If we’re to believe John Lee Hancock’s atrocious The Alamo, the infamous 1836 standoff at a Texas mission was instigated by a leering Hispanic crossbreed of the Joker and Snidely Whiplash. How else to explain Emilio Echevarría’s foppish, invisible mustache-twirling portrayal of General Antonio López de Santa Anna? Certainly it’s the latest example of the mindless racial subjugation practiced in several recent Hollywood period epics. The Alamo‘s Mexicans are bourgeois cartoons, and its black characters are meek-minded servants who call postmodern attention to their own cowardliness. Whatever the superficial accuracy of these portrayals, it’s not enough for a film to show its minority characters from such a pious, hang-our-heads-in-shame distance—racism can be as much an unintentionally passive act as an intentionally active one.
The offense is deepened by the stone-faced Caucasians at The Alamo‘s center. General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid, in probably his worst performance) is Santa Anna’s polar opposite, a bellowing, guttural drunk garbed like the Mad Hatter and sporting Wolverine’s coiffure. As the bronchially challenged James Bowie, Jason Patric seems oblivious to his character’s strangely sexual undercurrents—you’d think that huge-ass knife he carries might have clued the actor in to Bowie’s, um, endowments. And as Davy Crockett, Billy Bob Thornton makes an admirable attempt at demystifying an American legend, only to be sabotaged by the film’s innumerably ludicrous speeches-drowned-out-by-heavenly-orchestra. My personal favorite involves Crockett’s cannibalistic description of potatoes and burned Indian flesh with the howler of a punchline, “Now, when someone passes me the poe-tate-ers, I just pass ‘em right back.”
In his essential and erudite tome The Dream Life, film critic J. Hoberman writes of the 1960 John Wayne-directed The Alamo: “[The film was a] Cold War [scenario] that, years in the making, germinated as American boys did battle in far-off Korea and blossomed during the period of the Missile Gap to ripen in the tropical breeze of the postcolonial freedom struggle.” If we’re to judge by this millennium edition of The Alamo, the U.S. of A. seems condemned to repeat itself—only the names have been changed to protect the ignorant. Arising from the still-smoldering ashes of far-off Iraq in a period of marital sanctity, this candidate for worst film of the year is further, sobering proof that every dog(gerel) has its day and every generation gets the movie it deserves. To paraphrase the film’s (and history’s) catchphrase-ready rallying cry: We’d all do best to remember The Alamo in order to forget it.