A madly coiffured punk leaps into the sea; when he emerges, three fish are impaled on the pink spikes of his hair.
A man hands his high-flying kite to a child on the beach; immediately the tot is lifted up and carried away. “Sorry,” says the man.
Two taunting little girls make ugly faces. “You better stop doing that,” they’re told, “or somebody is going to startle you and your faces will stay that way.” Somebody does. The faces stay.
These outrageous sight gags are indicative of the bizarre comedy of One Crazy Summer, the new film from writer-director Savage Steve Holland, who displayed similarly surrealistic tendencies in his debut feature, Better Off Dead.
Savage Steve has teamed again with the star of Better Off Dead, John Cusack (who was so good in The Sure Thing). This time Cusack plays an aspiring cartoonist, just graduated form high school, who spends the summer at a friend’s house on Nantucket. (Animated sequences, Cusack’s reaction to his wild summer, punctuate the film.)
Naturally, a lot of screwy things happen. Cusack befriends a folk singer (Demi Moore, lately impressive in About Last Night…) who stands to inherit a house on the island – except that the inheritance is jeopardized by the bad guys, who want to take the house and construct a sprawling, environmentally offensive condo village on the property.
Cusack and his pals can’t let that happen, and somehow it transpires that an annual boat race will let them win the house back for Moore. It’s all too convenient and completely unbelievable, but Savage Steve doesn’t seem to care.
Believability ranks low on Holland’s list of cinematic necessities. He comes from the world of animation, where physical improbabilities are the norm. Holland tries to apply cartoon logic to his live performers, and this has the strange effect of cutting a scene dead. When Cusack and Moore have a tender scene on the beach, Holland caps it by revealing that Cusack has become stuck to his kneecaps in the sand.
In and of itself, that’s not a bad joke, but according to the scene we’ve just watched, it’s physically impossible. That breaks an audience’s involvement with the characters.
Despite the stop-and-go nature of the comedy, I found myself liking this film. While the gags frequently fall flat, there’s an off-kilter likability that prevails.
Cusack has a good reactive deadpan, used well here, since most of the other actors are whooping it up. One of them is the deranged stand-up comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait, who screams and contorts and dresses up in a Godzilla suit. This allows him one poetic moment, when he tramples the small-scale model of the proposed condo village, and lives out a scene from every Japanese horror movie of the last few decades.
First published in The Herald, August 1986
Holland has maintained a long career, mostly in television. I guess I must have liked this a little better than Better Off Dead, but overall it apparently isn’t my kind of thing. The cast includes Curtis Armstrong, Joel Murray, Tom Villard, Joe Flaherty, and Jeremy Piven, in his first year of movie acting. I have to say, the joke about the sand sounds like an homage to Un Chien Andalou. All that ingenuity and effort to create the gags, and yet the title is leaden. The poster for this film, with a devilish sun, was really odd. It just occurred to me that Goldthwait’s film God Bless America stars Joel Murray, so maybe One Crazy Summer spawned something good. Also, this is the movie where Cusack’s character is named Hoops McCann, after the Steely Dan song “Glamour Profession.”