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BARBAROSA

From the Sept. 28, 1982, Deseret News

BARBAROSA — Willie Nelson, Gary Busey, Gilbert Roland; rated PG (violence, profanity).

You think you've got in-law problems? Consider poor Barbarosa.

He's been living in the rugged, mountainous country of the Rio Grande for some 20 years, constantly under attack by his in-laws who are determined to kill him.

But ol' Barbarosa doesn't even flinch. An early scene in the film has him being fired upon at point blank range. Even though a bullet grazes his cheek, he doesn't move until he eventually pulls out his gun and blows his attacker away.

Willie Nelson has the title role in "Barbarosa," an offbeat little Western from Australian director Fred Schepisi ("The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith"), and Nelson is perfectly suited to the role of the grizzled, almost mythic character.

He lives on armadillo meat and — only when he has no recourse — kills off the men sent out to kill him, one by one and in a matter-of-fact manner. He is resigned to his fate. He cannot leave because this family of killers is the only family he knows. He has been misjudged and become an outlaw so he may stay as near his wife and daughter as he dares.

Then he meets up with Gary Busey, as Karl, a young "farmboy" (Barbarosa's term of endearment), who is also on the run. Karl has accidentally killed a neighbor's son, causing a rift between the families and a relentless chase.

These two diverse men-on-the-run have an on and off partnership but gradually a bond grows between them and they manage to figure prominently in each other's respective destinies.

On the surface, "Barbarosa" appears to be a traditional western, with the title character's legend growing quite a bit larger than he would like, simply because the family is so constantly outraged and dedicated to bringing about his death. But this hero is extremely unconventional. That he has eluded his would-be assassins for so long has more to do with his own stubbornness than bravery – and soon he is training Busey in his ways.

Their friendship, and the easy, ingratiating acting styles both display, make "Barbarosa" extremely enjoyable. They invest their characters with a lot of humor and a sense of honor, so that despite their less-than-admirable traits, we are rooting for them right up to the conclusion.

And even Nelson's constant words of wisdom seem natural and easy, without the preaching that would have made the script fall flat.

Schepisi's direction is very fluid, with the action – of which there is plenty – moving the film along at a nice clip. The cinematography takes full advantage of the barren portion of Texas used for shooting this film and the music score is very good, a bit quirky, like the film itself.

Rated PG for violence and profanity (a bit too much of both), "Barbarosa" is a welcome return to a genre that is sorely missed. But Universal hasn't much faith in the film and it won't be around very long. (Roger Ebert made "Barbarosa" something of a cause on "Sneak Previews" a while back, since it was barely released at all.)

This is not a great picture but it is a very good one – yet in light of other films released by Universal which are far inferior, but which, admittedly, probably make more money without trying, it's not hard to see why the studio is a bit hesitant about "Barbarosa's" release.

If you want to see "Barbarosa" you'd better get to it soon. It won't be around long.