Summer Heat

January 16, 2020

summerheatTerrence Malick’s Days of Heaven was one of the singular American films of the 1970s. It was poetic, photographically lush, yet it told a story that is as old as the land: a classic triangle of love, lust and death.

One of his assistants on that movie was a UCLA film school graduate named Michie Gleason. She is now a writer-director in her own right, and has made a film that shares a very similar subject with Malick’s Llke Days of Heaven, Summer Heat is a stark tale set in the heartland, a triangle that ends in death.

But Days of Heaven safely retains its singular status. Aside from the resemblance in plot, Summer Heat can’t compare with the earlier film; fact is, it’s barely competent in its own terms.

Gleason adapted the movie from Louise Shivers’ novel, Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail. In this story, set in North Carolina in 1937, the angles of the triangle are embodied by Roxy (Lori Singer), a lanky farmwife, her dullard farmer husband Aaron (Anthony Edwards), and a chiseled drifter (Bruce Abbott) who blows into town, lands a job as Aaron’s farmhand, and quickly slides into Roxy’s bed. As befits the Tobacco Row setting, there is much dust kicked around by bare feet on wooden floors, mandolins picked at night by the fire, and heavy heartland-America music swelling on the soundtrack. In short, all the usual cliches of the genre.

Nothing seems original here. Gleason goes neither for stylization (as Malick did in his film) nor realism – there’s no earthy, believable life. So the movie hangs in between, unsure of its approach. There’s a facile feminist message near the end, but it’s a cheap way to tie things up.

Lacking a distinct vision, Gleason might have let the actors make it interesting, but she barely allows them to perk. Lori Singer, of Footloose, is still a largely impassive  screen presence, although she looks convincingly wan, continually boxed within window frames as she is.

Anthony Edwards, the funny sidekick from Top Gun, barely registers in this somber role. Bruce Abbott looks his part, but isn’t required to do much more than smolder. All three of them remain children of the 1980s; you never quite buy the period. And the movie has no resonance, despite its grim subject, partly because these actors are so young. Their faces don’t register any past experiences.

Gleason does avoid having her cast assume heavy Southern accents, a tendency that usually makes the soundtracks of films such as this sound like a really painful high-school production of Tennessee Williams. Curiously, this bit of good taste has the effect of making Summer Heat even duller than it already is.

First published in the Herald, 1987

This one has slipped through the cracks. Kathy Bates was in it, too, three years  before Misery.  It’s narrated by Dorothy McGuire, which is sort of interesting (A Summer Place shout-out?), and shot by Eliot Davis. The IMDb comments say there’s a song by Kim Carnes, too.


Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise

January 12, 2012

The original Revenge of the Nerds took a very funny title and a tried-and-true comic formula (vengeance) and became the surprise hit of the summer of 1984. It had its genuinely mirthful moments, in large part because the two head nerds were played with some inspiration by Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards.

A sequel was inevitable, and so was the return to formula. In Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, once again the geeks are abused and tormented, until they must slip their pocket protectors in place and turn the tables on the evil jocks at the Alpha Beta fraternity. In this session, Carradine is back as the grandmaster nerd, leading his nearsighted brethren. Edwards, however, has enjoyed a healthy career upswing and is less nerdy now. Thus he appears in just a couple of scenes (a broken leg explains his absence from the action).

As the subtitle suggests, our heroes are on vacation in Fort Lauderdale for a convention of fraternities. Things are bleak from the outset, however. The mean hotel manager (Ed Lauter) announces: “I don’t want nerds in my hotel!” So the pencil-necked geeks end up in a fleabag, where there are no computers to repair or cute girls to repulse.

The movie ping-pongs between the humiliations of the nerds and their vengeful plotting. There are a few funny scenes, especially the nerds’ rap party, where they mutate into something like the Beastie Nerds; and a sequence that has Edwards, dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi, appearing to a dispirited Carradine in a dream. His sage advice? “Stop acting like a wienie!”

But for the most part, Nerds II remains only slightly superior to your average teen gross-out movie (director Joe Roth also produced the similar Bachelor Party). Many of the good gags are repeats from the first film, such as the overuse of Carradine’s donkey laugh. There’s a heavy emphasis on bodily-function jokes, nose-picking, and bikini jiggle.

The most disgusting nerd, Booger (Curtis Armstrong, now a regular on TV’s “Moonlighting”), is back with his usual habits. Characteristic of his behavior, and the movie’s high point of blecch, is a belching duel he has with an inexplicable Asian man (James Hong). Nerdhood, reassuringly, know no ethnic boundaries.

First published in the Herald, July 1987

Beyond the fond recollection that Orson Welles recorded the voiceover for the first Nerds movie, I got nothing. It seems Anthony Edwards deserves credit for being a good sport.