(Fox Home Video; $29.98) Viva Penelope!  Viva Salma!  And, while we’re at it,
Viva Maria! (1965), the sexy cinematic grandmother of Bandidas, a lively Western comedy made more than 40 years ago, by Director Louis Malle, that also teamed two hot international stars, Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, as outlaws.

The new picture, like the earlier one, is best summarized using’s DVD keywords: Cute | Explosion | Fight | Train | Mexico | Horse | Kiss | Bank | Gun.  But what these keywords don’t convey is that the movie is a hoot.

Maria (Penelope Cruz) is a farmer’s daughter who communicates fluently with horses, while Sara (Salma Hayek) has just returned from Europe and rides around her father’s wealthy Mexican estate in fully corseted, saddle-smacking Victorian finery.  On the run from the American bad guys who have come to wrest economic control over the local banking industry, the two bicker and bond while seeking to help the people (Maria’s motive) and gain revenge (Sara’s). A terrific scene is one in which retired bank robber Bill Buck (Sam Shepard) teaches them the finer arts of shooting and doing pushups in shallow water.

You have to figure that good pals Hayek and Cruz were tossing back shots one night and decided it’d be fun to make a silly Mexican comedy Western. They brought in producer/writer Luc Besson and top scripter Robert Mark Kamen to run the show (opposed to, say, Robert Rodriguez), and cinemato-grapher Thierry Arbogast who DP’d Besson’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) and Cruz’s Woman On Top (2000).

They hired Dwight Yoakam to play the murderous enforcer (with a hairpiece that gives new meaning to “fright wig”) and Steve Zahn as the forensic pathologist Quentin Cooke, part CSI’s Gil Grissom, part Sherlock Holmes. Wonder if Zahn ever imagined he would be the object of a smooch contest between two of the most beautiful women in the world? Sadly, the nudity we are warned about in the PG-13 rating description turns out to be a solitary shot of Zahn’s tush.

Unlike the attention given to the film overseas, this picture was given the bum’s rush in the U.S., airing in a handful of Latino movie houses before landing on DVD, which is too bad, because it’s much funnier and better shot than a lot of films.

The DVD offers a five-minute docu-mentary and a running commentary with Hayek and Cruz, which strays into anecdotes about a near plane wreck and a bi-polar monkey who went, well, ape.

Mi Amigo

(Velocity; $24.98) This obscure 2002 film appears as a DVD mostly because it features hunky heartthrob and star of TV’s Lost, Josh Holloway. In a deleted scene on the disc, Holloway delivers a tune in the late Freddy Fender’s Mexican cantina, and the kid is actually a little better than good.

That song, and a healthy chunk of shirtless beefcake, is the good news for any Lost fans. The bad news is Holloway disappears 25 minutes into the film.

The plot goes like this: saddle buddies Bobby Ray (Channon Roe) and Pal (Holloway) are kickin’ around border town Cherub, Texas (Alabama, actually), in 1968, drinkin’, fightin’ and nuzzlin’ up to the high-minded, free-lovin’ Kitty (Jackie Schell). Pal steals Kitty and runs off to Hollywood; Bobby Ray becomes a  Nashville star. Cut to 1998. Bobby Ray (now Ed Bruce) has converted to Judaism and dreams of erecting a “Cowboy Cathedral”  because it sounds better than a “Cowboy Synagogue.” Meanwhile, Kitty (Jo Harvey Allen) has stayed together with successful cowboy actor Pal (Burton Gilliam).

But this is the fun part: before directing, Milton Brown wrote songs for Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds movies; Tom Everett (plays antagonist Cale Chason) cut tunes for RCA; Ed Bruce cut Rockabilly sides for Sun Records and
wrote “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”; and Jo Harvey Allen is the wife of Country singer/songwriter Terry Allen. In fact, she played the title role in a live musical, Chippy, based on the diary
of a west Texas hooker in the 1930s that featured her husband and fellow Texans Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. Mi Amigo is fun for its oddball charm—just keep your expectations south of the border.

Down in the Valley

(Velocity/Thinkfilm; $29.98) The valley in the title is the present-day San Fernando Valley, but while Harlan (Edward Norton) may be in this time, he is barely of this time—where he starts and stops is anybody’s guess. He’s a little bit country, a little bit city and a whole lot nuts. There’s more than a little of serial killer Charlie Starkweather and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle under his brim.

Harlan is adrift, pumping gas in his cowboy duds, when he’s adopted by a car full of raucous teens, en route to the beach. Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood) is tuned to Harlan’s dislocation; after some swimming, some clubbing and some ecstasy, the two begin their dance. Tobe’s 13-year-old brother (Rory Culkin) is likewise drawn to Harlan, but their policeman pop (David Morse) instantly recognizes Harlan’s tilt and cranks up his authority.

This may not sound like a Western, but Director/Writer David Jacobson is dead serious about riffing on cowboy fantasies. We see that Harlan is fast on the draw with his twin .44’s, steals horses for joyrides and keeps his cowpoke hat in constant play.

Norton and Jacobson discuss the Western elements in a filmed Q&A with Rolling Stone writer Peter Travers that, along with a trailer and a couple of lengthy deleted scenes, are the extras in the DVD package. Though Down in the Valley starts to cook down about three-quarters of
the way in when the themes get a bit
ham handed, it is still one of the best independent movies of 2006.

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