The film is full of slapstick, but it certainly is not humorous. The fighting and action is all over the place, but its anarchy is indecipherable with no narrative purpose other than stereotype. The film ends with everything in shambles. The government aid was floundered, the upgraded home disheveled; it's as if the filmmakers had been given a potentially strong metaphor of what Navajo life must have been like at a rocky time in our nation's cultural history (a metaphor, perhaps, spelled out in the book and completely misinterpreted?), and squander it without the slighest recognition. Worse, the movie ends with the tribe looking the most irresponsible in a film of buffoonery. If the lesson to be gleaned was to let the tribe be happy on its own terms, the terms are spelled out through mindless inebriation and guffaws.
It's something similar to Billy Jack (white guy trained in Karate plays a half-Indian the white women can't stay away from) but, where that suffers from amateurish, one-dimensional contrived moral sympathies, at least it's wanting you to feel something. Billy Jack uses politics as a narrative device without giving them any depth beyond brutality (which, too, is pretty irresponsible in a movie about the Natives' "loyalty" played by a white man), while Stay Away, Joe skirts political debate to laugh it all off. The final laugh isn't a cynical, hopeless one in which to laugh is our only response to the world's anarchy, it's a cop-out-- a filmmakers' irresponsibility that paints the Native irresponsible.
Also, Elvis sings a song to a bull.
Strangely, outside of some really bad grease paint, Elvis looks not only healthy, but happy in the motionless narrative. Perhaps the shiftless hi-jinks of the movie played right into the attitude Elvis's Memphis Mafia were used to on the earlier movie sets. Elvis's entourage had to be warned on the set of Clambake to keep the practical joking to a minimum. Here, instead, two of them (Joe Esposito and Charlie Hodge) were given bit roles. Perhaps Presley was finally resigned to the contractual nonsense (and in this way, maybe the metaphor to the Native Americans dealing with bureaucracy finally does make a little sense) and realized, if you can't beat 'em, laugh. -- ZERO/four stars