February 24th, 2009

VICE ACADEMY (1988) ***

Ah yes, Vice Academy.  I have fond memories of watching this on USA’s Up All Night (Remember when USA actually had GOOD programming?) like a jillion times during my pubescent years.  Watching it now on DVD is like a trip down memory lane.  All its missing is Gilbert Gottfried’s lunatic comments every 15 minutes or so. 


The story is more or less just a rip-off of Police Academy except it revolves around three hot chicks (Linnea Quigley, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Karen Russell) trying to make ten arrests so they can graduate.  Ginger Lynn is the Goodie Two Shoes chick whose father is the police chief and Linnea is the slutty one who busts a porno ring as well as a prostitution ring.  The ending of course sets things up for a sequel.  (Make that FIVE sequels!)


Now that I’m a man, Vice Academy seems a bit chaste.  Russell pops her top a few times (in a pretty funny running joke) and Linnea only shows her tits once.  Ginger Lynn, the porno star doesn’t even show her boobs at all!  I know she’s supposedly playing the “bitchy” girl, but c’mon Ginger, throw us a bone!  (Huh-huh, I said “bone”!)  That’s how it usually is with porn stars.  They keep their clothes on when they “act”.


Is Vice Academy funny?  Yeah, surprisingly.  Well, let me put it to you this way:  I laughed a lot more when I was a teen than I did when I was 30.  Even at 30 though, I was still chuckling here and there.  It’s at least as funny as Police Academy 2.


AKA:  Vicebusters.

RIO RITA (1929) ** ½

The comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey made their film debut in this adaptation of their hit Broadway show.  Like The Marx Brothers classic, The Cocoanuts (which was also based on a play) from the same year, Wheeler and Woolsey are more of side characters supporting the romantic leads.  The plot has a notorious bank robber named Kinkajou trying to elude the police.  Meanwhile, Ned Lovett (Woolsey) a shyster lawyer has the difficult task of telling his client, Chick Bean (Wheeler) that his wedding is null and void because his “Mexican divorce” isn’t legal.


The flick seems like two movies slapped together.  The stuff with the mysterious bandito and Wheeler and Woolsey’s shtick go together like oil and water.  You also have to sit through a lot of boring song and dance numbers too.  (They are nicely staged if you’re into that sort of thing.)  Since Rio Rita was one of the earliest talkies and they hadn’t quite worked all the bugs out on how to do a musical right, I’m inclined to give the filmmakers a Mulligan on this one.


The good news is that when Wheeler and Woolsey are on screen, it’s pretty damn funny.  The funniest scene is when Bert’s current wife and his ex get into an argument that plays out like a boxing match.  Plus, as the film goes on, the duo gets more and more screen time, which is a good thing.  Also, the finale is in full color and it looks pretty great (for the time).  Thirteen years later, the film was remade as a vehicle for Abbott and Costello.


If you’re new to Wheeler and Woolsey, I’d suggest checking out Mummies Boys first, then graduating to something like this.  The team returned for Dixiana the next year.  Woolsey gets the best line of the movie when he meets his client’s first wife:  “Oh you’re the first Mrs. Bean.  You’re the Has-Bean!”

Rio Rita sits on The Video Vacuum Top Ten of 1929 at the Number 4 spot, right below The Cocoanuts.

DIXIANA (1930) ** ½

When a Southern gentleman proposes to a dancer named Dixiana (Bebe Daniels), her knuckleheaded sidemen (the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey) object.  He then offers to invite them to his massive southern plantation to meet his folks and they readily agree.  All goes well until his butch mother finds out that her daughter in-law to-be is “circus folk” and she has a meltdown.  Then a conniving asshole tries to lure Dixiana away from her true love and provokes a duel between the two objects of her affection.  It all comes to a head when Dixiana is crowned the Queen of the Mardi Gras.


As with Wheeler and Woolsey’s Rio Rita from the previous year, the last two reels of Dixiana are in full color.  This Technicolor Mardi Gras sequence is really stunning to look at and contains a pretty funny scene where Woolsey commands a chorus line of female dancers military style.  Also featured in the sequence is a show-stopping tap dance routine by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  Just like Rio Rita, most of the musical numbers are thoroughly lame, but the title song is surprisingly snappy.  Besides, when was the last time you saw a musical number where a woman gets birthed out of a giant ostrich egg?


Wheeler and Woolsey get more screen time than they did in Rio Rita (which also co-starred Daniels); it’s just too bad that their material isn’t as good.  If you’re a more than forgiving fan of the duo (like me), there’ll be enough here for you to enjoy; like the running gag in which the boys play the “Three Cigars” game.  Woolsey gets the best line of the flick when he says, “My uncle was a Southern planter… he was an undertaker!”


Dixiana is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten of 1930 at the Number 4 spot, right below another Wheeler and Woolsey flick; Hook, Line and Sinker.

GIRL CRAZY (1932) ** ½

A young David O. Selznick produced this mostly amusing Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, based on a musical by George and Ira Gershwin.   A wealthy playboy opens up a dude ranch in a small Wild West town that’s infamous for having its sheriffs murdered in record time.  He hires his pal Slick (Robert Woolsey) to open up the gambling hall and Slick nominates his dim-witted chauffeur Jimmy (Bert Wheeler) as the new sheriff, just so he can get killed and Slick can get out of paying his bloated taxi fare.


The filmmakers wisely focused on the comic antics of Wheeler and Woolsey instead of the music and in turn, the flick is sprinkled with some fine moments for the team.  There’s a funny scene in which the boys dress up as Indians (“I’m an Apolis Indian from Indianapolis!”) and the climax where Woolsey tries to hypnotize a murderous cowpoke into not killing him is pretty clever too.  But my favorite part came when a dummy of a motorcycle cop got attached to the back of Wheeler’s taxi and dragged behind the car.  When a REAL motorcycle cop follows the duo, Woolsey does everything he can to get rid of the “dummy”.  Hilarity ensues.


Sure the flick has its share of good stuff, but it has equal amounts of doldrums.  The plot had a lot of potential, yet director William A. Seiter doesn’t really do a whole lot with the western setting.  Thankfully, the songs this time around are pretty tolerable.  What really stops the film cold though is Wheeler’s annoying little sister whose whiny voice will get on your nerves fast. 


The female Pony Express rider gets the best line when she says, “I take care of all the mails around here.”  (Get it, cuz it sounds like “males”?)


F.Y.I.:  Seiter later went on to direct films for The Marx Brothers (Room Service) as well as Abbott and Costello (Little Giant).  Look fast for a young Lon Chaney Jr. as one of the cowboys.