The Last American Virgin
1982, MGM/UA Rated R
Written & Directed by Boaz Davidson
Not your ordinary Eighties teen movie, though early on it certainly appears to be that and little more. Lawrence Monoson plays Gary, a typical high school student who -- surprise, surprise -- is determined to lose his virginity. He doesn't particularly care which girl he loses it with, either -- until he spies Karen (Diane Franklin.) Unfortunately for Gary, Karen likes his friend Rick (Steve Antin). Rick has much better luck with the opposite sex than Gary does, but their friendship can survive Gary's envy -- or can it?
About three-fourths of the way through the film, Rick gets Karen pregnant and then gives her the cold shoulder. Gary rides to the rescue, proving his love by paying for Karen's abortion and taking care of her. Briefly it appears that true love will win out. The movie ends, however, with Karen back in Rick's arms and Gary driving away in tears. He has lost not only his virginity but his naivety as well.
Overshadowed by the glitzy teen flicks produced in the years to come (nearly all of which end happily ever after), The Last American Virgin has become a cult favorite, and is of particular interest as a chronicle of the fashion and music of American youth in the early 80s. The soundtrack includes tunes by The Police, Blondie, Oingo Boingo, U2 and The Commodores. What sets this movie apart from others of its kind is its sobering message -- sex can have unpleasant consequences and love doesn't always carry the day.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $5.8 million
US release date: 3.1.82
"Whip It," Devo
"Open Arms," Journey
"I Will Follow," U2
"I Know What Boys Like," The Waitresses
"De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," Police
1988, MGM, Rated R
Written & Directed by
Donald P. Bellisario
Donald P. Bellisario created (as well as produced and wrote) a number of classic TV series -- Magnum, P.I., Quantum Leap and JAG, to name a few. From that track record one can infer that Bellisario had good instincts when it came to material. Last Rites was his shot at the big screen. It failed dismally -- and for good reason. Tom Berenger plays Michael Pace, a Catholic priest with ties to the Mafia -- his father is a Mafia don -- who falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Angela (Daphne Zuniga), who witnessed a murder. Not just any murder, but the cold-blooded shooting death of the husband of Michael's sister (Anne Twomey), who turns out to be the perpetrator. But what appears at first to be a crime of passion is in fact a good, old-fashioned vendetta, for we learn that the victim had provided the authorities with "the goods" on Don Carlo, who now faces spending the rest of his life behind bars. Michael is torn between his dedication to Christ -- not to mention loyalty to family -- and his feelings for Angela, who turns out to be anything but the innocent she pretends to be.
It's a story with possibilities, but also one full of pitfalls -- and Bellisario manages to tumble into nearly every one of them. Despite the best efforts of Berenger and Twomey (whose Zena is a delightfully chilling and lethal ice queen) to infuse the material with some integrity, the cliche-ridden script drags the film into mediocrity. Bellisario displays glimpses of directorial flare in a few scenes, and glaring ineptitude in others. Daphne Zuniga blows her one shot at a serious role; Angela proves to be a far too complicated role for her, and, quite frankly, it's amazing that her career survived the debacle of this performance. Berenger and Twomey were probably relieved that so few people saw Last Rites; the film died a quick death at the box office, and Bellisario returned to TV, where he belonged.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $427,000
US release date: 11.18.88
"All Of My Life," Deborah Pratt
Lean on Me
1989, Warner Bros., Rated PG-13
Directed by John G.Avildson
Written by Michael Schiffer
One of the chief battlegrounds upon which the "Culture Wars" of the 1980s were fought was the public school system. The failure of America's education system was a top priority among concerned citizens. Not surprisingly, Hollywood delivered numerous films on the subject, from The Principal to Teachers to Stand and Deliver. This film is perhaps most closely related to the latter; both are based on real people, educators who made a difference. Jaime Escalante is the subject of Stand and Deliver, while "Crazy Joe" Clark is the focus of Lean on Me. Where Escalante was a meek, self-effacing man who led by example, Clark had an entirely different approach. Charged with transforming Eastside High (Paterson, NJ) from an inner city hell where drug dealers reigned into a school whose students could pass the state's proficiency exam, Clark came on like gangbusters, practicing an extreme form of "tough love" to whip his "children" into shape. He was just the sort of hero that Americans in the 1980s could root for, the kind of educator who scorned the sensitive, liberal approach to teaching of the Seventies. (Gabe Kotter wouldn't have lasted a day in Clark's school.) The Rambo of the schoolyard, he prowls the halls with bullhorn and baseball bat, doling out stern punishment for even the slightest infraction.
Arguably, Joe Clark is the only man who could bring order out of the Eastside High chaos, but his methods are so extreme that film critics cringed, using words like "fascist" and "martinet" to describe the character. As a work of art, Lean on Me is a formulaic exercise lacking any surprises -- you know from the moment Clark lays down the law to Eastside's teaching staff that he will prevail. Director John Avildsen, who had won an Oscar for Rocky (1976) and kudos for The Karate Kid, knows how to beguile an audience, and no doubt many a parent cheered Crazy Joe Clark in the theater, only to wonder later, upon sober reflection, whether they would, in reality, subject their child to his questionable tactics. Avildsen's expertise fail him at the movie's conclusion, though, with a silly scene in which Clark leads the entire Eastside student body in a rendition of "Lean On Me." This is followed by an even sillier scene, when said student body marches on the townhall, demanding the release of their principal, who's been arrested for violating fire codes -- he had all the school entrances locked down to prevent drug dealers from getting in. Such sentimental pablum suits melodrama like Rocky and The Karate Kid, but it seems out of place here. The film is still worth watching, however, if only to experience a stellar performance by 52-year-old Morgan Freeman -- who was but a year away from earning an Academy Award for Driving Miss Daisy -- as the angry, obsessed and autocratic Crazy Joe. And those who only know Robert Guillaume from his role in the television sitcom Benson may be astonished at the intensity of his performance as Clark's immediate superior.
Eighties Club rating:**
1986, MCA, Rated PG
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
Redford and Winger make a very watchable pair in this romantic comedy consciously reminiscent of the Tracy and Hepburn, Adam's Rib kind of film made back in Hollywood's Golden Age. Tom Logan (Redford) is an assistant district attorney destined for higher office -- until he becomes involved with defense attorney Laura Kelly (Winger), whose spaced-out but gorgeous client, Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah) drags both lawyers into a mystery that involves art fraud and murder. In a moment of completely understandable weakness, Logan sleeps with Chelsea, who suddenly becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a highly respected (but crooked) art dealer she believes is responsible for the death of her artist father and the disappearance of his extremely valuable paintings. Losing his job because of this dalliance with a murder suspect, Logan goes into partnership with Laura to defend Chelsea.
Romance blossoms between the two attorneys, and therein lies the appeal of Legal Eagles; a real chemistry between Redford and Winger make every scene they share a delight. Unfortunately, with so much gunplay, arson and dead bodies cropping up during their investigation, there isn't much screen time left over to develop their relationship. The film was directed by Ivan Reitman, whose credits include Stripes and Ghostbusters, and the script was penned by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr., who had written Top Gun, so perhaps that's why at times Legal Eagles lapses into slapstick that is too broad or action that is too incongruous for romantic comedy. (Footnote: the male lead was originally intended for Bill Murray, who had often worked with director Reitman; this would have been an entirely different -- not better, just different -- kind of film with Murray in Redford's place.)
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $49.8 million
US release date: 6.18.86
"Love Touch," Rod Stewart
"Put Out The Fire," Daryl Hannah
"Good Lovin'," The Rascals
"Magic Carpet Ride," Steppenwolf
Less Than Zero
1987, 20th Century-Fox, Rated R
Robert Downey, Jr.
Directed by Marek Kanievska
Written by Harley Peyton from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
You've heard that life sometimes imitates art? Well, here is an uncanny case in point. Robert Downey, Jr., who has literally thrown his career away because of a drug addiction, plays Julian, a promising and engaging young man who throws his life away for cocaine. He does this in spite of the best efforts of his good friend Clay (Andrew McCarthy) and Blair (Jami Gertz), the girl they both care for. The film opens with the trio graduating from high school and filled with grand schemes for the future; Julian plans to open a recording studio, Blair is launching a modeling career, and Clay is off to an Ivy League college. But when Clay returns to the West Coast for Christmas, he finds Blair and Julian both strung out on drugs, their dreams turned to dust. Clay manages to save Blair, but he can't rescue Julian from a harrowing descent into self-destruction, aided and abetted by a sleazy dealer named Rip (James Spader.)
Based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, a member of the Eighties' literary brat pack, Less Than Zero is, at times, a chilling depiction of drug addiction set against a backdrop of Beverly Hills wealth and glamor. This was not the only Ellis novel focusing on the "new lost generation" of the children of baby boomers, but it will be the one for which he is remembered. Thankfully, the movie avoids the bizarre and brutal excesses of Ellis' story. (Ellis would go on to write American Psycho.) Particularly intriguing is the way the sets and lighting give the elegant mansions and glam dance clubs -- the milieu of the film's main characters -- a superficial, funhouse effect through which Julian, the tragic clown, stumbles inexorably towards oblivion. Downey gives arguably the best performance of his career. (Rumor has it that he experimented with drugs to give the role authenticity -- and became addicted.) McCarthy and Gertz are less effective; the former tends to underplay while the latter overacts. And Spader, as usual, is excellent; his Rip is a slick predator prowling through the rich and disaffected youth looking for fresh victims. The darkest of the Brat Pack films, Less Than Zero reminds us of The Lost Weekend (1945), Billy Wilder's gripping foray into the destruction wrought by alcoholism, and while it's not as good, it's still effective.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $12.4 million
US release date: November 1987
"A Hazy Shade Of Winter"
"Rock And Roll All Night," Poison
"Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," Aerosmith
"She's Lost You," Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
"Going Back To Cali," LL Cool J
"Life Fades Away," Roy Orbison
"Christmas in Hollis," Run-D.M.C
"Fight Like A Brave," Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Moonlight Drive," The Doors
Lost in America
1985, Geffen, Rated R
Directed by Albert Brooks
Written by Albert Brooks & Monica Mcgowan Johnson
David Howard (Albert Brooks) is the penultimate '80s yuppie. He's about to buy a brand new house and is shopping for just the right Mercedes because after eight years with a premier L.A.-based advertising firm he's expecting a promotion to vice-president. When he discovers that instead of a promotion he's being transferred to the New York office he flips, rants as his boss until he gets fired, and decides that he and his ditzy wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) are going to check out of the rat race, buy a Winnebago, and travel around the country on their $145,000 nest-egg -- a yuppie version of Easy Rider. With "Born To Be Wild" rocking the soundtrack, we see David and Linda embark on their grand adventure (with a one-finger salute from a biker dude as a send-off.) The adventure, however, turns into a nightmare when Linda catches gambling fever in Las Vegas and loses their entire nest-egg, thrusting the Howards into a situation guaranteed to curl the toes of every self-respecting yuppie; David has to accept a job as a school crossing guard and Linda becomes a donut shop assistant manager in some one-horse Arizona town. Naturally, it isn't long before David Howard decides to check back into the rat race. He has discovered that if you don't have money it's just no fun livin' in the USA.
Albert Brooks is a jack-of-all-trades -- actor, writer, director. He wears all three hats for Lost in America. His writing is excellent; this is one of the most intelligent, satirical scripts ever to be transferred to film. A list of memorable quotes would be virtually endless, and to mention all the truly classic scenes would be exhausting. As David Howard, Brooks is not very likeable -- he's long-winded, patronizing and sometimes just plain obnoxious -- and some viewers might find themselves feeling entirely unsympathetic towards Howard and his plight. But therein lies the genius that is Albert Brooks. You're not suppose to root for David Howard. He's a yuppie, for crying out loud -- a species of human that in "Middle America" is as out of place as a fish out of water. Julie Hagerty does a capable job of portraying the pleasantly bland Linda who, if you'll notice, only shows some life when she's out of her somewhat overbearing husband's shadow. The supporting cast is superb, with Gary Marshall (the casino manager) and Michael Greene (Howard's boss) standing out. But this is Albert Brooks' show, and with a few exceptions -- Linda's running off with ex-con is a digression that adds nothing to the story -- he pulls it off. His brand of humor -- subtle, dry, sometimes caustic -- is not for everyone; there's no slapstick here. But if you want to see a little fun poked at the "white-collars," try Lost in America.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $10.2 million
US release date: 2.15.85
Nat'l Society of Film Critics Award (USA)
1989, Tri-Star, Rated PG-13
Directed by Joan Micklin Silver
Written by Robin Schiff, Tom Rpelewski & Leslie Dixon
Randy Bodek (Patrick Dempsey) has blown it, big time, at college. His grades are so bad that his father refuses to pay for next year. To make matters worse, Randy has taken girlfriend Jenny (Nancy Galen), for granted. Now Randy has to make $9,000 over the summer in order to get back to school and make things right with Jenny. He gets a job at Senor Pizza and is lured into the sack by an exotic older woman named Alex (Barbara Carrera.) Alex decides to help Randy make money by turning him into a young gigolo for older women. The plot thickens when Randy's father (Robert Ginty) becomes convinced that his son is gay. It thickens even more when one of the women Randy "services" is the wife of his father's business partner. And when Randy's mother concludes that her husband is having an affair with his secretary, she turns for advice to a friend (Kirstie Alley) who suggests she arrange a rendezvous with a young gigolo who works out of a pizza parlor . . . .Okay, you get the idea. Loverboy is the classic comedy of errors, with one hilarious misadventure piled on top of another. While the supporting cast is first-rate, including (aside from those mentioned above) Kate Jackson, Carrie Fisher and Vic Tayback, it's Patrick Dempsey who makes the movie work. Dempsey, who starred in Can't Buy Me Love, one of the best teen flick of the Eighties, demonstrates yet again in this film his flair for physical comedy and pathos reminiscent of Buster Keaton, and why he never achieved the stardom he deserved is one of the enduring mysteries of Eighties film history. Loverboy has been an underrated film, ignored by critics, but it's entertaining slapstick with a moral -- that caring is at least as important as sex in a relationship, and communication is a must.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $3.9 million
US release date: 4.28.89
1986, 20th Century Fox, Rated PG-13
Written & Directed dy David Seltzer
The 1980s can be legitimately described as the golden age of teen flicks. Some are memorable -- The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, come immediately to mind. Many, though, were strictly average, falling into a formula that may have worked for audiences in the Eighties but does not age well. That formula usually includes the insensitive jock, the geek/outsider, a love triangle, and a climax involving some type of big competition in which the underdog hero proves himself worthy of the girl's affections and the respect of his peers. On the face of it, Lucas seems to embrace that formula. We have Lucas Blye (Corey Haim), a 14-year-old accelerated student who loves bugs and classical music -- certainly not someone who would find it easy to "fit in" at your typical high school. He meets pretty 17-year-old Maggie (Kerri Green), a newcomer who (like Lucas) doesn't have any friends. Lucas and Maggie spend an idyllic summer together, becoming good friends. Lucas, though, falls in love with Maggie, who in turn falls for star football player Cappie (Charlie Sheen). To prove he's worthy of Maggie's affections, pint-sized Lucas risks vast amounts of ridicule in trying out for the football team. With eyes only for Maggie, he can't see that another classmate, Rina (Winona Ryder), has eyes only for him.
But Lucas is by no means your ordinary '80s teen film. It's a sensitive, heartwarming exploration of the emotional conflicts faced by teenagers of every stripe, and of the tragic fact that maturation is predicated on the surrender of a fragile idealism to reality. The movie rings true in nearly every scene, and credit must go to all three of its young stars, who can speak volumes in their acting without saying a word. David Seltzer, who wrote as well as directed Lucas, orchestrates a number of classic scenes in which he wisely allows expressions and body language do much of the talking. Case in point: the scene in which Cappie and Maggie timidly begin their romance in the high school laundry room is exquisitely on the mark even though the dialogue is deliberately trite. Corey Haim never does a better job than as the complicated Lucas; Charlie Sheen tackles the infinitely difficult task of playing a jock with heart; and a real tragedy is that Kerri Green, who makes of Maggie one of the most authentic characters in any film of this genre, decided to quit acting to study art not long after Lucas was made. And Winona Ryder, in her debut on the big screen, shows flashes of the brilliance that would quickly make her a star. If the movie has a flaw it is the utilization of a "big game" at the end to bring about a resolution to the conflict that arises between Lucas, Maggie and Cappie. Thankfully, Seltzer turns that part of the formula on its head, and gives us a wholly realistic -- and very touching -- conclusion.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $8.2 million
US release date: 3.28.86
"Walk Of Life," Dire Straits
"Night Rolls On," Chris Farren
"King For A Day," Thompson Twins