For a movie with such a ridiculous premise, Rude Awakening has a surprising amount of sweetness.
It’s about two FBI-dodging hippies (Eric Roberts and Cheech Marin) who have hidden away in the Central American jungles for 20 years, and return to America 1989 to find that things didn’t turn out the way they expected.
All right, it sounds stupid. And, for the most part, it is, although the film is not the situation comedy it may sound. Actually, Rude Awakening takes some pains to treat its subject with thoughtfulness. Of course, the thoughtfulness is interspersed with marijuana jokes, so nothing ever quite works as it should.
The two hippies return to New York City to find that their two best friends have become straight-arrow members of the Establishment. One is a high strung businesswoman (Julie Hagerty); she’s horrified when they arrive on the rug of her sterile condo: “You still look like dirty, smelly hippies,” she says. “You look great, too,” they reply.
The other old friend (Robert Carradine) has cornered the market in tanning salons. The revolution, except in ultraviolet rays, got lost somewhere along the way. But it probably goes without saying that the reappearance of the two old comrades-in-arms does a lot to rekindle these ex-radicals’ former beliefs.
There’s plenty of silly nonsense, obviously. The idea that the committed hippies of the 1960s have turned into the soulless yuppies of the 1980s is a familiar one, but there’s comic mileage left in the cliché.
The movie’s funniest scene involves an uptight ultra-yuppie couple (brilliantly played by Buck Henry and Andrea Martin) invading Carradine’s home and coming face to face with the long-hairs, who are busy smoking weed and calling for revolution. Henry and Martin deliver such devastating comic caricatures that the proceedings spring to consistent life for the longest stretch in the movie.
Other than that, Rude Awakening has a tendency to get stuck in its own dewy-eyedness (and it founders on Eric Roberts’ inability to play a simple leading-man role). But it could have been worse, and in a month in which we’ve been repeatedly told how meaningless Woodstock was, the film’s flower-power charm is even refreshing.
First published in the Herald, August 1989
People must have been marking the Woodstock anniversary that year, and this was a period when conservative pundits were fond of insisting that the Sixties were responsible for all our contemporary problems. So that’s what the last paragraph is about. In the review I keep talking about how ridiculous this movie is, but then acknowledging that it’s actually pretty good, so I don’t know why I was embarrassed about it. Co-director Robert Greenwalt previously did the fun Secret Admirer and went on to success in TV, including the Buffy the Vampire Slayer world. Co-director Aaron Russo later ran for office as a libertarian and made a documentary about the evils of the IRS, or something like that. So I’m not sure what’s going on there.