Theme Song: Adventurous orchestral music composed by Trevor Jones(Labyrinth, The Last of the Mohicans). If you’re really curious, a soundtrack album has been released.
Interesting Dated References: Swashbuckling; fighting with swords; the many unsuccessful pirate films of the 1980s: Yellowbeard, The Pirate Movie, Pirates, The Pirates of Penzance, and Ice Pirates.
Best Line: Nothing of note.
Social Context: There are anti-technology undertones running throughout the movie. Bully Hayes is a sword-swinging pirate in the mid-1800s, which is when steam-powered ships were the preferred method of travel and guns were the preferred method of combat. But through his more primitive ways, he’s able to outsmart the main antagonist.
Summary: It’ll be easier to understand Nate and Hayes if you know it’s a post-Raiders of the Lost Ark action/adventure released by Paramount. Apparently Paramount wasn’t content waiting for the sequel to Raiders (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and instead decided to try to create another family-friendly action franchise. Despite the presence of John Hughes as co-writer, these efforts were not successful.
Nate and Hayes begins by introducing us to Captain Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones), a gruff pirate dealing arms to the defenseless natives in the jungles of an un-named primitive island. When the leader of said natives refuses to pay, Hayes barely escapes, and in the process leaves most of his crew for dead.
Since it’s the 80s and this is family-friendly action, there’s a rope-bridge sequence that is very similar to the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, even though the latter didn’t come out for another year. That’s somewhat irrelevant, though, since both sequences echo 1971’s The Lady Hermit.
After escaping the bridge, Hayes is arrested by the Spanish government for selling guns to the natives and is sentenced to death. While imprisoned, his appointed lawyer asks Hayes how he got there and so begins a flashback that spans the entire film.
You see, Hayes was minding his own business running a trading company (the 1800s way of saying courier service). While taking a young couple to their families remote island for a wedding ceremony, Hayes begins to have feeling for the young bride, Sophie.
He also has conflict with Sophie’s stuck-up soon-to-be husband Nathaniel. Sophie gets Hayes alone and gives him some money, which she wants to invest in his trading company, and then they longingly stare at each other a bunch.
Finally they arrive on the island that is full of natives and Nathaniel’s relatives. Hayes and Sophie have a heartfelt goodbye and Nathaniel gets all jealous. Just so we know Hayes and Sophie are into each other, there are 45 scenes of them staring longingly at each other as the ship sails away.
Later at dinner, Nathaniel’s uncle tells the couple that Bully Hayes is a pirate and a slave monger and that they’re lucky to be alive. For a movie that is supposed to be a family-friendly action/adventure, the pacing (like this review) sure is dragging.
The next day the wedding ceremony begins, only to be invaded by slave-monger pirates. In order to make him look like an asshole, the leader, Pease, insists on putting Hayes’ trademarked graffiti-tag bird on everything . Things go from light to miserable, and the tonal shift is ridiculous. Everyone on the island is either murdered or taken slave. Nathaniel is shot and left for dead but wakes up hours later to see the entire island engulfed in flames.
He finds the sole surviving native who tells him, “White man … take everyone,” which makes Nathaniel scream out, “Bully Hayes,” at the sky. Nathaniel is played by Michael O’Keefe, whom you may remember from the excellent Split Image. O’Keefe can be pretty intense, but his over-the-top shrieking seems a bit out of place in Nate and Hayes, which up until five minutes ago had been fairly light-hearted and comical.
Without any forethought or logistical planning, Nathaniel sets out into the vast ocean to find Hayes, only to run aground on a sand barge. Lucky for him Hayes had turned his ship around (it’s not really clear why) and they pick him up. After a brief altercation, Hayes convinces Nathaniel, who everyone is now calling “Nate,” that Pease is the one to blame, and whom they should find and kill.
Meanwhile, Pease tries to sell all the captured natives to some German diplomat, and things get really slow again. Sophie, who is being held captive on the ship, almost gets raped in yet another awkward tone shift.
Nate and Hayes immediately land in the exact same port where Pease is hiding out. Hayes goes on the hunt while Nate goes to a slavery auction, gets upset, and does another overwrought O’Keefe shriek.
Then Nate sneaks onto Pease’s ship and finds a note his bride Sophie left for Hayes. Basically it says where they’re going to take her next, but Nate gets all jealous because the note isn’t for him, even though Sophie thinks Nate was dead after the island massacre.
Back in the shady port, Hayes and his crew easily pick off Pease’s gang one by one. Just when they’re about to capture Pease, he escapes (with Sophie stuffed inside a barrel) on a newfangled, steam-powered ship. So Nate and Hayes go after him on a different boat. They sit and talk about the note that Sophie left and decide they should let her decide who she wants to be with.
The next day, Pease and crew land on the island of Penabi. They offer up Sophie to the native king, who immediately ties her up to some contraption that looks like a giant He-Man playset from the 80s covered with two erect penises. Nate and Hayes arrive on the island, untie her, and escape.
Pease gives chase in his steam-powered ship. Nate, Hayes, and crew are able to sneak onto the steam-powered ship, kill most of the crew, rig the ship to explode, and get safely back to their own ship in the span of two minutes. Then everyone gets happy and Sophie decides she wants to be with Nate.
Aren’t you bored? I’m bored. Now we’re back to the jail scene. Hayes explains that after that incident he vowed to help the defenseless from slave mongers by arming them with guns. But before he can finish the thought, the guards bust in to hang him.
At the galley, Hayes realizes that Nate is posing as the priest. He busts out guns, throws one to Hayes, and they make their escape with Sophie’s help and everyone is suddenly happy. There’s a lot wrong with Nate and Hayes: Abrupt tonal shifts, unengaging characters, slow scenes, etc. Audiences didn’t bite and the movie was considered a failure.
Poster and Box Art:The poster for Nate and Hayes is a little strange. The guys are just kind of standing in the center, not really doing anything. Plus the type treatment is a little too modern for a movie about swashbuckling pirates. It doesn’t help that the title makes the movie sound like some type of buddy comedy.
This “Nate” type is fucking awesome, though. Some super angular charcoal thing going that looks really insane.
Nate and Hayes was marketed as Savage Islands in Europe. The foreign poster (and title) is a bit more fitting. Good character illustrations and use of negative space.