If you’re the type who still gets a chuckle out of the “hush-yo-mouth” dialog in Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft,” then you’ll probably dig Greg Houston’s Vatican Hustle (NBM).
An ultra-broad send-up of ‘70’s blaxploitation flicks, Hustle follows the exploits of private dick Boss Karate Black Guy Jones, who’s hired to retrieve a naïve young thing from the clutches of Vatican City porn merchants. The two-fisted tough guy with a yen for Pottery Barn tchotchkes bulldozes his way through an assortment of garishly grotesque thugs, as a razor-brandishing degenerate Pope hits the bars for a night of debauchery. In a sequence that could only come from the mind of a lapsed Catholic Boy, we get to watch the Pontiff shoot up smack and experience a prolonged hallucination guesting Marlon Brando, Charlie Manson and a pipe-smoking Fred MacMurray. You haven’t seen such gleefully energetic cartoon slander since the glory days of underground comix.
NBM’s promo correctly notes that Houston’s art owes a debt to classic cartoon uglifiers Ralph Steadman and Basil Wolverton, but I also see elements of the Chiodo Bros’ Killer Klowns from Outer Space — and not just in the sequence where the whacked-out Pope crashes a late-night clown bacchanal. As a writer, Baltimore native Houston occasionally overdoes the jive talkin’, but, then overkill is the game in this kind of loopy GN. The easily offended — and William Donohue — are advised to looked elsewhere. Me, I’m hankering to NetFlix Shaft in Africa.