Nate and Hayes is one of those oft forgotten, semi-classics that’s very existence will surely surprise younger pirate fans – who knew that Tommy Lee Jones starred in a pirate film? (Wait until you learn that so did James Earl Jones, but that’s a future review.) Filmed in 1983, Nate and Hayes is a definite product of its time as it features a decent film effort combined with some wildly dated concepts. But if watched with a forgiving mind, it’s still an enjoyable film and well worth watching.
The story begins at the end, or near enough. We’re introduced to pirate Bully Hayes (Jones), as he attempts to complete an arms smuggling job with some incredibly bizarre island natives (namely white folk in afros wearing matching red and black outfits.) The deal sours, and we witness the deaths of most of the characters we’ve yet to be introduced to, capped off by the capture of Bully Hayes to be hanged for crimes against Spain. It’s in this manner that we’re soon to encounter the movie’s primary storyline – told through a series of flashbacks as Hayes recounts his adventures to a news reporter.
Hayes, it seems, had been recently commissioned to ferry an engaged couple to their new home in the south pacific, where Nate (the male half of the couple) was intending to serve as a new minister to the natives. Nate is as clean cut and naive as he is egotistical. His fiance, Sophie, is equally untarnished, although strangely fetching in her “Dreamhouse Barbie” sailor outfit. Long story short, following Bully Hayes’ departure, Nate and Sophie’s island wedding is interrupted by pirates. Many are killed and others are kidnapped, including Sophie. Nate, who’d been knocked out and left for dead, mistakenly believes Bully Hayes to be Sophie’s captor, and sets out on a one man rescue mission for which he’s entirely unqualified. Very soon he winds up shipwrecked on a barely-submerged sandbar (and thus appears to any passing ships as walking on water), and shortly thereafter is rescued by none other than Bully Hayes. After some aggressive banter it becomes clear to Nate that it wasn’t Hayes, but rather a rival pirate, Ben Pease, who’d framed Hayes in his eternal fight for vengeance ever since Hayes had turned him into a ball-less wonder (seriously – that’s the explanation.) This leads to Nate and Hayes joining forces to enact Sophie’s rescue, thus bringing them into conflict with Pease, cannibals, and even the German Empire.
The acting is give or take – Nate shows some definite weakness at times, but the remaining cast does a passable job. Tommy Lee Jones makes for a surprisingly decent, non-stereotypical pirate. The story is fun if not terribly original, save for one tidbit of brilliance that – while integral to the story – could have been moreso. Bully Hayes is a pirate after his time. Forget Jimmy Buffet’s “I am a pirate, two hundred years too late”, imagine the pain of being a pirate a mere generation too late. The south pacific of Nate and Hayes is one in which steel ships have begun to replace wood, and steam replace sails. As he waits for the gallows, it would seem that Hayes recognizes that it’s not only his own time that’s about to end, but that he’s the last of a long dead breed. This concept is highlighted in the films almost-final battle, when Hayes and crew must face off against a Civil War style armored ship – it’s a battle between old and new, and while we all know how history actually played out in the big picture, it’s fun to see the sailing vessel kick butt on the small screen.
Nate and Hayes is a fun romp, if not exactly a stellar movie. It has its awkward bits, strange humor, and bizarre costume choices at times. But these elements aside, it remains an enjoyable flick.