Tango & Cash
1989, Warner Bros., Rated R
Andrei Konchalovsky & Albert Magnoli
Written by Randy Feldman
Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) are hotshot supercops who work different sides of L.A. Tango wears Armani suits and makes money in the stock market; Cash is strictly the blue-collar, bluejeans type. They're rivals, but when a sinister vicelord (Jack Palance) hatches a clever scheme that puts them behind bars, they become an unstoppable team. First they break out of prison, where the vicelord had arranged for them to meet a bad end at the hands of inmates one or the other of them had taken off the streets. Then they proceed to prove their innocence and smash the vicelord's operation. And Cash even finds time to romance Tango's sister Kiki (Teri Hatcher) -- a romance that Tango, being the overprotective brother, doesn't approve of.
Yet another in a long line of '80s buddy cop films, Tango & Cash is one of the worst of the lot. The action sequences are too unbelievable, the obligatory one-liners that the heroes must spout are much too silly, and the plot as a whole is weighted with so many cliches that the movie sinks of its own weight. Billed as an action comedy, it's really an unintended farce, as far removed from superior examples of the genre -- films like 48 Hrs. and Lethal Weapon -- as you can get. If it elicits any laughs at all it will only be because it's just plain awful. Both Stallone and Russell are tailor-made for action heroes, and nobody can play the villain like the superb Jack Palance, but their talents are wasted here. And pity Teri Hatcher, whose character is clearly introduced merely to provide a hapless abductee who can be bound, gagged and menaced with pistols by not one, but two bad guys during the final showdown. Stallone nearly wrecked his career with this clunker and the previous Cobra; Russell was fortunate to resurrect his with 1991's Backdraft. There is only one amazing thing about Tango & Cash -- that it grossed $63 million at the theaters.
Eighties Club rating: *
US box office: $63.4 million
US release date: 12.22.89
"Best Of What I Got," Bad English
"Let The Day Begin," The Call
"Don't Go," Yazoo
"Poison," Alice Cooper (& more)
1989, Tri-Star, Rated PG-13
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Written & Directed by Nick Castle
Gregory Hines stars as Max Washington, former tap dancer turned jewel thief who, upon his release from prison, has a choice to make: does he return to a life of crime in which the risks are great but the rewards are great as well, or does he pursue an art form that time seems to have passed by? Max doesn't want to end up like his father, a talented tap dancer who died poor and unappreciated by all except his fellow hoofers -- many of whom have congregated on the third floor of Sonny's Dance Studio. The Studio is run by Little Mo (Sammy Davis, Jr.), who has an idea for resurrecting tap by blending it with rock. His daughter Amy -- Max's old flame -- teaches dance on the second floor. She's not happy to see Max, since he ran out on her and son Louis, breaking her heart in the process. Meanwhile, Max's former associates in crime are trying to seduce him into participating in a big jewelry heist. Will Max do the right thing? Will he listen to his heart, put on his dancing shoes, and win the woman he loves? Or will he succumb to the seduction of a life of crime?
Tap is a wonderful film. It has heart. It has soul. It's a musical that both borrows from the past and looks to the future. At times it's reminiscent of the great Fred and Ginger films of Hollywood's Golden Age; often director Nick Castle and cinematographer David Gribble will give scenes a nostalgic, sepia-toned ambience. Every dance scene is memorable, from Max's angry, desperate, prison cell routine to an impromptu street dance inspired by the sounds of the city to the final, incredible club routine when Max turns Mo's dream into reality by making tap and rock work in tandem. But perhaps the most memorable dance scene of all takes place on the third floor of Sonny's, when in response to a challenge made by Max, the old hoofers show their stuff, and the audience is treated to a stunning celebration of tap dancing by masters like Sandman Sims, Henry LeTang and Jimmy Slyde. Sammy Davis, Jr. gives an inspired performance, Suzzanne Douglass shows she has star power, and Gregory Hines, as usual, does a fine job. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert suggests that Tap would have made a successful Broadway play. That may be true, as the film was a box office disappointment, grossing less than $10 million, and probably would have fared better on the stage. But that doesn't alter the fact that this cinematic tribute to tap is first-rate entertainment from beginning to end.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $9.1 million
US release date: 2.10.89
1981, 20th Century Fox, Rated PG
George C. Scott
Directed by Harold Becker
Written by Robert Kamen from a novel by Devery Freeman
In the Eighties the image of the military was renovated, having fallen into disrepute during and after the Vietnam War. Critics disparaged this film for being ambiguous -- did it celebrate honor and loyalty and other qualities so highly prized in the armed forces? Or did it have an anti-war message, with its disturbing scenes of young boys clad in camouflage and manning redoubts in open defiance of civilian authority? Perhaps the truth of the matter is that Taps illustrates perfectly the ambivalent attitude of society towards the military as the decade opened.
General Harlan Bache (George C.Scott), has been commandant of Bunker Hill Military Academy for many years, so it's not surprising that he greets with chagrin the news that the school will not only be closed but also razed to make way for condominiums. When Bache accidentally shoots a civilian youth during an altercation between cadets and local kids, he has a heart attack (and subsequently dies.) The school is ordered closed immediately. But under the leadership of Captain Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), head cadet, the students take up arms to prevent that from happening. Among Moreland's lieutenants are good friend Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) and David Shawn (Tom Cruise), the former a doubter, the latter a gung-ho leader of the "red berets" who vows to die before allowing the hallowed halls of Bunker Hill to be bulldozed for real estate development. When the National Guard is called in, tragedy seems unavoidable.
It's fair to say that all the leads, particularly Hutton, do a fine job of acting. But sadly, the direction is uninspired, and the script is plodding, with the filmmakers clearly unsure how to fill the sixty or so minutes between the exciting opening scenes and the denouement. How many times do we need to see the cadets lining up for roll call, or scrambling to their posts every time a National Guard tank rumbles by the gate? Are the cadets of Bunker Hill the misguided pawns of a zealot (Bache)? Or do they embody the commitment to duty we admire in those who wear a uniform? The viewer will have to make that call because the people who made this film couldn't.
Eighties Club rating: **
US release date: 12.11.81
1988, Mount/Warner, Rated R
Written & Directed by Robert Towne
This unconventional crime drama was written and directed by Robert Towne, perhaps most famous for the Chinatown screenplay -- and if you keep that in mind you won't be quite so surprised that this film is endowed with a convoluted plot. Towne went to great lengths to avoid stereotypes; hence, we have in Dale McKussac (Mel Gibson) an extremely likeable former drug dealer and in Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) a slick narcotics cop willing to break the rules because of his friendship with McKussac. In fact, everyone loves everybody in Tequila Sunrise, right down to Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer), a restauranteur who falls for both McKussac and Frescia. Then there's Carlos Escalante (Raul Julia), a drug kingpin who treats McKussac as a loving father would a son. When Frescia learns that Carlos is personally coming to California in a connection with a big drug deal, he is convinced that McKussac must be involved, even though his friend insists he has retired from the drug business and is trying to lead a normal life. To find out if McKussac is still in cahoots with Carlos, Frescia romances Jo Ann, who seems very close to McKussac. When Carlos finds out that Jo Ann is associating with a narc, he decides she must die. To protect her, McKussac is forced to turn on his old friend. In the meantime, Nick falls in love with Jo Ann, who falls in love with McKussac. And Freschia clashes with a federal agent who wants to kill his old friend. Confused yet?
In spite of a very talented cast, good writing, great production values and a super score, Tequila Sunrise lacks something vital -- dramatic impact. Towne enmeshes us so deeply into the dynamics of all these interlocking relationships that we don't know who to root for, a dilemma exacerbated by a kind of moral relativity which portrays two drug dealers, McKussac and Carlos, in a very attractive light. It is this very ambivalence, perhaps, that burdened Gibson with an obstacle he could not, in the end, overcome -- how to convincingly portray McKussac as a good bad guy. On the other hand, Kurt Russell is superb as Nick Freschia, a good guy who is sometimes too slick and too manipulative for his own good. And Raul Julia has a field day with the role of Carlos, striking a nice balance between charm and menace. Tequila Sunrise is a film the viewer must watch two or three times before he or she is able to get a handle on it. Not many, we suspect, would make the effort. Released at the height of the so-called Drug Wars, this film was simply too muddled to attract much of an audience.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $41.3 million
US release date: 12.2.88
"Unsubstantiated," The Church
"Recurring Dream," Crowded House
"Surrender To Me," Ann Wilson & Robin Zander
"Do You Believe In Shame?," Duran Duran
1981, CBS/Fox, Rated R
Written & Directed Michael Mann
Based on Frank Hohimer's book "The Home Invaders," Thief was directed by Michael Mann, who a few years later would bring us Miami Vice. This crime thriller is stamped with Mann's distinctive style -- note the many frames devoted to the glide of neon lights across the polished hood of a car roaring down night-shrouded city streets, the often overpowering intrusion of Tangerine Dream's electronic pop score, the sometimes unintelligible but realistic jargon of tough, streetwise characters -- and of course the abrupt bloodletting of an illogical climax. Thief is the portrait of Frank, used car salesman by day, safecracker extraordinaire by night. Played perfectly by James Caan, Frank is one of the last of the big-screen anti-heroes so familiar to moviegoers in the Seventies; he is flashy, violent, macho and self-absorbed -- but in a film populated by sleazy mobsters and crooked cops, he's also the closest thing to a protagonist. In order to get his girlfriend Jessie (Tuesday Weld) to marry him, Frank agrees to do just one more heist, this one in partnership with a crime boss who -- surprise, surprise -- doublecrosses him and kills his partner Barry (James Belushi, in his first major role.) Frank's bizarre, tough guy code of honor requires him to (a) do penance by running his wife off and fire-bombing his legitimate businesses prior to (b) settling the score, guns blazing, with the doublecrossers. As with most of Mann's work -- Manhunter and The Last of the Mohicans being two significant exceptions -- the imagery is far more important than the story, which, in the case of Thief, is really rather thin. This is a visually beguiling and well-crafted film, but taken as a whole it is essentially unappealing.
Eighties Club ranking: **
US box office: $4.3 million
US release date: 3.27.81
3rd Degree Burn
1989, Paramount, Rated R
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Written by Ducan Gibbins &Yale Udoff
This stylish suspense thriller, ably directed by Roger Spottiswoode, is reminiscent of classic bete noir flicks of the '40s and '50s. (Some credit must go to the music score of Charles Gross, which effectively adds to the ambience Spottiswoode was obviously striving for.) Treat Williams is convincing as Scott Weston, a slick and womanizing private eye who is hired by a millionaire to keep an eye on the latter's wife, suspected of cheating. The wife, Anne Scholes (Virginia Madsen), is entirely too delectable for a man like Weston to resist, and a steamy love affair ensues. All the more alluring for Weston is that Anne seems to be a damsel in distress, a passionate woman apparently trapped in a loveless marriage. Or is she? Could she be, instead, a sultry siren playing Weston for a fool? He begins to wonder when her husband turns up dead -- and he becomes the prime suspect in the murder. (It doesn't help matters that the detective in charge of the investigation is aware that his wife also had an affair with the private eye.)
Weston learns that the man who hired him was yet another private investigator (Richard Masur), posing as Anne's husband. But why? To clear himself, Weston must escape police custody and learn the truth. Kudos to the highly under-rated Madsen, who keeps us guessing as she goes deftly from vixen to victim with the flicker of an expression, and exudes enough voluptuous sexuality that she makes Sharon Stone at her sexiest seem like a schoolgirl by comparison. Good solid craftsmanship all around makes Third Degree Burn an enjoyable movie.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US release date: 5.28.89
1988, SVS, Rated R
Directed by Amin D. Chaudhri
Written by Roy London
Chuck "Tiger" Warsaw (Patrick Swayze) is returning home to a Pennsylvania steel town after a long absence. But it's not much of a homecoming, and for good reason. Fifteen years ago he shot his father in a quarrel. Since then he has been self-destructing, dealing and taking drugs and giving up for adoption a child he fathered.
Now, in a last-ditched attempt to put his shattered life back together, he has come seeking forgiveness. But his father, a semi-invalid since the shooting, won't forgive him, and neither will his sister Paula (Mary McDonnell.) Only his mother, played by Piper Laurie, is glad to see him, and she is torn between a mother's love for her son and a wife's devotion to her husband.
Swayze had a couple of hit films -- Dirty Dancing and Red Dawn -- under his belt when he tackled this project. He called the role of Tiger Warsaw his most challenging yet, and rightly so. Unfortunately, he failed to meet the challenge. He would do much better a couple of years later with a role requiring a similar range of emotions, in the hit film Ghost. In fact, the acting is drab all around in Tiger Warsaw, with the notable exception of Piper Laurie. Her convincing performance as Tiger's mother, Frances, and the film's setting -- it was shot in the steel town of Sharon, Pennsylvania -- are this movie's only saving graces. Amin Chaudhri's direction is mundane, to say the least. In short, there is very little to recommend Tiger Warsaw, which is no doubt why it saw only a limited release. Chaudhri believed he had an important story to tell, a fable of family and redemption and a prodigal son, but the work is too tritely sentimental to make for good drama.
Eighties Club rating: *
US box office: $422,000
1986, Paramount, Rated PG
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. from an article by Ehud Yonay
Patriotism was back in fashion in the 1980s, and Hollywood was unable to resist the urge to climb on the flag-waving bandwagon, producing such jingoistic fare as Rambo III, Iron Eagle, The Delta Force and, best of them all, Top Gun. Tom Cruise had already made his mark with Risky Business (1983), but the role of Lt. Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick, a hotshot Navy flyboy, catapulted him into the superstar stratosphere. Maverick and his cockpit mate (and best friend) Goose (Anthony Edwards), are selected to train at the prestigious "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School (aka Fightertown USA, located near San Diego). Only the best fighter pilots get to attend, and Maverick is determined to prove he's numero uno. That's because he's trying to fill his father's shoes -- seems dad was a Vietnam hero killed in aerial combat. Maverick's problem is that he takes too many chances; his nickname is very appropriate. His chief rival is Iceman (played by Val Kilmer, who, reportedly, wouldn't have done the film had he not been contractually obligated to do so.) And Maverick's chief love interest is Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGinnis), a Defense Department specialist on enemy warplanes. When Goose is killed during a training exercise, Maverick experiences a crisis of faith and very nearly quits the Navy, changing his mind just in time to join Iceman in real combat against a flock of enemy MiGs.
Blessed with a fine cast, a thoroughly Eighties soundtrack featuring Kenny Loggins and Berlin, and direction by the talented Tony Scott, Top Gun is a rock'em-sock-em action flick and was a huge box office hit. The aerial scenes are first-rate. (The U.S. Navy supplied a Top Gun instructor and a flier to serve as the film's technical advisers.) But there are some flaws -- a couple of them entirely too big to overlook. One is the painfully evident lack of chemistry between Cruise and McGinnis. Whose fault is that? Certainly not Kelly's -- she proved she could sizzle teamed up with Harrison Ford in Witness (1985). But she and Cruise suffer by comparison with the electrifying on-screen romance of Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer and A Gentleman (1982) -- a movie similar in many respects to Top Gun. Another flaw is the completely predictable ending. Are we surprised that Maverick suffers that crisis of faith? No, we saw it coming. Are we surprised that in the end he comes through for God and country, even winning over his rival, Iceman? Not at all. Could a movie like this end any other way? Of course not. Even though the romance fizzles and the ending is formulaic, Top Gun is a really good action film. But that's all it will ever be.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $176.8 million ($344.8 million, worldwide)
US release date: 5.16.86
"Danger Zone," Kenny Loggins
"Lead Me On," Teena Marie
"Hot Summer Nights," Miami Sound Machine
"Heaven In Your Eyes," Loverboy
"Mighty Wings," Cheap Trick
"Take My Breath Away," Berlin
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," The Righteous Brother
(& more; Columbia)
Best Music, Song (Giorgio Moroder & Tom Whitlock, "Take My Breath Away")
Best Original Song ("Take My Breath Away")
People's Choice Awards
Favorite Motion Picture
1984, UCO, Rated R
Pamela Sue Martin
Directed by Thomas J. Wright
Written by Pamela Sue Martin & Eliza Moorman
Cocaine was the drug of the 1980s, and it was a scourge upon the land, pervading every strata of society. Hollywood addressed the cocaine epidemic in numerous films; as the drug of choice among the yuppie crowd in Bright Lights, Big City and as the preferred engine of destruction for the "new lost generation" of upscale Eighties youth in Less Than Zero. In Torchlight, director Thomas Wright and screenwriter Eliza Moorman sought to portray the tragedy of cocaine in all its sinister, life-wrecking power. This is the story of a young couple -- Lillian (Pamela Sue Martin) and Jake (Steve Railsback) -- who seem to have it all. They are madly in love with one another. He is an extremely successful businessman. They have a nice house, money in the bank, a bright future. Until, that is, Jakes tries free-basing cocaine. He gets hooked and the addiction destroys him. Scene by scene we witness the fantasy life of Lillian and Jake transformed into a nightmare from which there is no awakening.
Torchlight has an important message to convey, and those involved should be applauded for an earnest effort. Unfortunately, as a film production it has flaws that are near-fatal distractions. The competence of the cinematography is inconsistent. At times the sound and editing are clumsy. Moorman writes with conviction about the tragedy of cocaine addiction, but stumbles when trying to set the stage and portray the love-at-first-sight romance of Lillian and Jake. In fact, the first twenty minutes of the film are awful, the lines so hackneyed that not even a capable actress like Pamela Sue Martin can make us believe in them. Steve Railsback lacks the range necessary for the role of Jake, a character who must demonstrate the violent mood swings and erratic behavior of an addict; all too often Railsback is so inscrutable that we are at a loss to know what Jake is up to in the scene. As the slick and sinister drug dealer Sidney, Ian McShane gives a performance completely out of place in this film -- more suited, actually, to a bit part in Al Pacino's Scarface. (If cocaine pushers were as obvious as Sidney we would have won the Drug Wars.) Torchlight is a grim and depressing movie. Its shortcomings as a production make it even more so.
Eighties Club rating: *
Touch and Go
1986, Tri Star, Rated PG-13
Maria Conchita Alonso
Directed by Robert Mandel
Written by Harry Colomby, Alan Ormsby & Bob Sand
Like the protagonist in any number of Eighties films, Bobby Barbato (Michael Keaton) is a man so driven to succeed (in his case, at being a star pro hockey player) that he doesn't have time for anything or anyone else. But in predictable Hollywood fashion he is derailed off this fast-track and by the end of the movie has come to his senses, realizing that what's truly important in life is love and family. In Bobby's case, the derailment is caused by a streetwise kid named Louis (Ajay Naidu), used by a trio of toughs who try to rob Bobby. Being the smash-mouth hockey player that he is, Bobby makes short work of the hoodlums. He discovers that Louis lives with his mom Denise (Maria Conchita Alonso) in a rundown section of Chicago, where they are constantly harassed by Bobby's would-be muggers. Denise hopes Bobby will be her ticket out of the slums, but at first our hero wants no such complications in his life. Of course he changes his mind, warming to both Louis and his mother and coming through for them both even though he has to miss a playoff game to do so. Another yuppie humanized (though, thankfully, he isn't required to give up his Jaguar, too!)
Touch and Go was filmed shortly after Keaton made a big splash with the hit flick Mr. Mom, but it wasn't released for two years, and we suspect the reason may be that in this movie Keaton demonstrates that he is a lot more than just a comic; he gives a very credible dramatic performance -- turning what was conceived as a light romantic comedy into an interesting character study of a driven and self-centered man. One senses that the studios never quite knew what to do with Keaton's dichotomous talent throughout the mid-1980s; not until 1988's Clean and Sober was he taken seriously as an actor. Touch and Go had too many flaws to fare well at the theaters; the pairing of Keaton and Alonso lacks sizzle, and the street gang subplot is hackneyed. Beyond that, by 1986 moviegoers had seen the whole concept many times before. But Keaton's effort -- and Ajay Naidu's commendable turn as a kid with an attitude -- makes Touch and Go worth a look.
Eighties Club rating:**
US box office: $1.3 million
US release date: November 1986
1986, Touchstone, Rated PG
Directed by Jeff Kanew
Written by Jim Cruikshank & James Orr
Harry Doyle (Burt Lancaster) and Archie Long (Kirk Douglas) attempted the last great train robbery back in 1955 -- and spent the next thirty years in prison as a result. Now they're two old ex-cons out on parole and thrust into a strange new world. Their sympathetic parole officer Richie (Dana Carver) tries to help them adjust, but the pensive Harry doesn't like being stuck into an old folk's home, even one in which, by chance, an old flame named Belle, a former exotic dancer, now resides. And Archie keeps getting fired from the menial jobs Richie finds for him because he refuses to take any guff off customers -- or management. To make matters worse, they're being pursued by a shotgun-wielding codger named Leon B. Little (Eli Wallach) and they have no idea why. And then there's the cop who put them away (Charles Durning), who wants to relive the high point of his career by prodding them back into a life of crime. Sure enough, Harry and Archie decide that the only way to get the respect they feel they deserve is to go back to train robbing, and set out to hijack the Golden Flyer, the very train they robbed thirty years ago, which is about to embark on its farewell run.
Lancaster and Douglas were giants of Hollywood's Golden Age, and had made a couple of classic films together (Seven Days in May, Gunfight at the OK Corral), and it must have seemed like a grand idea to put them back together on screen. Indeed, Tough Guys fared well at the box office, no doubt thanks to the legion of fans still loyal to the two leads. Unfortunately, they deserved far better material. The scenes which address the culture shock of a '50s tough guy trying to cope with the '80s all belong to Douglas -- always the ladies man, Archie has a fling with a beautiful young health club owner who has him outfitted in a ludicrous bright red suit and dancing to the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- and Douglas does his best to make those scenes work, but there is too much cliche and contrivance for him to overcome. And while Wallach is fun to watch as the cranky, bespectacled hitman Leon, that subplot is a needless distraction wasting time that would have been better spent delving more deeply into just what makes characters like Doyle and Long so unsuited to modern life. So the chance to comment on how much America has changed since the 1950s is squandered, as are the talents of two stars who prove, if nothing else, that first-rate talents can make third-rate material palatable.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $21.5 million
US release date: 10.3.86
"Set It Straight," Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Nasty," Janet Jackson
"So Hip It Hurts," ABC
"Tuff Enuff," Fabulous Thunderbirds
"Work That Body," Phyllis St. James
1989, Columbia, Rated R
Robert Downey, Jr.
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Written by Wesley Strick
Some great actors transform themselves into the characters they play. Others mold their characters into an image of themselves. James Woods does the latter. The character of Eddie Dodd -- celebrated liberal lawyer of the '60s turned into a pot-smoking cynic who justifies defending drug dealers with empty talk about protecting civil liberties -- is not unlike many other of Woods' characters. He's fast-talking, quick-thinking, contemptuous of authority, and seriously flawed. But great actors can get away with such redundancy because they are always fascinating to watch. This densely plotted courtroom drama would be pretty run-of-the-mill if you took Woods out of it. True Believer is filled with old crime flick cliches -- we'll get to those in a minute -- and yet Woods manages to make old into new. Robert Downey Jr., who stars as Roger Baron, a fresh-out-of-law-school attorney who idolizes the Sixties version of Dodd, and who is shocked to find out he must serve as the conscience of the jaded Eighties version, discovers what others before him learned the hard way: That performing with James Woods is a risky business indeed. Though slight in stature, Woods casts an awfully big shadow on screen.
Now, to the plot. Prodded by Roger into taking the case of a Korean convict accused of killing a fellow Sing Sing inmate, Dodd initially just goes through the motions -- until he discovers that his client was innocent of the crime that put him in prison in the first place (Cliche #1). Better yet, he's behind bars because of a conspiracy that involves the cops and a very powerful and ambitious man (Cliche #2). The latter just so happens to be the district attorney (Robert Reynard), who battles Dodd in court to uphold the conviction. The case is further complicated by the presence of neo-Nazi white supremacists, who by 1989 had become Hollywood's villains du jour (See Dead-Bang). Faced with seemingly overwhelming odds, Dodd convinces one of the dirty cops to come clean (Cliche #3), and then puts the DA on the stand so that he can, with a surprising ease that would make Perry Mason proud, make the chief villain admit his wrongdoing (Cliche #4.) Kudos must go to Joseph Ruben for crisp direction -- and for allowing Woods free rein. We overlook the cliche-ridden plot because we're too busy watching a great actor turn average material into something a cut above.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $8.7 million
US release date: 2.17.89
1985, New World, Rated R
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Murray Michaels, Greg Collins O'Neill & Jette Rinck
James Spader stars as Morgan Hiller, a prep-school dropout who ends up in an L.A. high school and promptly runs afoul of the resident gang of juvey delinks, led by one Nick Hauser (Paul Mones.) Morgan not only foils one of the gang's muggings, he has the unmitigated gall to fall for Nick's girlfriend Frankie (Kim Richards.) A rebel, a loner, brooding yet effortlessly hip, Morgan can't live up to his mother's expectations, as measured by the success of his preppy older brother. But he's nothing if not persistent, and eventually wins Frankie over, a fact that Nick's ego won't allow him to accept. Striking out blindly in his rage, Nick shoots Morgan's father, leading us to the final, violent confrontation.
Tuff Turf has its moments, and borrows elements from classics like Rebel Without A Cause and West Side Story. The cast as a whole does fine work; as always Spader brings depth to his character, and Mones gives a finely nuanced performance as a young man trying to conceal his self-doubt behind a tough, menacing exterior. Kim Richards shines in the few scenes in which she's allowed to be more than a boy toy. But taken as a whole this movie is uneven, seesawing from scenes of teen fluff to ones of brutality -- in fact, the denouement between Morgan and Nick is entirely too long and unnecessarily vicious. The soundtrack is, well, different from those of most of the decade's teen flicks, with artists like Marianne Faithful and Lene Lovich contributing. Perhaps the best scene is Kim Richards performing an energetic and eye-popping solo dance in a nightclub where Jack Mack and the Heart Attack are putting on (as usual) one hell of a show. Robert Downey, Jr. appears as the bizarre Jimmy Parker, a character ultimately superfluous to the plot. This is a teen movie with a edge -- unfortunately it isn't always a sharp edge.
Eighties Club rating:**
US box office: $9.4 million
US release date: 1.31.85
Turner & Hooch
1989, Touchstone, Rated PG
Craig T. Nelson
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Michael Blodgett, Jim Cash, Jack Epps, Jr., Daniel Petrie, Jr., Dennis Shryack
Scott Turner (Tom Hanks) is a detective in a small-town police department, with just a few days left before he transfers to the highway patrol, which he hopes will lead to a somewhat more exciting career. But then his friend Amos Reed is killed, and Reed's dog Hooch turns out to be the only "witness" to the murder. Turner reluctantly takes custody of the dog -- and a more unlikely pair is hard to imagine, since Turner is a neat freak and Hooch is a big, drooling, destructive canine who wreaks havoc upon Turner's house and demolishes the upholstery in his car. But Hooch does have his good points. He serves as the catalyst for Turner's acquaintance with a lady vet (Mare Winningham), an acquaintance that naturally turns into romance. And Hooch also lends our hero a great deal of assistance in tracking down the killers of Amos Reed. Seems Reed got caught in the middle of a drug/money laundering racket orchestrated by none other than the police chief (Craig T. Nelson.) It will surprise no one that, in the final showdown, Hooch saves Turner's life.
Turner & Hooch is an average comedy with a few high points -- all of them centering around the canine member of the team. The scene in which Hooch transforms Turner's digs into a disaster area is the best of the film. Tom Hanks -- who used his Eighties film work to demonstrate how deftly he can juggle drama and comedy, thus paving the way for his Oscar-quality work of the Nineties -- gives a workmanlike, if understated, performance. The film is further blessed by the talent of director Roger Spottiswoode, who keeps things moving at a fairly rapid clip. Yet, in spite of all this, Turner & Hooch cannot rise above a rather mundane and thoroughly predictable plot.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $71 million
US release date: 7.28.89