For Keeps

April 28, 2020

forkeepsDuring the opening scene of For Keeps, two teen-age lovers (Molly Ringwald, Randall Batinkoff) indulge in some adult passion on a damp forest floor. Then, as the opening credits roll, the screen is filled with clinical depictions of the human fertilization process that resemble something out of a Nova science special. Evidently romantic comedy has entered the 1990s.

Actually, those shots are supposed to be funny, in an intentionally bizarre way. I think. In any case, the young Wisconsin couple has just managed to add pregnancy to their list of high school woes, and For Keeps is primarily about the troubles that ensue.

The resulting comedy-melodrama is summed up by Ringwald when she describes the situation thus: “They write bad country songs about this, okay?”

Ringwald’s snooty mother (Miriam Flynn) is miffed because a baby would mean the mother-daughter trip to Paris is off. Batinkoff’s blue-collar father (Kenneth Mars) is grumpy because he doesn’t want anything to stop his boy from going off to college at Cal Tech. But the kids decide to keep the baby anyway, and move out into a brave new world.

The script, by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue (they did About Last Night…), pokes some fun at the dewiness of these two. As Ringwald watches her belly rise, she admits that her childhood doll collection may not have properly prepared her for the big event. And when Batinkoff comes home to their ramshackle apartment and needs to express his frustration, he rips the refrigerator door open and takes a long hard swig of chocolate milk.

For Keeps is occasionally sort of cute in a mild way, but it seems rudderless under the direction of John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid – that’s his movie, not his nickname). The various shifts from comedy to drama seem entirely predictable and shopworn.

Worse, in terms of onscreen effectiveness, the pairing of teen queen Ringwald and newcomer Batinkoff doesn’t take. Ringwald can’t wring anything new out of yet another high school senior (by this time she must’ve attended more proms than any American girl ever). And Batinkoff, a lanky kid with a voice that hasn’t completely changed yet, barely registers. The one thing they have going is authenticity; they’re nothing if not young.

First published in the Herald, January 19, 1988

Coincidences? The idea for posting this week was putting together movies with Brat Pack cast members. As it happens, yesterday I posted About Last Night…, also written by Kazurinsky and DeClue, their two most notable screenplays. Also, yesterday I registered my concern that IMBd did not retain the ellipsis that is undeniably part of the title of About Last Night…. Today, I see that IMDb has added a question mark to its official title listing for For Keeps. What the hell? The movie did not have a question mark in its title upon its initial release, as a look at the poster and Roger Ebert’s review will attest. Now that we’ve got that out of the way: For Keeps is not very good. It was shot in Winnipeg.


Happy New Year

December 30, 2011

There’s something almost French about the tone and rhythm of Happy New Year, a new movie about a jewelry heist: in the way the narrative pokes along, with more attention to detail than concentration on the big picture. And that’s no accident; this is an adaptation of a French movie of the same title from a few years back, directed by Claude Lelouch.

Hollywood regularly exposes its paucity of imagination by stealing (or buying) foreign vehicles, and French comedies are high on the shopping list. Look for a star-heavy American version of the French hit Three Men and a Cradle later this year.

This translation of Happy New Year doesn’t try to jazz things up. It’s very low-key, almost apologetic, as it plods on in its shapeless way.

Peter Falk takes the lead role, as a congenially crumpled little guy who masterminds the robberies. He recruits an old pal (Charles Durning) to assist in one final job, a trés chic jewelry store in West Palm Beach. They’re an old-fashioned pair—”dated” might be a better world—who talk about “chasing skirts” and old prison memories.

Since the store is physically impenetrable, Falk plots to worm his way in by gaining the trust of the manager (Tom Courtenay) and saleswoman (Wendy Hughes). This he does by applying heavy makeup and pretending to be a doddering old millionaire (and, on alternate visits, the doddering old millionaire’s sister). Eventually, Falk will use the guise to get him in the store after closing time.

Falk also contacts Hughes as himself, and soon finds he’s won over by her charm. So will the audience be: Hughes, a gorgeous, very intelligent actress, who has appeared in many Australian films including Lonely Hearts and Careful, He Might Hear You, brings palpable grace to this movie.

In fact, there are a few bits and pieces of this film that can be enjoyed along the way. John G. Avildsen, who made the first Rocky, clearly is trying to achieve some honestly touching moments, most of which involve Hughes and Falk and the recurrence on the soundtrack of “I Only Have Eyes for You.” These moments don’t add up, unfortunately, because unlike the necklaces and bracelets in the jewelry store, these ornaments lack a complex setting.

First published in the Herald, August 9, 1987

The title of this movie provides a handy send-off for 2011, which was a lively affair. Coincidentally, a send-off to Peter Falk, an actor I liked a lot for Columbo, many other things, but, well, especially Columbo.