1987, Film Dallas, Rated R
Directed by David Burton Morris
John Jenkins, Karen Landry, David Burton Morris & Chris Mulkey
Billy (Chris Mulkey) is a bluecollar worker with a wife and kids who has a real dilemma -- he has cheated on his wife and the "other woman" is pregnant with his child. He convinces his friend Eddie (John Jenkins) to accompany him on a long drive to the town where the woman, Patti (Karen Landry), lives. The long-suffering Eddie wants Billy to level with Patti about his married status; Billy is just hoping for a miracle that will get him out of this jam. He is, in short, a charming cad. During the trip he regales Eddie with boastful tales of sexual conquest. But Billy is not the macho stud he makes himself out to be, as is amply demonstrated in a confrontation with an aggressive older woman along the way. And upon arrival at Patti's apartment, Billy proves that he is a thirty-year-old kid sorely lacking in the ability to relate to women, not to mention to respect them. Eddie, on the other hand, reveals that he is more than just a passive sounding board for Billy's ceaseless off-color jokes; his compassion lands him in Patti's arms.
This low-budget independent film proves that you don't need Hollywood moguls or million-dollar stars to make a memorable movie. The cast of virtual unknowns craft highly believable characters. Chris Mulkey does a very credible job of handling a difficult task; he must make Billy, a sex addict without integrity, someone we can actually feel sorry for rather than just despise. At times the script is overly profane -- this is definitely not a movie for children -- but because it is an integral part of who Billy is, the profanity is (arguably) justified. (The film narrowly escaped an X rating because of the language.) Like any other art form, cinema is at its best when it provides us with a window by which we can view the human condition. Patti Rocks exposes us to the downside of human weakness without plunging us into despair. It can do this because it reminds us of the durable human spirit. Like all of us, Billy, Eddie and Patti are stumbling down the road of life littered with mistakes and regrets. But they cope, and keep moving. That alone qualifies as triumph.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $345,000
1989, Columbia, Rated R
Directed by Michael Crichton
Written by Bill Phillips & Steve Ransohoff
This film opens with the discovery of a body beneath a bridge by a man intent on killing himself by jumping off the span with a rope around his neck -- an appropriate scene, punctuated with dark humor, for a thriller that explores the seamy side of human nature. Hardnosed cop Joe Paris (Burt Reynolds), is arrested for the murder of a crooked club owner, and his public defender, Jenny Hudson (Theresa Russell), has to wonder if her client is guilty. The wily district attorney, James Nicks (Ned Beatty) has no doubts on that score. There are plenty of other suspects -- the dead man's sleazy son and his business rival to name a couple. But Paris is an extremely violent man, sp it's entirely plausible that he did the deed. This, however, doesn't prevent Joe and Jenny from falling in love while they fit together the pieces of a puzzle that, she hopes, will prove Joe isn't a killer, after all.
Directed by Michael Crichton, Physical Evidence was produced by Martin Ransohoff, the man who brought us a similar -- and much superior -- film in 1985 called Jagged Edge. The problem with Physical Evidence lies with the inability of its stars to provide convincing portrayals. Both of them are capable of much better work. Russell, one of the most beautiful and sultry actresses around, is astonishingly wooden in her performance as the preppy Jenny, it's as though she'd come straight out of a freshman acting class. For his part, Reynolds seems to have forgotten how to play it straight; in the Seventies he could be quite convincing in dramas like Deliverance and The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, but with the possible exception of Elmore Leonard's Stick (1985),in the Eighties he couldn't seem to get through a film without exhibiting some of the buffoonery that makes him ideal for movies like Smokey and the Bandit. Physical Evidence doesn't work unless the audience believes Joe Paris is a dangerous character, and Reynolds drops the ball in that department. To make things worse, there is absolutely no chemistry between Reynolds and Russell, so the love story doesn't work either. What's left is a strictly average cops-n-robbers flick.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $3.6 million
US release date: 1.27.89
The Pick-up Artist
1987, 20th Century Fox, Rated PG-13
Robert Downey, Jr.
Written & Directed by James Toback
This romantic comedy is blessed with so much acting talent that filmgoers must have had high expectations. If so, those expectations were dashed. Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey, Jr. were two of the most exciting young stars in Tinseltown in the Eighties, and in this film they are supported by a first-rate cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Harvey Keitel, and Danny Aiello. The concept is promising: Jack Jericho (Downey) is a young New Yorker who spends a lot of time perfecting pick-up lines and then striking out when he tries them on the beautiful women he accosts on the street. He strikes out, that is, until he meets Randy Jensen (Ringwald), who has sex with him in his red Camaro convertible. (Would someone like Jack drive any other car? Of course not!) Downey falls head over heels for Randy, but she wants nothing more to do with him; for a woman so young she's developed a very jaundiced view of men, based (we assume) on the disappointment she feels towards her father, Flash (Hopper), a drunken failure who's in trouble with the Mob over an unpaid loan. Sleazy mobster Alonzo (Keitel) doesn't help by offering to forgive the debt if she'll sleep with a bigshot he's pimping for. When Randy loses her savings at an Atlantic City blackjack table, Jack comes to the rescue, selling his beloved car for money enough to bet on one turn of the roulette wheel.
Will Jack win enough to pay off the debt, and save Randy and her father? Will his gallantry change Randy's mind where men are concerned? Well of course we know the answer in advance, because The Pick-up Artist is a movie of stereotypes and tired old cliches. Hopper, Keitel and Aiello all reprise roles they've done in better films, and this isn't Downey's first turn as a glib young man-of-the-Eighties-on-the-make. He's supposed to be transformed into something better by true love, and in the end the film makes a half-hearted attempt to convince us that the transformation has taken place. As always, Ringwald is a joy to watch; unfortunately, she isn't given enough scenes to fully develop what is potentially the most interesting character in the movie. It would have helped had Keitel and Aiello been given more to work with, as well. Instead, we are overexposed to Jack Jericho, and while Downey gives a commendable, high energy performance, the character becomes as annoying to us as he is to the women he targets. (Look for Vanessa Williams in a brief appearance as one of his victims.) In the end, The Pick-up Artist doesn't live up to its potential. It's standard Eighties fare -- an amusing way to pass the time. Just don't get your hopes up.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $13.3 million
US release date: 9.11.87
"Da Doo Ron Ron," The Crystals
"The Pick-up Artist," Keith John
"Don't Hang Up," The Orlons
"(The Best Part of) Breaking Up," The Ronettes
"She's Crafty," The Beastie Boys
1989, Warner Bros., Rated PG-13
Michael Des Barres
Directed by Buddy Van Horn
Written by John Eskow
Tom Nowaks (Clint Eastwood) is a skip tracer -- a man who goes after those who've jumped bail -- and he's one of the best at the job because he uses guile to capture the fugitives. He'll pretend to be a rodeo clown or an effusive DJ giving away a night-on-the-town with Dolly Parton in order to get close enough to his prey to slap the handcuffs on them. This time he's after Lou Ann (Bernadette Peters), the wife of a member of the white supremacist group called Birthright. She took the heat for a criminal enterprise dreamed up by the Birthright leader, Alex (Michael Des Barres), and then tried to escape the conundrum in her hubbie's '59 pink Cadillac. Only later does she learn of the $250,000 in ill-gotten cash in the trunk -- money intended to fund Birthright's schemes. Before long, Nowaks and Lou Ann are on the run from Birthright's goons, and Tom, despite his best efforts to remain emotionally detached, falls in love with the beautiful fugitive. And when Lou Ann's baby is abducted by Birthright, he decides to venture into the group's remote encampment to reunite mother and infant.
Pink Cadillac repeats a formula with which Eastwood and Co. had previously had success -- a blend of comedy, action and romance a la Bronco Billy and Any Which Way You Can. And while Bernadette Peters is very watchable as the female lead, there isn't much chemistry between her and Eastwood, who was never very strong in the screen romance department, anyway. The film attempts to mix light comedy with white supremacist racism -- a disparate blend if ever there was one. Perhaps was the intent to make fun of the white supremacy movement; after all, it seems the only thing the Birthright thugs are good at is shooting at cardboard targets. And, no matter how much he snarls and glowers, Des Barres can't summon an ounce of menace as the group's leader. (For a more serious portrayal of white supremacy, see 1989's Dead-Bang, starring Don Johnson.) Eastwood may have hoped that the variety of Nowaks' impersonations would give him an opportunity to expand his range, but for the most part he appears uncomfortable and unconvincing. Still, though Pink Cadillac ranks as Eastwood's worst '80s film, it has enough eye candy with Peters, the Caddy, and the backdrop of Reno, to be mildly entertaining. (Look for Jim Carrey in a small part as a stand-up comedian spoofing Elvis personators.)
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $12.1 million
US release date: 5.26.89
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
1987, Paramount, Rated R
Written & Directed by John Hughes
This heartwarming, screwball comedy is, without doubt, a masterpiece, probably the funniest film of the decade. Neal Page (Steve Martin), is a businessman trying to get from New York to his home in Chicago in time for a Thanksgiving with his lovely wife Susan (Laila Ronins) and three kids. Murphy's Law immediately kicks in (which will come as no surprise to anyone who travels a lot.) First, Page loses his taxi to Del Griffith (John Candy), a jovial shower-ring salesman. Then he's bumped from first-class to coach on his flight to Chicago -- and ends up sitting next to Del. The plane is diverted to Wichita, Kansas because of bad weather, and Neal finds himself sharing a motel room with Del -- then a train, a bus, a car and an 18-wheeler. One mishap after another plague our travelers, who happen to be as unlikely a pair as one could possibly imagine. Neal is a neat freak, Del a slob. Del knows the complete lyrics to The Flintstones theme, Neal only knows "Three Coins In A Fountain." So imagine Neal's surprise when he discovers that he actually cares what happens to Del, setting us up for a truly touching -- and surprising -- conclusion.
John Hughes is best known for his quality teen films of the '80s -- Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club -- but this adult comedy is in our humble opinion his finest work, providing us with two characters of great depth thrust into situations to which we can relate in a movie that will have you howling with laughter and smiling warmly at its message of goodwill towards men. Steve Martin and John Candy are perfectly cast, and both give the performances of their careers. Of the numerous memorable scenes, a fan favorite is Martin's tirade directed at a customer service rep for a rental car agency. (That scene is the reason for the film's R rating.) We strongly recommend you take this wickedly funny journey with Neal and Del. It's one you'll never forget. Look for Kevin Bacon and William Windom in hilarious cameo parts.
Eighties Club rating: ****
US box office: $49.2 million
US release date: 11.25.87
"I Can Take Anything,"
E.T.A. with Steve Martin & John Candy
"Power To Believe," Dream Academy
"Six Days On The Road," Steve Earle & The Dukes
"Back In Baby's Arms," Emmylou Harris
"Do The Mess Around," Ray Charles
"Red River Rock," Silicon Teens
(& more; MCA)
1985, Tri-Star, Rated R
Directed by George Bowers
Written by Gordon Mitchell, Ken Segall & Alan Wenkus
In the mid-Eighties there was a rash of what one critic has called "spring break movies" -- a sub-genre of the teen flicks that had their golden age during the decade. Spring break movies had several things in common -- lots of beaches, bikinis and booze. Private Resort is the best of the lot, thanks to stars Rob Morrow and Johnny Depp, who would go on to bigger and better things, with Morrow heading for a Northern Exposure up Alaska way and Depp moving into 21 Jump Street before becoming a top-notch movie star in the Nineties. Of course, saying that this film is the best of the lot isn't saying much. It's a sex comedy, and that means a lot of bare skin and a modicum of laughs, most of the latter stemming from silly slapstick. Ben and Jack (Morrow and Depp) are checked into a posh Florida resort looking for girls. There are plenty of those around, naturally. Ben falls for Patti (Emily Longstreth), a waitress at the resort who is trying to fend off unwanted attention from a jerk co-worker, while Jack falls for -- well, just about every member of the opposite gender. Meanwhile, a sleazy character called The Maestro (Hector Elizondo), another guest at the resort, is trying to steal a priceless necklace from the wealthy Mrs. Rawlings, whose beautiful granddaughter Dana has caught Jack's roving eye, leading him to masquerade as a well-to-do surgeon so that the stuck-up Mrs. Rawlings will let him get close to Dana. This is after Jack's abortive attempt to bed The Maestro's voluptuous bride, during which attempt Ben poses as the resort barber and completely butchers the jewel thief's hair, of which he is quite vain....
Okay, you get the idea, we trust, that the plot is sophomoric, but in spring break movies the plots don't matter, the "eye candy" does. And there is plenty of that, for both guys and gals -- the latter are treated to Johnny Depp in various degrees of undress, including completely. To Depp and, even more so, to his co-star Morrow go all the credit for the fact that Private Resort does not sink entirely beneath the weight of sheer inanity. Morrow has a knack for deadpan comedy that he would use to full advantage in Northern Exposure and Depp somehow manages to retain a certain dignity, not an easy thing to do when enmeshed in such material. There is an occasional funny scene, with perhaps the best being when Ben and Jack wind up with the wife of a jock played by Andrew Dice Clay (who is less obnoxious than usual) drunk in one bedroom of their suite while Clay dallies with another woman in the other bedroom. How did that happen, you ask? Hey, don't ask questions -- let your brain take a vacation, sit back, and just enjoy the scenery.
Eighties Club rating: **
1988, Vestron, Rated R
Written & Directed by
Hancock (Jason Gedrick) is a high school basketball star. He goes off to college but doesn't make the team and loses his scholarship. That brings him back to his hometown. Call it Somewhere, USA. It's a small pond where he's a big fish, where the folks still remember his fifteen seconds of fame, when he made a last second shot that won the big game. He's also a police officer, but there's isn't much crime in Somewhere, USA. Not, at least, until Bev (Meg Ryan) rolls into town. She's disaffected youth personified, complete with red hair and a big tattoo on her back. She pops speed and shoplifts. She also, as fate would have it, happens to be married to Danny (Kiefer Sutherland), who left Somewhere, USA -- and a father he's never been able to really talk to -- only to discover that he's a loser no matter where he hangs his hat. And then there's Mary (Tracy Pollan), Hancock's high school sweetheart who has gone off to college; returning home for the holidays, she resists becoming involved again with Hancock because she doesn't want to wind up spending the rest of her life in a small town with few prospects. When Bev tries to pull of an armed robbery with Danny as her witless accomplice, Hancock shows up and is forced to kill Danny.
What's the point? you ask. It all seems rather pointless. But then, that is the point. Promised Land is a subtle film about the empty promise of the American Dream. It's about personal aspirations compromised by a little thing called life. And about how in the real world connecting with someone, really connecting, if only briefly, can be counted as a small miracle. There is a sense of quiet desperation in the lives of the four protagonists, and a feeling of impending doom throughout the movie. Michael Hoffman, who did double duty as both writer and director, can't seem to script the dialogue that bring his vision into focus. One suspects he wanted to make a statement about inequities he perceived in Reagan's America -- in fact, the film is interspersed with clips of Reagan speeches, though one is left to puzzle over what, exactly, all this is meant to convey. To his credit, Hoffman directs with a sure hand, and his cast is effective, with Meg Ryan a standout as a Bev who tries to conceal her vulnerability, her desire to be needed, beneath a tough-as-nails shell. She and Danny marry not for love, but out of desperation -- he doesn't want to go home without seeming to have succeeded in something, and she just wants to belong. In the end, only Gedrick's character is fully fleshed out -- Hoffman ought to have spent more time why the other three had turned out the way they did. Promised Land could have been a haunting, minor masterpiece about America's new Lost Generation. As it is, the viewer is more likely to be haunted by thoughts of this film might have been.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $316,000
US release date:
"Love Really Hurts Without You," Billy Ocean
"Will The Wolf Survive," Los Lobos
1984, Warner, Rated PG
Directed by Herbert Ross
Written by Buck Henry, Nancy Meyers, Harvey Miller & Charles Shyer
Sunny Davis (Goldie Hawn) is a sweet and unsophisticated cocktail waitress who happens to thwart the attempted assassination of a foreign dignitary, the Emir of Oshtar. This act, coupled with her refreshingly artless candor, transforms her into an instant celebrity. Recognizing the political capital that association with this overnight sensation can bring, some unsavory types at the State Department -- chief among them Ambassador St. John (Gail Strickland) -- offer Sunny a job. The Emir is smitten with Sunny, and cuts a deal with the State Department -- if the U.S. government will participate in his scheme to take her as his bride, he'll approve an American military base in his strategically located kingdom. With the help of Michael (Chris Sarandon),a bureacrat with a conscience -- which, we're led to believe, is a very rare breed -- Sunny spurns the Arab potentate's advances and exposes the underhanded tactics of St. John and company. In the end she successfully runs for Congress, and we're left with the comforting thought that this female version of Mr. Smith will go to Washington and bring some honesty and openness to the Beltway.
Sunny's greatest attribute is her truthfulness, and since we could hardly do less than follow her lead, we must honestly say that Protocol is a dud. Considering the talent involved, with Herbert Ross (The Goodbye Girl) directing and Buck Henry doing the writing chores, this film had potential it never comes close to realizing. Sunny Davis is supposed to be endowed with all the virtues we tend to ascribe to a simple (as in uncomplicated) person; instead, she strikes us as merely simple-minded. No more so, however, than the script. Don't take our word for it -- try sitting through the numbingly inane "Gay Arab Biker Sushi Bar" scene. That Warner touted this bit as one of the film's high points demonstrates the paucity of genuine humor in Protocol. The-government-is-our-enemy mantra had served Hollywood well in the Seventies, but by the 1980s it was old-hat and toothless -- which must have caused much consternation in Tinseltown during the Reagan reign. Of passing interest in this film are snide references made by the State Department villains to an unseen, hands-off president who takes afternoon naps and goes to bed early because he has (snicker) a "busy" day tomorrow. You might miss those scenes, though, as you'll probably be napping through Protocol.
Eighties Club rating: *
US box office: $26.3 million
US release date: 12.21.84
1988, MGM, Rated R
Directed by Stan Winston
Written by Stan Winston, Richard Weinman & Mark Patrick Carducci from a poem by Ed Justin
Stan Winston is perhaps best known for creating the creature in Predator, the monsters in Aliens and the dinosaurs in the first two Jurassic Park films. His most underrated creation is Pumpkinhead. Based on a poem by Ed Justin, this is the story of a man's decision to seek vengeance for the death of his son -- and the terrible price he must pay as a consequence. Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) runs a small roadside store way up in the backcountry. While he's away from the store, one of a group of teenagers on an outing accidentally kills Harley's six-year-old boy by running over him with a dirtbike. As do all the hill people, Harley knows the legend of Pumpkinhead, and visits a witch named Haggis to request the reanimation of the creature. Pumpkinhead is brought to life and begins to wreak a terrible vengeance, killing the teenagers one by one. Harley realizes that in his grief he has made a terrible mistake, and tries to prevent Pumpkinhead from completing its mission. To do that, though, Harley must make the ultimate sacrifice.
Pumpkinhead is a cult horror classic that received little notice when it was released. Winston's direction is crisp, Bohjan Bazelli's cinematography is eerily atmospheric, and the script is as lean and relentless as the wonderfully constructed creature. Henriksen is convincing as the grief-stricken father whose conscience finally prevails over the desire to strike back. Cynthia Bain and Jeff East star as two of the city kids who become Pumpkinhead's victims. One of the film's shortcomings is that it spends little time developing these characters; like bowling pins, they are virtually indistinguishable one from another, and are set up just to be knocked down. Another shortcoming is that once Pumpkinhead begins to dispatch the kids there isn't much suspense -- the teenagers are easy pickings, and before you know it most of them are dead as doornails. Florence Schauffler deserves special mention as one of filmdom's great witches. In the decade that brought us the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, Pumpkinhead holds its own (and spawned a couple of sequels itself.) If you like horror flicks, you could do a lot worse than this spine-tingling morality tale.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $4.4 million
US release date: 10.14.88
1986, Columbia, Rated PG
Written & Directed by Thomas Michael Donnelly
Following the success of Footloose (1984), Kevin Bacon stumbles in this predictable flick focusing on the adventures of New York City bicycle messengers. Bacon plays Jack Casey, a cocky Wall Street whiz kid who loses everything, including his parents' life savings and his own self-confidence, in a big gamble. He goes to work for the Quicksilver bike messenger service and sticks to it in spite of pleas from his folks and former partner to get back into the big money game. Casey becomes involved with Terri (Jami Gertz), a cute but insecure female messenger who runs afoul of a drug dealer named Gypsy (Rudy Ramos). Only a determination to help his friend Hector (Paul Rodriguez) acquire enough capital to buy a hotdog stand can lure Casey back to the stock exchange, where he must overcome a fear of failure before once again proving his market savvy.
Written and directed by Thomas Donnelly, Quicksilver pedals furiously down so many divergent paths that it never reaches a destination. The self-conscious scenes devoted to the romance between Bacon and Gertz are squandered, and the subplot involving the drug dealer/bike messengers conflict is a silly distraction from the development of the theme that might have elevated the film above banality: Jack Casey's crisis of faith and ultimate redemption. The acting talents demonstrated by Bacon and Gertz in other films are largely wasted here, though stand-up comic Paul Rodriquez shines in his role, as does Laurence Fishburne as Voodoo, the street hustler who meets a bad end. The best this movie has to offer is the stylish and stunning cinematography of the treacherous traffic on the madhouse streets of the Big Apple, which the bike messengers must survive to ply their trade. The synthesizer score by Tony Banks, of the band Genesis, isn't bad, either.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $7.6 million
US release date: 2.14.86