film as dated as Mother, Jugs & Speed, so if you love movies that are quintessential 70s cheese, you'll probably have a fun time watching it. People looking for a good film will be disappointed, as it's just too sloppy to be satisfying, while the occasionally serious scenes feel out of place in a movie this vacuous. The main trio are fun to watch, but you have to have a high tolerance for weak scripting and horrible pacing if you expect to make this misfire worthwhile.
©2003 Vince Leo