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COSBY & WELCH & KIETEL & HAGMAN IN MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED

year: 1976 rating: ***
Director Peter Yates throws everything into the pot in this underdog tale of a low rent privately owned L.A. ambulance company (run by a barking Allen Garfield) whose drivers are, like the doctors in M*A*S*H, slackers and goof-offs...

These include Bill Cosby as Mother, the seasoned driver who drinks on the job and scares nuns with the ambulance siren. His young partner Bruce Davison is along for the ride and wants a better job and life.

Larry Hagman provides the jerky antagonist as a hick driver with an overcharged libido. In the grungy station, the men bet on the daily deaths and flirt with Jugs, played by bombshell Raquel Welch, the dispatcher who yearns to be a paramedic. And new employee Harvey Keitel is a quiet ex cop: having been busted for selling coke (mistaken as something else) he’s named Speed.

It takes over an hour before the three title characters are teamed-up, at which point the most intriguing aspect has Mother giving Jugs on the job training: she used Women’s Rights to land the gig and now realizes how rough it is. The humor is sporadic and there are some intense scenes as well – but the problem has too many missed one-liners and performances seeming catered to opening night audiences.

The eclectic situations are interesting but don’t provide the laughs like other workaday ensemble comedies such as CAR WASH. Acting-wise, Welch plays the part decently enough – with a chip on her shoulder, she’s got a lot to prove in her new job. Keitel, on the other hand, is completely misplaced, more befitting a crime potboiler and has no chemistry with Welch, his inevitable love interest. And when Cosby shows the pains of being a seasoned paramedic, not trying to be constantly witty, he really shines: thus lighting the characters around him.
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