The Night Before

December 11, 2012

nightbefore2_5“I was supposed to have her home by midnight. Instead, I sold her to a pimp.” Such is the existential lament of the high-school hero of The Night Before, a nerd who’s lost his date on prom night.

The only reason the popular cheerleader (Lori Laughlin) is going out with the school pencil-neck (Keanu Reeves) is that she lost a bet, and is stuck with his company. But the nightmare doesn’t really begin until they’re deep into the inner city, having taken a few wrong turns along the way. There, with unerring dimwittedness, Reeves manages to misplace his car, his wallet, and his date.

At a club called the Rat’s Nest, Reeves has been served a Mickey, in the form of a tequila and ginger ale. In this state, he unknowingly sells the cheerleader for $1,500 to a pimp (Trinidad Silva). A bystander notes that Reeves should’ve held out for at least $3,000. The rest of the movie has Reeves trying to recover the girl before she is sold into white slavery and shipped off to Morocco.

This movie shoots itself in the foot right away, since it begins with the night already half over and Reeves piecing together the preceding events in flashback. This device effectively halts any healthy narrative development, not that there is much to begin with.

Director and co-writer Thom Eberhardt piles on the bad news for our hero, but the inner-city disasters pale next to the recent model for such nightmare comedies, After Hours.

Reeves, who was the kid with a conscience in River’s Edge, gives an utterly graceless performance here, although that appears to be what the director wanted. Laughlin spends the entire movie in an attitude of perpetual (and occasionally amusing) disdain. The only performer to strike an interesting note is Theresa Saldana, who plays a good-natured lady of the evening. Other than that, this film is best consigned to that burgeoning population of films that are soon to be seen at a video store near you.

First published in the Herald, March 15, 1988

Eberhardt had directed Night of the Comet in ’84. Trinidad Silva should be fondly remembered for his ongoing role as the gang leader in “Hill Street Blues”; he died in a car accident a few months after The Night Before came out. Saldana had, earlier in the decade, been attacked and seriously wounded by a deranged man. Nobody remembers this movie.

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Secret Admirer

May 8, 2012

The plot of Secret Admirer is much too complicated to synopsize—and that should be a fundamental recommendation. When a film that appears to be another teen sex comedy is too complicated to describe, it usually suggests something out of the ordinary.

Basically, the movie’s about the myriad repercussions of an anonymous love letter. The letter is intended for Michael (C. Thomas Howell), a graduating high-school senior. But the letter goes astray, and falls into the hands of most of the people surrounding Michael, including his parents (Cliff De Young and Dee Wallace Stone), his dream girl (Kelly Preston), and her parents (Fred Ward and Leigh Taylor-Young).

A few more letters get written, and that botches up everything, because as these letters get traded around, the reader usually assumes himself to be the target—when in fact, it’s only gotten into his hands by chance. If that’s not clear, let’s just say that before long everyone in the movie suspects at least one other person of being the “secret admirer” who sent the thing. They’re almost always wrong.

It’s the stuff of classic farce, reshaped to fit quite neatly into the mode of the current coming-of-age comedy. Secret Admirer is unusually well-played for that genre; some of the actors are recognizable from other teen films. Howell, of The Outsiders and Grandview, U.S.A., makes a fine hero, just a bit on the dense side. Lori Laughlin is just right as the “nice” girl who steadfastly stands by him.

The object of his desire is played by Kelly Preston, who played a similar blond bombshell in Mischief. Her character is ripest for satire, and she’s got the pitch of the babbling, fashion-conscious debutante down to a T. And the parents, who are swept into their own whirl of sexual confusion by the stray letters, couldn’t be better—the actors communicate the illicit, spicy thrill of potential adultery invading their world of PTA meetings and bridge parties. Fred Ward is a standout as Preston’s father, the excitable cop.

Most of all, Secret Admirer reveals the sharp writing and directing talents of scenarists Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt (Greenwalt also directed), who collaborated on the screenplay for Class. They were in town for the premiere showing of Secret Admirer at the Seattle Film Festival, and proved to be as funny in person as the evidence of the film would suggest.

In the process of fielding questions from the audience, they revealed a crucial casting change: The blond-bombshell part was originally to be played by Julianne Phillips, who has become better known lately as Mrs. Bruce Springsteen. Preston replaced Phillips a few days into shooting, when, as Kouf and Greenwalt tell it, it became obvious that Phillips did not look young enough to fit in with the high-schoolers playing opposite her. In so doing, they dealt away an unforeseen commercial boost; but based on Phillips’ performance in the ditzy TV movie Summer Fantasy, they got the better of it in the long run.

First published in the Herald, June 13, 1985

Greenwalt and Kouf got into television and have flourished there. This was a very nicely-made picture, curiously underrated when people talk about good Eighties comedies, with likability all over the place. Uh…Summer Fantasy?