June 24th, 2008

SERIAL (1980) **

The good folks at Legend Films continue to release obscure films from the Paramount Pictures archives.  They just sent me a new box of DVD’s to review so without further ado:

 

Serial (based on Cyra McFadden’s novel) is a black comedy about the oddball well-to-do Marin County, California residents who get easily taken in by the latest New Age trends that make their paper-thin life seem worthwhile.  The bored housewives indulge in kama sutra sex, have inane “rap sessions”, subscribe to mindless psychobabble, dancercise, participate in orgies and dabble in lesbianism while the men smoke pot, hook-up with teenage check-out girls, commit suicide, or join up with the Gay Hell’s Angels. 

 

Martin Mull stars as the only seemingly “normal” person in the whole town.  Throughout the course of the movie, his marriage to Tuesday Weld crumbles and repairs itself numerous times, but they finally come together for good once their daughter is kidnapped by a religious cult. 

 

Watching this movie, it’s easy to see why you see Mull almost exclusively in supporting roles because he just doesn’t have the screen presence necessary to carry this spastic and uneven flick.  In a film filled with so many weirdos, having your lead character be this bland is a big misstep because he just blends in with the background while all the kooks are running around.  

 

The supporting cast occasionally gets to shine.  Peter (The Bob Newhart Show) Bonerz makes the best impression as a coke sniffing therapist who tells his ten year-old patient to “get in touch with your childhood!”  Stacey (Halloween 3) Nelkin is also pretty great as a bosomy nympho space cadet and Sally (Back to School) Kellerman gets to show off her massive tits in one scene. 

 

Director Bill Persky’s extensive television background is evident because for the most part, Serial plays like a bad R rated sitcom than the scathing satire that it thinks it is.  The crucial flaw is that the flick is all over the place in terms of subject matter AND tone.  I’m sure Persky was trying to ape Altman with all the multiple storylines and characters, but the result is just an unfocused (though sporadically funny) mess.  There are a few good zingers here and there, but most of them are few and far between.  The excellent Gay Hell’s Angels vs. Religious Cult finale is pretty memorable though. 

 

Even with several major flaws hamstringing the picture, I still say that any movie in which Christopher Lee (With an AMERICAN accent!) plays a gay biker named Skull can’t be all that bad.  Lee also gets the best line of the movie:  “My men are not pansies.  We have terrorized whole communities!  We are tough dudes!”

 

Serial will be released July 1st for the first time ever on DVD, but you can get your copy now by going to The Legend Films website at www.legendfilms.net. 

BLUE CITY (1986) *

 

Remember in the 80’s when Hollywood issued a mandatory quota and studios were forced to release at least one Brat Packer movie a week?  Well now that Blue City is on DVD, you can relive the time when the names Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy could open a picture.  After The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, this was the duo’s THIRD movie together. 

 

The third time is not the charm. 

 

Nelson stars as a perennial fuck-up who shows up in his Florida hometown looking for his father.  He learns that his pops was murdered and the prime suspect is the slimy town club owner/gangster (Scott Wilson).  So Nelson’s big plan is to go around town being a jerk to him, reigning down a few minor inconveniences on his archenemy, and basically annoying him to death.  When that doesn’t work, he gets his best friend (David Caruso) and his sister (Sheedy) to help him solve the murder.

 

The REAL murderer will be obvious to anyone possessing half a brain, or at the very least, has seen a few movies in their time.    

 

But the total lack of any surprises is not the movie’s downfall.  The thing that sends this flick straight to the Turkey Graveyard is the thoroughly annoying performance by Judd Nelson. 

 

I’m sorry, but Judd Nelson is NOT convincing as a sulking, motorcycle-riding, loner badass.  With his puppy dog eyes and perpetual pouty face, Nelson looks more like a spoiled brat with a toothache than a vengeance seeking tough guy.  The scenes where Nelson waltzes into a bar and pushes people around and smashes things up are just not believable.  Seriously, just try not to piss yourself laughing whenever Judd is running around with a gun in his hand and barking orders.  Nelson isn’t always a bad actor (check him out in The Dark Backward if you don’t believe me), but he’s pretty rotten in this flick and is hopelessly miscast to boot.  

 

Caruso puts in the only three dimensional performance in the film as Nelson’s blue collar buddy.  He seems to be the only one in the entire movie giving two shits about his character, and if he was in the lead, Blue City may have provided some sparks.  At least co-star Paul (Star Trek 2) Winfield gets to keep his dignity as the chief of police and Julie (Fright Night 2) Carmen makes for some fetching eye candy as Wilson’s moll. 

 

Director Michelle Manning goes for that whole skeevy Florida Noir thing that George Armitage did so well with Miami Blues, but fails to evoke much style, let alone substance.  It’s easy to see why she never directed another movie after this.  The nominal action scenes are sloppily edited and choreographed and add to the movie’s suckitude.  The film was written and produced by Testosterone Cinema guru Walter (48 Hours) Hill, and had he been at the helm, it would’ve been a definite improvement.  There IS a great score by Ry Cooder that certainly helps, but not much.

 

But then again, nothing could have overcome Nelson’s awful performance.  During the course of the movie, Nelson spouts a lot of pseudo-tough guy talk; none of it is believable in the least, but here are some lines that are eerily prophetic of how the audience will feel while watching this crap:  

 

“I want some fucking justice and until I get that, your life is gonna suck!”  Roger that Judd, my life DID suck while I was watching your inane quest for vengeance. 

 

“You’re going to feel grief and woe of Biblical proportions!”  Right you are Judd, that’s exactly how I felt watching your sorry ass running around Florida trying to act tough. 

 

“I either confuse people or I piss them off!”  Judd, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

 

Blue City is making it’s way to DVD for the first time anywhere, courtesy of Legend Films (who have been steadily releasing niche titles from the Paramount vaults).  For more information on this release and other forthcoming titles from Legend; check out their website at www.legendfilms.net.  

PARTNERS (1982) **

 

Respected television director James (Cheers) Burrows and La Cage Aux Folles screenwriter Francis Veber teamed up for this uneven comedy/drama that plays like a head-on collision of The Odd Couple and Cruising. 

 

Ryan O’Neal stars as a homophobic detective who is paired with a gay cop (John Hurt) to find a murderer who kills gay men and takes photos afterwards.  They go undercover in the gay community where the duo poses as a couple in order to catch the killer.  

 

All of this is more or less predictable, but it’s still somewhat entertaining.  Yeah we all know that by the end of the movie that O’Neal will learn that “Gays are people too”, but it’s handled with more sensitivity than say, Cruising.  Just don’t expect it to win any GLAAD Awards any time soon.  Sure the movie is politically incorrect, but at least the flick more or less treats it’s gay characters with a LITTLE dignity instead of reducing them to complete stereotypes. 

 

Burrows only occasionally lets things lapse into broad comedy and quite surprisingly, the film actually works better as a buddy cop movie than as a comedy.  By the time the cops begin to zero in on the killer though, the wheels start to fall off and things become increasingly clichéd.  The identity of the killer is also painfully obvious from the get-go, which helps further drain the suspense from the final act. 

 

O’Neal does a good job in the lead and gives a pretty brave performance for someone of his popularity at the time.  Hurt does some fine work too and makes his character a fully fleshed out human being instead of a by-the-number standard issue Hollywood flamer.  Martin (The Karate Kid) Kove co-stars as a potential victim and James Remar (who also had a small role in Cruising) also pops up as a suspect. 

 

Whenever Partners is focusing on its characters, it works, but as the film wears on, it becomes more reliant on pointless clichés, which ultimately sinks it. 

 

Partners is part of a trove of movies from the Paramount archives that are being released on DVD by Legend Films for the first time.  For more info, check out their website at www.legendfilms.net.  

THE WHOOPEE BOYS (1986) * ½

 

Michael (Caddyshack) O’Keefe and Paul (D.C. Cab) Rodriguez star in this middling 80’s comedy from director John Byrum as two New York street hustlers trying to worm their way into Palm Beach high society.  To impress an heiress and get their hands on her loot, they enroll themselves in a low rent charm school ran by Denholm (Raiders of the Lost Ark) Elliott to learn the manners necessary to schmooze with rich folk.    

 

The premise is the kind of thing that The Marx Brothers would’ve had a field day with.  The problem is that O’Keefe and Rodriguez can’t even get as many laughs as Zeppo Marx did.  (Or Karl Marx for the matter.)

 

This half-assed comedy isn’t the sort of thing you’d expect from the director of The Razor’s Edge and Inserts.  While Rodriguez (who looks like he’s ad-libbing most of the time) has a few good moments, the absence of genuine laughs really hurts.  The supporting cast features such familiar faces as Eddie (Grease) Deezen, Marsha (Night Court) Warfield, Dan (The Last Starfighter) O’Herlihy, and Joe (Maniac) Spinell, but none of them really bring anything to the table.   

 

Rodriguez gets the best line of the movie when he tells two women:  “As long as I have a face, you’ll always have a place to sit!”

 

Legend Films has released The Whoopee Boys for the first time on DVD in association with Paramount Pictures.  For more info on this and future releases, check out their website at www.legendfilms.net.  

ALMOST AN ANGEL (1990) **

 

The late 80’s and early 90’s were rife with sugary sweet angel movies.  There was The Heavenly Kid, Date with an Angel, Mr. Destiny and Angels in the Outfield, just to name a few.  The reason why these flicks seldom worked is because (the then) modern audiences were way too cynical to accept such lightweight good-natured piffle.  Almost an Angel is no exception.

 

Crocodile Dundee himself, Paul Hogan stars as a bank robber who saves a kid from being hit by a speeding Volkswagen and gets hit by the car himself.  While in a coma, he has a dream in which God (Charlton Heston) makes him an angel of mercy and sends him back to Earth so he can do good deeds.  He befriends an embittered cripple (Elias Koteas) and helps him and his sister (Linda Kozlowski, Hogan’s Crocodile co-star) run their failing rec center for wayward youths. 

 

For Hogan, this flick was his chance to play a character that didn’t wear a funny hat and brandish a knife the size of Kansas.  It wasn’t a hit and after another failed comedy attempt (Lightning Jack), his star quickly faded. 

 

The flick starts off promising with Hogan dressing up as both Willie Nelson AND Rod Stewart to pull his heists, but once Hogan gets religion, the laughs dry up fast and things quickly go downhill from there.  I mean there’s a difference between an uplifting film with a message and a syrupy, heavy-handed one, but director John (Crocodile Dundee 2) Cornell doesn’t seem to know that.  There are only so many eye-rolling clichés one movie can take.  Ex cons running around doing good deeds for “the needy”?  Terminally ill cripples who find a reason to live?  An endangered rec center for wayward kids?  Give me a break!

 

Like many titles in the Paramount Pictures back catalogue, Almost an Angel is being released on DVD by Legend Films for the first time.  To get your copy, check out www.legendfilms.net today.