Blame it on Rio

March 22, 2011

Johnson and Caine, less than razor-sharp

Blame it on Rio? Oh, I don’t know—surely the city itself is not to blame. Why don’t we blame it on screenwriters Charlie Peters and Larry Gelbart, not to mention director Stanley Donen, instead?

We’re blaming them for Blame It on Rio, an excruciating comedy set in Rio de Janeiro, where the two main characters (played by Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna) are vacationing with their teenage daughters. It happens that Bologna’s daughter (Michelle Johnson) has a crush on Caine, who is enduring a separation from his wife.

Rio being Rio, and this being a situation comedy, sparks fly between the two. The girl then tells her father that she’s had a fling, but doesn’t tell him who the lucky man was—which sets Bologna raging. He decides to find the defiler himself, and—of course—enlists Caine to help him.

Much commotion follows, usually in the direction of colorful Rio scenery. This is a wise move: when the story’s a dog, use anything that distracts from it. But you can’t avoid the plot forever, and the film regularly grinds to a halt.

This is something of a surprise, since director Stanley Donen instilled so much verve in the musicals he made with Gene Kelly (including Singin’ in the Rain) and in such movies as Charade and Two for the Road. Donen contributes some splashy color, but with Rio as the backdrop, that’s almost a given. And Gelbart, who apparently served as script doctor here—he performed the same function on Tootsie—is one of the wittier writers around.

Poor Michelle Johnson, who launches her screen career as the excitable girl, is a remarkably untalented performer. She reads her lines in the kind of insipid tone that makes you wonder how the other actors were able to keep straight faces (which, unfortunately, they do). She takes her clothes off a lot, though, which is another lesson from the distract-’em-with-scenery school of filmmaking—in this case, a perfectly understandable decision.

Blame Blame It on Rio on these people, but don’t blame it on Caine. It’s not easy for Michael Caine to be bad, even in bad movies (and he’s had his share of them). In Blame It on Rio Caine fulfills the role of the slapstick dupe with relative ease. Even when flying into dithers, he manages to retain a certain class.

He’s so classy, in fact, that when questioned on a recent TV interview about the histrionic qualities of his co-star, the aforementioned Johnson, he gamely offered, “Well, she’s not Katharine Hepburn yet.” Now there’s classic British restraint for you. It’s a shame Blame It on Rio couldn’t have been as droll.

First published in the Herald, February 1984

I had a horrible night the night I saw this movie. I think it actually ruined a party for me. So even people like Gelbart and Donen have a lot to answer for. The other main actress was Demi Moore, who isn’t mentioned by me here, but then it was hard to make a good impression in this film. At least the writing of the review allowed me to make a cheap Elvis Costello reference. But even he is soiled by association with Blame It on Rio.