Turk 182!

January 2, 2013

turk182Turk 182! is one of those inscrutable titles that film studios hope will prove intriguing enough to lure the ticket-buying public. That’s what they think, anyway.

The movie behind the title turns out to be an ordinary entry in the reliably popular (and populist) little-guy-against-the-system genre. These plots usually spring out of some injustice that our hero needs to make right, which gives the filmmakers the chance to whip up some Pavlovian rage and send the audience into a good heavy-lathered sweat.

Well…Turk 1982! doesn’t perceptibly raise the perspiration level. It punches the right buttons in getting its anti-Establishment points across, but the proceedings are too automatic to lift it above the level of a programmer.

The injustice here centers on an off-duty New York firefighter (Robert Urich) who, while having a beer, sees a fire taking place across the street. He rushes over, fights his way through the blaze to save a little girl’s life, then accidentally falls through a window and racks himself up pretty seriously.

Cut to six months later: The fireman’s physical wounds have healed, but he’s off the force and ineligible for his pension benefits because he was under the influence while performing the rescue mission. Enter his shiftless younger brother (Timothy Hutton), who revs himself up with righteous anger and takes the case to city hall.

When the slimy mayor (Robert Culp) won’t listen to him, Hutton papers the walls of the mayor’s office with his brother’s benefit-rejection letters. Then he figures if he goes on a spree of graffiti-perpetrating, he might just get the attention of the powers-that-be.

He aims his barbs at the mayor, to embarrass him into examining his brother’s case. He plants a mysterious signature (Turk 182) on highly visible landmarks—a graffiti-proof subway car that the mayor is dedicating personally; on the posterior of the city’s mounted police; on the huge scoreboard at a Giants game, where the mayor hopes to pick up a campaign boost and gets booted instead.

The unknown Turk 182 becomes a local hero, and the mayor sends some cops (Peter Boyle and Darren McGavin) out to track him down.

It’s not a bad idea, but let’s face it, it’s not particularly great either. The execution of this idea, under the loose (and sometimes agreeably funky) direction of Bob (Porky’s) Clark, is similarly wishy-washy. There’s the perfunctory love interest (Kim Cattrall) for our sensitive hero, and the perfunctory tender scenes of brudderly love, etc.

Hutton is okay; he clearly enjoys playing rebellious roles, and he’s effective in them. One note to the filmmakers: in Hutton’s last scene, when he is supposed to be triumphant, his face is bathed in stark lighting from below. Such is the topography of Hutton’s face that this lighting emphasizes his resemblance to a weasel, which is probably not the effect the filmmakers wanted to get for this outlaw hero in his ultimate victory.

First published in the Herald, February 1985

This was maybe the most mystifying of the mystifying run of movies Hutton made after winning an Oscar for Ordinary People and presumably having some heat in Hollywood (see also Iceman and The Falcon and the Snowman). It is very much of the Eighties, even if the basic idea seems like a Seventies stick-it-to-the-man leftover.

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Rhinestone

March 22, 2012

Sylvester Stallone, it seems, will not make a movie today unless he can monkey around with it. He did an on-location rewrite of First Blood that turned a screenplay examining the effects of Agent Orange on some vets into a dumb (if sometimes brutally effective) hunt movie.

Then he trashed Staying Alive, which he rewrote and directed, by creating an appalling hybrid of Flashdance and his Rocky films.

Somewhere Stallone must have read that drama is built on conflict. Unfortunately, Stallone’s character clashes exist just for the purpose of creating meaningless friction. One of the reasons Staying Alive died at the box office after its huge opening weeks was that Stallone had dragged the film down with dreary, senseless exchanges between John Travolta and his female co-stars.

Rhinestone, which Stallone rewrote, has these same dopey disagreements. There’s no reason for Stallone (playing a New York cab driver) and Dolly Parton (playing a country-western singer) to bicker, but they’re periodically given irrelevant excuses to do so.

Parton is a singer in a Manhattan club owned by a weasel (Ron Leibman); he handles Dolly’s career and would like to handle much more of her. She makes a bet with him: If she can take the first person they see, and turn him into a country singer who can last through a single song on the stage of Leibman’s rowdy club, Leibman has to release her from her contract.

If she doesn’t do it, then Leibman gets to extend her contract—and he gets a no-strongs roll in the hay.

Of course, the first person they see is uncouth Italian hack Stallone, and Dolly carts him down to her Southern home town to teach him how to be Country in two weeks’ time. There ensue some amusing adventures, although the gags sometimes have a condescending attitude toward the South that becomes rather smug.

After Stallone’s first rehearsal with Dolly’s pickers and fiddlers—in which he screams an eardrum-bursting version of “Devil with the Blue Dress On”—Dolly’s father (Richard Farnsworth, adorable as always) sidles up to Stallone and levels with him: “That was scary, son.” I can’t improve on that.

But Stallone gets a taste of country when he goes on a drinking bout with a local singer (Tim Thomerson). Their drunk scene is one of the funniest in the movie, but Thomerson is later thrown away as an interesting supporting character so he can be a villain and Stallone can punch him out. Actually, Parton punches him out first.

Rhinestone does make the effort to depict Parton as a perfectly self-sufficient, independent person, and the cast (under the direction of Bob Porky’s Clark) has fun with the fact that she often grabs the initiative before Stallone has a chance.

If you have any doubts about how the film ends, then you’ve never seen a Rocky movie. However, by the time we get to the finish, we’re worn out from the arbitrary crises that crop up time and again. Besides, the film has already had one climax: Before they leave the South, Stallone gets a try-out in front of Parton’s home-town crowd. They sing a delightful duet (something like, “I Don’t Want to Fall in Love, I Just Want to Fall in Bed”—like all the film’s songs, written by Parton) and bring the house down.

It would have been nice if the film had ended there. A subject this wispy shouldn’t have to be stretched to more than 90 minutes. But like Stallone’s showy, wisecracking performance, the movie doesn’t know when to stop.

First published in the Herald, June 1984

I don’t really know what else to say. The movie doesn’t exactly haunt my dreams, but you’d think that somebody might have been able to take the raw ingredients and actually make something fun out of it.


From the Hip

November 10, 2011

A lot of movies, not to mention TV shows, restaurants, tennis shoes, and assorted cultural artifacts, are casually condemned when the work “yuppie” is hurled their way. “Yuppie” has become such a contemptuous putdown that there is almost no defense against it: if someone says The Big Chill is a yuppie movie, there is little for an admirer of that film to do except swallow hard and try to change the subject.

So if “yuppie” has been embraced as a wholly negative buzzword, it is surprising to hear it used as self-deprecation. In a scene in From the Hip, young marrieds Judd Nelson and Elizabeth Perkins refer to themselves as yuppies, thus perhaps making cinema history, and also providing the film with its lone moment of self-reflection: At least these people know what they are.

If these are yuppies, and typical ones at that, we may all be worse off than we feared. Nelson, a Gold Card holder in the Brat Pack (St. Elmo’s Fire), plays a first-year lawyer who is looking to make it big in his dusty, respectable Boston firm. Perkins (About Last Night…), the faithful wife, works with underprivileged kids—even the movie can’t get that one out with a straight face.

The film is made up of two of Nelson’s grandstanding trials. In the first, he breaks most of the ethical rules of the court in defending a minor assault case.

The second trial is longer and trickier. Nelson’s headline-grabbing tactics have the blue-blooded partners (Nancy Marchand and Darren McGavin) asking that the twerp be disbarred. But the headlines also attract the business of a wealthy new client: an academic (John Hurt) described as “a cross between Charles Manson and William F. Buckley,” accused of murdering a prostitute, who wants Nelson to personally defend him.

Nelson goes heavily into his standard bag of courtroom antics—waving a hammer at the jury box, pulling a rabbit out from beneath the witness stand, placing a vibrator in the prosecutor’s briefcase—before considering the possibility that Hurt is probably guilty as sin.

This, of course, prompts the big soul-searching that we are to understand represents the hero’s Growing Up. Phooey. It’s all by the numbers, as the entire film has been.

The unbelievability of From the Hip—and not five minutes goes by without Nelson doing something that would have him thrown out on his keister in any courtroom—might have been acceptable if there were any trace of charm in the movie. There is none.

Nelson, who was appropriately insufferable in The Breakfast Club, seems to be insufferable even in supposedly sympathetic roles. This, naturally, hampers the movie’s efforts (and they are relentless) to charm. The other actors do stock characterizations. Elizabeth Perkins’ lopsidedness may prove interesting somewhere else, someday; and of course John Hurt does professional work as the sinister defendant.

From the Hip is from the hip of Bob Clark, the man who brought us Porky’s. Clark seems to have discovered the right buttons to push, in terms of formulaic plotting and yuk-getting, and so far it’s kept him working. I hope he enjoys his success; it’s unlikely many others will.

First published in the Herald, February 12, 1987

So, yes, “yuppie” was still relatively new. The Brat Pack was always a dumb idea, and Judd Nelson was getting toward the end of his run, and this movie just sat there, really awkwardly, in the middle of all that. But hey, I never knew this: it was an early effort by David E. Kelley, future TV titan with a specialty in law.


Porky’s Revenge

August 4, 2011

The saga began with a brilliantly marketed little sleaze comedy that turned up during a slack spring season a couple of years ago and chalked up astounding box-office numbers. Its teaser ads promised plenty of raunchy action, and Porky’s delivered the goods, which is more than you can say for many teen-oriented comedies.

Perhaps that was the key to the success of Porky’s—it went all the way. No leering sexual situation went unmentioned, no naughty word unspoken, and no body part un-referred to. (It also shrewdly employed a revenge plot in service of its comedy.)

Naturally, a sequel was in order, and writer-director Bob Clark, the auteur of Porky’s, gathered together  the same cast and filmed Porky’s 2: The Next Day, which continued the exploits of a ’50s-era Florida high-school class, their battles with teachers, and their unpleasant confrontations with a corpulent casino owner named Porky.

It’s time for Book Three, and Porky’s Revenge takes up the odyssey of the seniors at Angel Beach High as they approach graduation—this time without the filmmaking services of Bob Clark, who has gone on to direct such gems as Rhinestone. Taking over the reins is director James Komack, who has guided many TV sitcoms over the years, including “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”

Well, the tender sentiments of that TV show are all behind Komack now. Porky’s Revenge fulfills its goal of being just as filthy as the original Porky’s. It’s also every bit as unfunny.

This one hinges on Angel High’s championship basketball game, which figures in a gambling scam that Porky is pulling. But this plot, if we may call it that, is a poor excuse for standard shenanigans sprung from a prurient 16-year-old mentality. There’s something about a Swedish sex film, a nude swimming party, and a mistaken-identity seduction scene that borrows from Measure for Measure.

On second thought, scratch Measure for Measure. It is doubtful whether anyone involved in the production here ever read the play.

There’s also a pair of teachers who engage in kinky sex to the tune of “Mack the Knife” (these acts are photographed and used for blackmail by our heroes). Teacher, naturally, are portrayed as sexual psychopaths of every kind—the filmmakers know which side the audience’s bread is buttered on.

The main thing, of course, is looking at girls and commenting on their gazoobies (spelling approximate), a term which may or may not have been popular during the Eisenhower years. That remains the dominant cinematic motif in all the Porky’s films.

The cast is the same group of unknowns that have been frolicking about in every entry thus far. Out of charity, they shall remain unnamed, but we can take consolation in at least one undeniable fact of life: they are all getting older, and they won’t be able to play high-school kids much longer. That could spell the end of the Porky’s cycle. Then again, that may be underestimating the savvy of the relentless producers of these movies.

First published in the Herald, March 1985

I no longer recall the exact nature of the mistaken-identity seduction scene, nor whether it actually has anything to do with Measure for Measure. But I do remember what a drag these movies were, and how the first one went through the roof and pointed the way toward many a future raunchfest. Meanwhile, James Komack—remember Jimmy Komack? A busy TV director and writer, used to act quite a bit, turned up on talk shows pretty often as an exemplary Seventies guy. I wonder why he ended up getting connected to this junk. (Various online sources, without quite confirming it, suggest that Komack was the illegitimate son of Milton Berle, which is something to think about.) This film indeed ended the series, unless persistent rumors of Howard Stern being associated with a remake are true.