Alex Cox - Straight to Hell (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Alex Cox

Straight to Hell (1987)

Island Pictures

Sometimes loving an artist means obsessing over his/her missteps. As an unapologetic Joe Strummer fan, I've made it my duty to see every film the Clash frontman appeared in before his passing. I would argue that, much like his solo work, Strummer never got enough credit for acting abilities. Granted, I have thus far seen exactly one Strummer film worth revisiting, Mystery Train, but still, the guy knew how to put on a show.

As you probably saw in the above header, though, this review isn't for Mystery Train. I'm here to talk about Straight to Hell, a movie Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) and friends when a planned concert in Nicaragua fell through.

The story: When three hitmen (Strummer, Sy Richardson and Dick Rude) and their tagalong lady friend (Courtney Love. I know, right?) miss their mark, they dodge their boss' wrath (Jim Jarmusch) by robbing a bank and fleeing to Mexico. There, they fall in with a band of coffee-loving degenerates (The Pogues… with sombreros?). But with fingers always near triggers, it's hard for anybody to trust a body.

Straight to Hell was completed in about four weeks. I mean the entire thing, from conception to post-production, took about a month. That's not a good sign, and whole chunks of superfluous and/or badly recorded scenes attest to the ramshackle production. This movie could only appeal to devoted fans of Strummer and/or writer/director Cox, and even then it's not a sure thing. Hole fans are going to be let down by a screeaaaaaaacccchhhyyyyyy performance by Love.

Given its cast, I wish Straight to Hell was a lot better. Strummer, Elvis Costello, Dennis Hopper, and the Pogues all turn in performances (Grace Jones too, but she's terrified me ever since I saw Conan the Destroyer). But without a coherent script, it's an awfully painful viewing experience.

Yet at the same time, I intermittently appreciated the film. When it bothers to be funny, Straight to Hell's absurdities are actually pretty great, from the ridiculously profanity-free dialogue to the bad guys' addiction to… coffee. It's so much sillier than heroine or cocaine, which I suppose was the point, as Cox intended to parody spaghetti westerns. Strummer's actually not half-bad here, although Richardson is the one who consistently delivers the best takes (That he recalls Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction is a nice plus). The best thing I can say about Straight to Hell is that it made me feel OK with checking out Strummer's performances in Mystery Train and Cox's Hell follow-up, Walker. Straight to Hell has since gained a sizable cult audience, and even a 2010 HD transfer, but I can only handle so much bad cinema at a time.