Hiding Out

January 6, 2012

The high-concept boys must’ve had a field day with the nutty premise of Hiding Out. In this one, Jon Cryer plays a young hotshot Wall Street stockbroker whose life goes kablooie when a mobster client decides to eliminate some incriminating evidence. Unfortunately, Cryer and his fellow brokers are the evidence.

So for his own protection, Cryer is taken into seclusion as a government witness. Then the FBI guys guarding him turn out to be less than perfect, and Cryer has to flee for his life, on his own. His escape leads him to a small town where his adolescent cousin provides some safe harbor.

Cryer figures the best way to stay alive is to adopt a new identity, so, and this is where we finally arrive at the concept, he dyes his hair, takes off his glasses, and enrolls in his cousin’s high school. The broker goes back for a refresher in senior economics.

That’s your premise, and it’s admittedly too much of a stretch for the movie to survive. And yet, as Peggy Sue Got Married proved, there’s great comic potential in the possibility of living high school over again from an adult perspective. Once Hiding Out reaches this point, it finds some amusing situations.

Cryer rediscovers the torture of being called to the principal’s office, for example; and he vigorously takes an opposing stand when the uptight history teacher tries to provide the class with a whitewashed version of the Nixon administration.

Most perturbing, however, is the crush that a popular senior girl (Annabelle Gish) develops on Cryer. He takes her out on a date, and even manages to impress her father by dishing out a little free stock-market advice. But he also feels like a dirty old man, since he’s a good 10 years older than his steady girl.

Hiding Out bounces around in an amiable way, helped along by Cryer’s affability and the beguiling honesty of Annabelle Gish (she was the memorable central character of Desert Bloom). The director, Bob Giraldi, also keeps things bopping along – not surprising, perhaps, because Giraldi made his name in the music video field, as the director of such high-powered short shots as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Say Say Say.” This is his first feature.

Cryer finds himself back in high school, the setting for his biggest success to date, Pretty in Pink, where he had a delightful scene-stealing role as Ducky. Eventually, as Cryer explained during a recent publicity visit to Seattle, he hopes to move on to more mature roles. “Yeah, I want to graduate,” he says. “I got offered a lot of Ducky roles after Pretty in Pink.”

Cryer sees Hiding Out as an analogy for his situation as an actor: Like the character, he keeps getting dragged back to high school against his will. But, he insists with some vehemence, “I don’t care who you go to the prom with anymore, I really don’t.”

Still, there are realities to be faced by the youngish-looking 22-year-old actor. Cryer tried to grow his own beard for the early Wall Street scenes in Hiding Out, but admits that the efforts “wound up making me look like Bork.” A fake beard was installed.

Cryer’s future looks more promising. Still to come is a movie he made before Hiding Out, Dudes, directed by Penelope Spheeris. “That’s a weird little movie.”

First published in the Herald, November 5, 1987

Either something got cut out at the end, or I seriously lost interest. The beard reference would be Robert Bork, the Supreme Court nominee of eccentric facial hair and conservative inclination. This movie was from DEG Films, that DeLaurentiis project that brought Blue Velvet the same year. Different kind of movie, that one.


Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home

December 15, 2011

No, Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home is not one of those movies in which the author’s name is contractually included in the credits, like Neil Simon’s Only When I Laugh, or Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline. Besides, Coming Home has already been used. No, it’s just an ungainly title.

It’s about poor little rich boy Morgan Stewart coming home from seven years of boarding school. A rude homecoming, this: He’s dropped off by Mom’s helicopter—she’s got to run to the hairdresser—tackled by mansion security guards, and greeted by his father with a lackluster, “I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your coming here.”

No wonder the kid feels unloved. He’s only been called home in order to act as a pawn in his father’ Senate re-election campaign, since the campaign theme is “family.”

So Morgan schemes to bring his family together into a loving unit—like the one he sees on television in old reruns of “The Brady Bunch.” God forbid. Actually, he fails at this, although the scriptwriters invent a political contrivance that saves the day.

Saves the day in terms of the plot, that is. There isn’t much that could save this movie, short of dumping the negative into the sea and starting from scratch.

Oh, there are a couple of okay ideas. The kid is obsessed with horror movies, and meets the girl of his dreams in line at a mall for a personal appearance by George Romero, director of Living Dead movies. Later, when they take a shower together, all they can do is talk about how the knife never touches Janet Leigh in the shower scene from Psycho.

Morgan also does a funny song and dance to celebrate his new love, much to the consternation of his parents, who assume he’s freaking out on drugs.

But most of what’s good about those scenes comes from Jon Cryer, who plays Morgan. (The parents are played by Lynn Redgrave and Nicholas Pryor, in best over-the-hill fashion.) Cryer’s the likable guy who did such nice work in Pretty in Pink last year. He shouldn’t be in this movie, but he tries awfully hard.

The whole movie tries hard, too hard. Direction is credited to someone calling himself Alan Smithee. This person needs to take some refresher courses in the basics of composition and blocking. Believe me, the title is far from the last ungainly thing about this movie.

First published in the Herald, February 1987

An unusually terrible movie. You can guess from the final paragraph that the practice of taking the “Alan Smithee” credit by a director who doesn’t want to sign his name to a movie was not all that widely known at the time, or at least not to me. One of the reliable things about IMDb is that no matter how awful a movie is, and Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home is among the worst ever made, somebody will post a comment about how it is a film classic and they loved it growing up and wore out their VHS copy. Which is how you know there’s something wrong with the world and the people in it.

Pretty in Pink

May 12, 2011

rich, poor, duck

John Hughes has been dubbed “The Word Processor” for the facility with which he turns out screenplays; even since he’s become a director in his own right, he’s kept up a flow of pages. Four films have come from his computer terminal in the space of two years, with another on the way this summer.

They’ve ranged in quality: Sixteen Candles was a charming directorial debut, and The Breakfast Club was a surprisingly ambitious meditation on teenage anxiety. Then came the out-of-control Weird Science, which might better have been cut by an hour and flipped into a TV slot of “Amazing Stories.”

Now we have Pretty in Pink, which Hughes wrote but has allowed someone else to direct. (He was probably facing some sort of union violation with all that productivity.)

It covers familiar teen territory, and has much the same feel as Sixteen Candles (including that film’s star, Molly Ringwald). The situation is basic: A girl from the po’ side of town (Ringwald) falls for a richie (Andrew McCarthy), but they both suffer from peer disapproval of such a mixed matchup.

Undergoing special excruciation is the girl’s pal Duckie (Jon Cryer), a goof who worships her and detests his straight-laced competition. Duckie is a version of the quick-witted, hustling geek played by Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles, and he provides most of the laughs, especially in the early part of the movie.

Unfortunately, he’s offscreen for far too long in the latter part of the film, as Ringwald passes through a crisis when McCarthy revokes his cherished invitation to the prom. She’s also got to counsel her dad (Harry Dean Stanton), who’s in the dumps because his wife ran out on the family a few years earlier.

Ringwald works at a hip record store managed by a confidante (Annie Potts) who specializes in kitschy fashion chic and lives mainly in the ’60s. At one point Potts cautions Ringwald to give up on a tardy date: “It’s after seven. Don’t waste good lip gloss.” It’s a plum role for Potts, who has enlivened films for a few years now (Crimes of Passion) without quite finding her niche.

In fact, the film is nicely played throughout. James Spader, for instance, invests the small role of the bigoted rich kid with enough hissability to forever typecast himself.

But director Howard Deutch, although he’s aided by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto’s subtle visuals, can’t hoist the material above TV-movie interest. Hughes’ dialogue sparkles now and again, but there’s nothing tying all the pieces together.

This becomes most glaringly evident at the film’s ending, when the three principals face off at the prom. Ringwald must choose between her geeky pal or the dreamy richie, but you don’t know exactly why she chooses as she does. What’s worse, the film waffles on the matter, contriving a convenient partner for the third wheel. (Rumors that the ending was reshot to appease disappointed preview audiences suggest this waffling was not originally intended.)

Not to worry. Hughes can redeem himself with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a self-directed comedy scheduled for this summer. But then, by that time, he’ll probably have three new movies in the can.

First published in the Herald, February 28, 1986

What happened was, this movie made at least as big an impression on people as Sixteen Candles, if not bigger. So go figure. Apparently changing the ending paid off nicely; when Hughes and Deutch went to the well again with Some Kind of Wonderful, they rectified things a little as far as the misfit character having a taste of triumph. Spader managed to elude the typecasting, although it was a close call for a while.