St. Elmo's Fire
1985, Columbia-Delphi IV, Rated R
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Joel Schumacher & Carl Kurlander
St. Elmo's Fire may be the quintessential Eighties film. It's a very stylish movie, but it has very little substance. It's nice to look at -- and hear, too, thanks to a wonderful score by David Foster -- but when it's over you realize that what you've been given is mostly fluff. This is the story of seven friends, recent graduates of Georgetown, who are, with varying degrees of success, trying to adjust to life in the "real world." There's Billy (Rob Lowe); he's a husband and father who doesn't do a very good job in either department -- in fact, the only thing he's good at is playing the saxophone and getting girls into bed. Then there's Alec, the proto-yuppie who is driven to succeed as a political aide and who doesn't care if he's working for a Democrat or a (gasp!) Republican. Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is a waiter who wants to be a lawyer -- until he becomes infatuated with an older woman (Andie McDowell) who happens to be a nurse, at which point Kirby decides he'll become a doctor, instead. Jules (Demi Moore), is a cocaine addict, while Kevin is a journalist with Pulitzer Prize aspirations and a secret longing for Alec's significant other, Leslie (Ally Sheedy.) Oh, and then there's Wendy (Mare Winningham), a somewhat frowsy social worker who pines for the dashing Billy from afar. The plot is -- well, there's not much of a plot really. Our "magnificent seven" suffer sundry trials and tribulations and through it all remain steadfast friends, presumably discovering in the process that they're required to put away childish things and become adults. Whether most of them really learn this lesson or not remains open to debate.
There are many who perceive the characters of this film to be self-indulgent, narcissistic, shallow -- in short, symbols of the "Me Generation," and as such represent perfectly the "Decade of Greed," particularly its Yuppie component -- young people lacking social conscience, whose only concern is their own personal advancement and instant gratification. For people who perceive the 1980s in that way then St.Elmo's Fire is, as mentioned before, the quintessential Eighties film. For those of us who know that there was much, much more to the 1980s than what this glossy, feature-length soap-opera conveys, the film is equally as important because it represents a fundamental misperception of what the decade was all about. And from the film scholar's point of view, this is an important film because it brings together so many members of the famous (or notorious) Brat Pack of the Eighties. So, it's impossible to escape the truth of St. Elmo's Fire -- that, as a film, it is average, but as a symbol of '80s pop culture it is an extremely important piece, one that cannot be dismissed or taken lightly.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $37.8 million
US release date: 6.28.85
"Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire," David Foster
"St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)," John Parr
"Shake Down," Billy Squier
"Saved My Life," Fee Waybill
"Stressed Out," Airplay
"Into The Fire," Todd Smallwood
1986, Rated R
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Oliver Stone & Rick Boyle
A gritty and at times gut-wrenching film by Oliver Stone, who is making an unabashed statement about the turmoil that occurred in El Salvador in the 1980s -- and about U.S. involvement in it. James Woods stars as Richard Boyle, an arrogant, unscrupulous and down-at-heels reporter who can't seem to thrive unless he's in a war zone. (He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.) Returning to El Salvador with his friend Doctor Rock, played with verve by James Belushi, Boyle is looking for an angle that will revive his fortunes He fully intends to take advantage of the situation. He also takes advantage of Maria (Elpidia Carrillo), with whom he has had a child. El Salvador is a country torn by civil war. Leftist guerrillas are trying to orchestrate a rebellion against the military junta in power, while right-wing death squads rape and murder at will. Boyle has connections on both sides, and uses them without regard to who's in the right.
But not even a man like Boyle can remain unmoved by the savagery and suffering he witnesses, and Salvador chronicles his development of a conscience. Boyle becomes sympathetic with the rebel cause, at great risk to himself. The irony is in his discovery that the rebels are as capable of cold-blooded murder as the death squads. In the end, Boyle attempts to salvage something out of the situation -- and by so doing salvages something of himself -- by getting Maria and her children out of the country. But there are no happy endings here; Maria and the kids are seized as illegal aliens by American authorities as soon as Boyle gets them into the States.
It isn't just Boyle's conscience, or lack of same, that director Oliver Stone is interested in; with this film he seeks to jump-start America's conscience with respect to US support of the Salvadorean government during the Eighties, and he dwells a great deal on the brutality and bloodshed. But Woods saves the film from being almost too grim for consumption with a brilliant performance. You may not like what this film has to say, but you won't forget it.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US release date: 4.23.86
"Running On Empty," Jackson Browne
"Queen of Hearts," Juice Newton
"En San Salvador," Trio Azteca
"Away From You," Network
1988, 20th Century Fox/NBC,
Directed by Joan Freeman
Written by Charles Purpura
I know what you're thinking. Not another '80s flick about a group of struggling young musicians who struggle to reconcile their dreams with reality, and in the process rock the house with cover tunes and fall in -- and out -- of love. Today, Satisfaction is most remembered as the movie in which future superstar Julia Roberts got her first credited role. She plays Daryle, who, along with friends Mooch (Trini Alvarado), Billy (Britta Phillips) and Jennie (Justine Bateman), form a band that gets a summer gig at a beachside roadhouse run by burned-out musician Martin Falcon (Liam Neeson). Jennie is the lead singer who keeps the band together, Mooch is the in-your-face, leather-clad tough girl, Billy is the blonde airhead with a drug problem, and Daryle is, well, just plain boy-crazy. Oh, and there's Nickie, the only guy in the group, played with panache by Scott Coffey. There are two romantic subplots here -- Jennie falling for the much older Falcon, and Nickie mooning over Mooch; the former doesn't work out, of course, while the latter, since it involves the most unlikely pair, turns out to be true love. The plot is thin, which is to be expected in an '80s chick flick, but the music is good and the cast is attractive and competent. Interestingly, considering what would transpire in years to come, Julia Roberts is the most forgettable of the group; Bateman, Alvarado and Phillips (who, by the way, provided the voice of Jem in the '80s cartoon series Jem and the Holograms), are fun to watch. Neeson lends considerable class and credibility to the project as Falcon, a man whose desire to live life to its fullest is restored by his ill-fated love with Jennie. This is a film about the importance of having friends who will stand with you through thick or thin. And even though there's no chemistry between Neeson and Bateman, and the subplot involving a street gang is superfluous, Satisfaction is not entirely unsatisfying -- as long as your expectations aren't too high.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $8,253,000
US release date: 2.12.88
"Satisfaction," Justine Bateman
"Lies," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Knock On Wood," "Mystery Dance," "C'mon Everybody,"
Justine Bateman & The Mystery
(& 2 more)
1983, Universal, Rated R
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by Oliver Stone from the screenplay by Howard Hawks
A film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Al Pacino, with a script derived from the 1932 screenplay by Howard Hawks has a lot going for it. Tony Montana (Pacino) is one of thousands of Cuban refugees who come to America via the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He makes his criminal connection by doing a (rather violent) favor for someone in a detention camp. Once on the street he graduates to the rank of soldier for a drug dealer named Frank (Robert Loggia). But, in the hands of a writer like Oliver Stone -- who, as far as we can tell, hasn't found anything about America that he likes -- Montana has adopted the Stone version of the American Dream, i.e. getting to the top no matter what he has to do or who he has to kill to get there. Stone's vision of America is all about greed, lies and corruption, and with a character like Tony Montana to play with he can let his anti-American sentiments run rampant. Our anti-hero Montana kills Frank and takes over his operation, not to mention his woman, Elvira (Pfeiffer as you'll never want to see her again), the trophy blonde with a monstrous coke habit. He is also obsessed, in an unhealthy way, with his beautiful sister Gina (Mastrantonio, who has never been better). Reaching the top of Miami's seamy drug world, Montana makes the mistake of thinking he's an even bigger fish than his South American supplier, Sosa, played with exquisitely urbane menace by Paul Shenar. In the end, Montana is brought down in a bloodbath of an ending that could make Fredy Krueger squeamish.
De Palma is a stylish filmmaker, but he eschews directorial flourishes for a straightforward and violent tale that would have ended up just another blood-drenched action film but for the bravura performance turned in by Pacino. As is usually the case, Pacino presents us with an unforgettable character, a Tony Montana who isn't short on courage and has his own, admittedly somewhat warped, sense of honor. Pacino has the swagger and the lingo and the slick desperation of the Cuban hoodlum down pat. It is on the basis of Pacino's work that this film has been declared, by some, to be a classic in the crime genre. But it is a flawed movie if -- as we believe is the case -- the intent was to show that the American Dream is a nightmare and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why shed tears for the fall of Tony Montana? He starts out a scumbag and dies one. He does not epitomize the seeker of the American Dream but rather the subverter of it. The true seekers are the tens of thousands of Cuban refugees who came to the United States in the 1980s and made something of themselves while playing by the rules -- and contributed significantly to society in the process. It's a shame that Scarface doesn't contribute much of anything.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $44.7 million
US release date: 12.9.83
"Rush Rush," Deborah Harry
"She's On Fire," Amy Holland
"Shake It Up," Elizabeth Daily
1985, Orion, Rated R
C. Thomas Howell
Directed by David Greenwalt
Written by David Greenwalt & Jim Kouf
On the last day of school before summer break, Michael Ryan (C. Thomas Howell) receives a love letter from a secret admirer. Convinced that it must be from Debbie Fimple (Kelly Preston), the most beautiful and sought-after girl in school -- who else but the most perfect girl could write such a poetic paean to eternal love? -- Michael writes his own anonymous letters to Debbie, using his friend Toni (Lori Loughlin) as go-between. But the unsigned letters fall into the wrong hands, leading to a misunderstanding of epic comic proportions between Michael's parents (Dee Wallace-Stone, Cliff De Young) and Debbie's (Leigh Taylor-Young and Fred Ward.) Will the truth come out in time? Will love triumph over lust?
What sets this romantic teen comedy apart from the slew of similar '80s films are (a) the scripting and directorial flair of David Greenwalt, (b) the breezy competence of the cast, (c) and the novel idea of using love letters as a catalyst for a highly entertaining morality tale that celebrates marriage and monogamy (and even, believe it or not, chastity). Howell (The Hitcher, Soul Man), Preston (Christine) and Loughlin (The New Kids, Amityville 3-D) are utterly convincing in their roles -- particularly Preston, who captures perfectly the character of the conceited, acquisitive Debbie. But it's the actors playing the parents who steal the show, especially Cliff De Young as Michael's father, who agonizes over whether to give in to his desire for Debbie's mother, and Fred Ward, who shines as Debbie's father, the gruff man-of-action. There are plenty of laughs throughout, with several classically hilarious scenes (Michael and the mailman being one), and several more scenes that will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever been in love. The only flaws are the inclusion of the obligatory gang of nerdish friends for Michael, and the ending -- wouldn't it have been better had Michael been forced to suffer (and mature) for a year while Toni was away? Oh well -- as Secret Admirer teaches us, we should be satisfied with what we have, and in this case we have a funny, inventive and heartwarming movie.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US release date: 6.14.85
"Take No Prisoners," Autograph
"The Touch," Kim Wilde
"No Secrets," Van Stephenson
"She's Got A Part Of Me," Don Felder
"Meeting In The Ladies Room" Klymaxx
"Leaving It Up To You," Timothy B. Schmit
The Secret of My Success
1987, Universal, Rated PG-13
Michael J. Fox
Directed by Herbert Ross
Written by A.J. Carothers, Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
Fresh out of business school, Brantley Foster (Fox) leaves his Kansas home determined to succeed in New York's cutthroat corporate world, but the only job he can land is in the mailroom of a firm run by his Uncle Howard (Johnson). There, Brantley falls in love with Christy (Slater), who is trying to prove she belongs because of her savvy rather than the fact that Howard lusts after her. Brantley is also seduced by Howard's wife, Vera (Margaret Whitton), who is tired of being ignored by her philandering husband. Creating a corporate type named Carlton Whitfield, Brantley occupies an empty corner office and for a time manages to maintain his dual identity in a workplace environment peopled by 30,000 individuals who don't know what's going on unless they get a memo. But he finds that being in competition with his boss/uncle for the attentions of the beautiful Christy, and his unconventional -- and high-profile -- plan to keep the firm from falling victim to a hostile takeover, makes his ruse increasingly difficult to maintain.
This slapstick comedy/bedroom farce is the perfect vehicle for Michael J. Fox, by this time established as a major star with his success on the small screen (Family Ties) and the big (Back to the Future, Teen Wolf), and while the film benefits from fine supporting performances by stage actor Richard Jordan and, particularly, Whitton as the conniving seductress Vera, it is Fox who makes the whole thing work. His boyish charm and screen presence, not to mention his talent for slapstick, are showcased here, and his performance elevates this film above the average. The Secret of My Success is also a sly condemnation of the corporate world, where the people who migrate to work like lemmings on a daily basis seem to care only about money and advancement -- the "nicest" folks in Brantley's building are a lowly secretary and even lowlier mailroom buddy. The one jarring note is the notorious "beer can" scene, in which Brantley responds to the noisy sexual antics of a couple in a neighboring apartment; but for that, a movie in which sex and seduction play such a prominent role is surprisingly clean. Look for Fred Gynne, of The Munsters fame, in a small but key role, and for future supermodel Cindy Crawford in an uncredited (and brief) appearance. Fox's next film, Bright Lights, Big City, would be a far more grim exploration of the dark side of urban life.
The Eighties Club Rating: ***
US box office: $67 million
US release date: April 1987
"Riskin' A Romance," Bananarama
"Sometimes The Good Guys Finish First," Pat Benatar
"The Price Of Love," Roger Daltrey
"Walking On Sunshine," Katrina and the Waves
"Oh Yeah," Yello
"The Secret Of My Success," Night Ranger
See You in the Morning
1989, Warner Bros., Rated PG-13
Written & Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Alan J. Pakula directed this modern comedy of manners about a Manhattan psychiatrist named Larry Livingstone (Jeff Bridges) who, when the film opens, is married to a gorgeous actress/model (Farrah Fawcett), has two children, and what appears to be the perfect life. But there's no such thing as perfect, and before long Larry is divorced -- his gorgeous wife can't remain faithful -- and getting involved with Beth (Alice Krige), a widow whose husband killed himself, leaving her with two children (Drew Barrymore and Lukas Haas) and an unrealized dream of becoming a recognized photographer. Larry and Beth get married and must deal with the usual second-marriage dilemmas -- their emotional baggage from the previous relationships and the difficulties inherent in step-parenthood. They must also deal with their own flaws: Larry is so self-analytical that he seems at times completely detached, while Beth struggles with the I-should-have-done-more kind of guilt all too common among surviving spouses.
It all sounds awfully mundane, and of course it is, but the beauty of See You in the Morning is that it deals in an honest, intelligent and entertaining way with situations that every spouse and parent and child who lives in a modern-day family can relate to. Many other movies have dealt with the same topics -- family, broken homes, infidelity, self-fulfillment, the triumphs and tribulations of parenting -- but few manage to capture, sometimes with merely a word or a glance, the subtle nuances that make life so bittersweet. (We hypothesize that it is precisely because See You in the Morning adroitly touches so many nerves that it proved too painfully authentic to appeal to a large audience.) Jeff Bridges and Alice Krige give us two main characters who are so fully realized that by the end of the film you feel as though you've known them all your life. Barrymore and Haas are excellent as Beth's children, who try in different ways to deal with the loss of a father and the acquisition of a stepfather. There are a few flaws here; the clumsy use of flashbacks in the first half of the film may leave you befuddled as to exactly where what you're watching at any given time fits into the grander scheme of things, and the conclusion, in which a reconciled Larry and Beth are caught in flagrante delicto in their own bathroom by a couple of cops who think they're investigating a break-in is too broadly slapstick to match the subtle arrangement of the rest of the material. Still, See You in the Morning is a good movie to watch when you've finally come to the realization that the secret of living is to find small measures of happiness in the disillusioning chaos of life. You won't feel so alone.
The Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $4.8 million
US release date: 4.14.89
1989, Orion, Rated PG-13
Ed Begley, Jr.
Roseanne Barr had already made a name for herself as a stand-up comedian and the star of a hit TV sitcom, Roseanne, launched in 1988, when she appeared in this film. She stars as Ruth Pratchett, a frumpy housewife whose husband, Bob (Ed Begley, Jr.) is an ambitious accountant who not only becomes business manager for romance novelist Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep), but Mary's lover, as well. Poor Ruth is so distraught when she realizes that her spouse is cheating on her that she ruins dinner when his parents come for a visit, which launches an irate Bob into a tirade regarding his assets -- home, family, career, freedom -- versus his one liability: Ruth. That's when Ruth decides it's better to get even than to get mad, and she proceeds to take away Bob's assets, one at a time. She blows up his home, forces Bob and the snobbish Mary to take in her children, frees Mary's mother (Sylvia Miles) from the nursing home to which Mary has consigned her, and opens an employment agency for unappreciated women so that she can use a couple of them in a scheme to prove Bob is an embezzler and send him to jail. She is remorseless, merciless and mean-spirited, and that's one reason why She-Devil bombed with critics and audiences alike; the moral of the story -- that vengeance is sweet -- isn't moral at all, especially when the person seeking revenge uses some people and destroys others (even someone as worthless as Bob Pratchett) without even a twinge of regret. The sympathy engendered for Ruth when Bob drops her off a block from their house as he drives Mary to her "palace by the sea" for a night of passion is squandered after Barr gets through with the character.
She-Devil's one redeeming virtue is Streep, the greatest actress of the Eighties. This was her first attempt at off-the-wall comedy, having made her reputation playing to perfection tragic heroines -- usually with accents. Mary Fisher is a caricature -- the rich, spoiled, beautiful, arrogant American princess -- and gives Streep a chance to demonstrate that her comedic talent is just as extraordinary as her dramatic expertise. Her no-holds-barred performance provides all the laughs; otherwise, the film falls flat. Ed Begley, Jr. is woefully miscast as the greedy, heartless Bob. As for Barr, she would enjoy considerable success with her TV sitcom until she sank her career on July 25, 1990 by brutalizing the national anthem at a San Diego Padres game, offending just about every American and proving that she could be as mean-spirited as the characters she played.
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Written by Barry Strugatz from the novel by Fay Weldon
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $13.5 million
US release date: 12.8.89
She's Having A Baby
1988, Paramount, Rated PG-13
Written & Directed by John Hughes
Probably no director had a better feel for the pulse of the Eighties than John Hughes, who brought us a couple of masterpieces -- The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- as well as films that came close, like Pretty In Pink. Hughes wrote, directed and produced She's Having A Baby, the story of a yuppie couple, Jack and Kristy Briggs (Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern). Their assimilation into the suburban lifestyle is going smoothly for Kristy, but it's rough sledding for Jack. He loves his new wife, but he's not sold on married life. He wants to write The Great American Novel, but feels obliged to suffer the ego-crushing anonymity of a nine-to-five job. His best friend, Davis McDonald (Alex Baldwin), doesn't help matters either. Davis seems to relish the apparently carefree existence of a bachelor, and he tries to convince Jack that marriage and a "mortgage with three bedrooms" are really just a form of slow death. Jack doesn't fit in with the neighborhood's clique of henpecked husbands, men who find a debate over the relative merits of plastic versus metal flywheels in lawnmowers to be of great consequence. And then there's the sultry temptress Jefferson keeps running into -- even in his dreams. To make matters worse still, Kristy wants to have a baby but Jack can't do his part -- he has a deficient sperm count.
What Hughes has done is try to paint a heartwarming and often amusing portrait of the ups and downs of modern married life. With the help of Bacon and McGovern, who have never done better work, his efforts succeed -- for the most part. Hughes might have had another classic on his hands but for the fact that he indulges in occasional fantasy scenes -- the most bizarre being the "lawnmower dance" performed by all of Jefferson's neighbors. Jefferson has a lot of fantasies, some erotic, some nightmarish. A few add to the story and provide some laughs -- like the long litany of middle-class responsibilities a minister presiding over Jack's and Kristy's wedding ceremony spouts at the befuddled groom -- but others are simply distractions. The ending of the film is, surprisingly, edge-of-your-seat, as Jack finally figures out what's important in life.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $16 million
US release date: 2.5.88
"Apron Strings," Everything But the Girl
"Chain Gang," Sam Cooke
"Crazy Love," Bryan Ferry
She's Out of Control
1989, Columbia, Rated PG
Directed by Stan Dragoti
Seth Winston & Michael J. Nathansen
Watching She's Out of Control, one may be struck by the similarities between many '80s films and the teen movies and TV sitcoms of the Fifties. That's because both address core values and the constant battle between tradition and modernity. True, while the majority of '50s flicks would have both Mom and Dad trying to teach their kids the difference between right and wrong, here we have Doug Simpson (Tony Danza) as a conservative widower trying to raise two daughters all by himself. Returning from a business trip, Doug finds his 15-year-old, Katie (Ami Dolenz), has had a makeover, aided and abetted by Doug's girlfriend Janet (Catherine Hicks). Suddenly Katie is being pursued by every boy in the general vicinity, and her overwrought father is seeking the advice of a celebrated psychologist, Dr. Fishbinder, in his effort to keep her from falling victim to the predatory males -- which, apparently, includes all guys under the age of 35. Under the advice of the psychologist, Doug goes from trying to be best buddies with one of Katie's boyfriends to playing the stern enforcer of curfews and other house rules. He even goes so far as to spy on his daughter during her prom date, only to realize that the advice he's been getting has been all wrong, and that his failure to trust Katie is the biggest danger of all.
Danza spent much of the '80s playing another overprotective father in the TV sitcom Who's the Boss, so the role of Doug Simpson fits him like a glove. All Ami Dolenz has to do is look good -- which she does. The standout is Wallace Shawn, whose Dr. Fishbinder is a neurotic control freak who has taken Freudian psychology to bizarre lengths. There are some funny scenes, as when Doug meets and greets a dizzying array of Katie's suitors, or when he gets a dose of his own medicine at the hands of Janet's overprotective father. But the script -- the one and only big screen effort by either Winston or Nathansen -- is weighed down with cliche and stereotype, and Stan Dragoti, who'd helmed Mr. Mom (1983), provides listless direction. She''s Out of Control doesn't live up to its Fifties roots -- there is no clear indication whether a father should be an enforcer or a friend to his teenage daughter. (Fifties teen flicks seldom sent confused signals.) But then, that was the problem for parents of the '80s -- the desire to return to traditional ways was complicated by the sexual revolution wrought by their own generation. So the ending of this movie, with Doug Simpson and Dr. Fishbinder squaring off to debate parenting, is something of a statement about a morally conflicted decade.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $12.1 million
US release date: 4.14.89
"California Dreamin'," Mamas and Papas
"Venus," Frankie Avalon
"16 Candles," The Crests
"Feel the Shake," Jetboy
"Mona," Bo Diddley
"Incense and Peppermints," Strawberry Alarm Clock
"Our Day Will Come," Ruby & The Romantics
"Hunger Of Love," Harold Faltermeyer
"Daddy's Little Girl," Brian Wilson
Shoot To Kill
1988, Touchstone, Rated R
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Written by Michael Burton, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Harv Zimmel
This film marked the much-heralded return of Sidney Poitier to the big screen after a ten-year absence. He stars as Warren Stantin, an FBI agent in pursuit of a cold-blooded killer who murdered two hostages and made off with a fortune in stolen diamonds, disappearing into the wilderness of Washington state and heading for the Canadian border. When Stantin discovers that his prey has joined a group of sportsmen on a backwoods fishing trip led by professional guide Sarah (Kirstie Alley), he forces Sarah's business partner -- and boyfriend -- Jonathan Knox (Tom Berenger) to assist him in catching the killer. Knox doesn't think a city slicker like Stantin can cut it in the high country, and worries that the FBI agent will just slow him down, reducing Sarah's chances of survival. But Stantin knows that Knox is no match for a killer, and besides, he has a score to settle.
What follows is an exciting chase through the mountains. A bond forms between Stantin and Knox as they surmount numerous perils in their attempt to rescue Sarah and catch the killer. One of the most able directors of action flicks, Roger Spottiswoode -- Under Fire (1983), Air America (1990), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) -- keeps Shoot To Kill moving at a rapid pace, and the British Columbian scenery provides a refreshingly different backdrop for this cops-and-robbers fare. Fresh from a career-making performance in Platoon, Tom Berenger is convincing as the rugged backwoodsman Knox. A star of the TV sitcom Cheers at the time, Kirstie Alley does a commendable job as Sarah. But, as he has done time and time again throughout his career, Poitier steals the show. With he and Spottiswoode involved in this project, there was little chance that Shoot To Kill would fail to deliver the pure escapism moviegoers expect from a thriller.
Eighties Club rating:***
US box office: $29.3 million
US release date: 5.12.88
1986, CBS/Fox, Rated PG
Directed by John Badham
Brent Maddock & S.S.Wilson
In the 1980s we struggled to come to grips with the reality of a high-tech future. How would computers and robotics change our lives? This was a question that informed numerous film projects, from War Games to Robocop. In Short Circuit we are introduced to Number Five, a robot developed for military applications who, struck by lightning, malfunctions and escapes from the top-secret lab where it was created. It is befriended by Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy), who becomes convinced that Number Five is "alive" And it is pursued by the military, who fear the damage it could do to the civilian population with its laser ray. Also searching for Number Five is its likeable creator Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and his India-born sidekick Ben (Fisher Stevens), who manages to mangle the English language in often hilarious ways. Being "alive," Number Five is determined to avoid being "disassembled," and Stephanie persuades Newton and Ben to help her protect the robot.
Guttenberg and Sheedy are capable actors who, unfortunately, all too often had to do the best they could with second-rate material. Short Circuit is just that. This is a kid's film, and is as predictable and corny (from an adult perspective, anyway) as anything Disney Studios used to crank out back in the old Wonderful World days. The real star is Number Five, and the makers of Short Circuit should be credited with creating a machine that managed to endeared itself to the film's most severe critics -- though the viewer may suspect, and rightly so, that Number Five bears a remarkable resemblance where personality is concerned to the alien in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. The film remains of pop culture interest and is in many respects quite representative of your average Eighties comedy. Directed by John Badham, who brought us War Games and Blue Thunder.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $40.7 million
US release date: 5.9.86
"Come And Follow Me"
Mac Carl & Marcy Levy
"Who's Johnny," El DeBarge
Short Circuit 2
1988, Tri-Star, Rated PG
Directed by Kenneth Johnson
Written by Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson
In the first Short Circuit, stars Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy were upstaged by the charming and charismatic Johnny Five, a robot initially designed to be used as a weapon by the evil military-industrial complex -- until it's struck by lightning, comes "alive" and goes AWOL. Now Newton and Stephanie (Guttenberg and Sheedy) are living happily ever after on a ranch somewhere, while Newton's assistant, Ben Jahrvi (Fisher Stevens), has ended up in the big city trying to sell toy Johnny Fives on a street corner. He partners up with a street hustler named Fred (Michael McKean) to produce one thousand of the toy robots for Sandy (Cynthia Gibb), a buyer for a high-class department store. Johnny Five is dispatched to help them make their quota. But Jahrvi and Fred haven't counted on Johnny Five's fascination with all the "input" of life in the big city -- or on the fact that a gang of jewel thieves has planned to use their warehouse in their nefarious schemes. And we mustn't forget the unlikely but touching romance that blossoms between Sandy and the naive and bumbling Ben, who is prone to uttering hilarious malapropisms.
In a decade that brought us E.T. and the Gremlins, it should come as no surprise that a talking robot could become a celluloid hero, and that's exactly what Johnny Five is -- an anthropomorphic character with more soul than any of his human counterparts. Director Kenneth Johnson is adept at manipulating the audience's emotions, busting guts one minute and tugging at heartstrings the next. Much credit must also go to the writing team of Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson; their screenplay for Short Circuit missed the boat, focusing too much on the Guttenburg and Sheedy characters and on an anti-military message. This time they realize that in Johnny Five they have a modern-day Pinocchio or Frankenstein, and without big-name stars to write for they're able to fully develop their robot protagonist. The end result is a funny and fastpaced film that reiterates the moral of the abovementioned classic tales: that it isn't what one looks like but what's inside that counts. In the early Eighties there was a lot of discussion about how robots would soon become commonplace, and what effect that would have on society. This didn't happen, but after seeing Johnny Five in action you might wish it had.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $21.6 million
US release date: 7.6.88
"Holding Out For A Hero," Bonnie Tyler
"Bye Bye Love," The Everly Brothers
"Tutti Frutti," Little Richard
"I Heard It Through The Grapevine," Marvin Gaye