THE MOVIE Apparently all people did in ’70s California was get stoned and listen to B.J. Thomas albums. How else to explain Cisco Pike, the most laid-back caper flick of all time? The premise of this 1972 “lost classic” (alert Criterion) sounds like a good time. Sullen hunk Cisco (Kris Kristofferson) is a recently paroled ex-rocker-turned-dealer who, unless he wants to end up back in the poky, is forced to move a wheelbarrow’s worth of dope in a weekend by a crooked cop (Gene Hackman) in a powder-blue windbreaker who looks like a sleepy baby caterpillar has crawled onto his upper lip.
Which Cisco proceeds to do like it’s on the to-do list between picking up his dry cleaning and sexing Karen Black. You get the impression that this could be just about any weekend in Cisco’s adult life: He rolls around L.A. in his big brown car, hitting up former contacts, just trying to do a little business. Aside from two run-ins with Hackman’s twitchy, sweaty detective and something that may or may not have been a narrowly avoided sting (editing is hard), there’s no drama in this movie. There’s so little backstory—we never learn, for instance, why Hackman’s character is so desperate to move this pot until the final scene, and even then it’s not very compelling—and so little character development that you’re left wondering why we should be rooting for this human ottoman at all. Except for the fact that, in time-honored ’70s tradition, Cisco is a head and Hackman’s cop is a pig, man.
If Cisco Pike has a value, it’s in how shamelessly it strings together its clichés. There’s the basically decent but failed musician looking to turn his life around. The corrupt narc. The long-suffering emotional punching bag of a hippie girlfriend. The wise black sage. The far-freakin’-out rock star. The sleazy manager. The cracked-out groupies. The old friend who took the drug thing just far enough to become a cautionary example. At least when they cast the superfly pimp they had the decency to go straight to Antonio Fargas.
Like many movies long consigned to fuzzy VHS transfers, Cisco Pike has—shockingly, we know—taken on a cult notoriety beyond its actual value as something you’d spend an hour and a half of your life on. It’s the kind of movie that you can imagine former video clerk Q. Tarantino creaming his briefs over on a slow day at the office. Hell, Jackie Brown is built on a similarly slim concept, except that Tarantino remembered to include such indulgences as sympathetic characters and interesting dialogue. Cisco Pike isn’t an indictment of early-’70s drug culture or a celebration of it. It just is.
THE DISC Multilanguage subtitles, scene selection, and that’s about it. But you get to see Harry Dean Stanton’s pale moons, if that’s the kind of “extra” you’re into.