By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Falling for girlfriend’s mother.
Bubber (C. Thomas Howell) is a high school student who’s dating Shirley (Kelly Preston) yet becomes more interested in Rose (Ann-Margaret) Shirley’s mother. The problem is Rose is an alcoholic and scared of snakes, which Bubber has as a pet and tigers, which Bubber also has as a pet. Despite all this the two slowly hit-it-off while keeping it a secret from the increasingly suspicious Shirley. Eventually she catches them in the act when she sees the two running naked at a drive-in where they tried to make love outside, but got attacked by fire ants. To get revenge Shirley pricks a hole in Rose’s diaphragm, so that she gets pregnant with Bubber’s baby. Bubber though intends to move-in with Rose to help her raise it, but Rose considers an abortion.
It’s impossible to say where this movie goes wrong mainly because it never gets going in the first place. It’s based off of the novel ‘Love and Other Natural Disasters’ by Allen Hannay III, who was paid $80,000 to have the rights to it sold to Vincent Pictures, which was owned and run by Peter Douglas, the third son of Kirk Douglas and brother of Michael. Peter then converted it into a screenplay, but without having read the book I couldn’t help but feel that something got lost in the transition. This is a big problem when novels get turned into movies as films don’t have as much depth to the story and characters as books typically do, which is why most people who enjoyed the story in book form usually end up disappointed when they see it as a movie. The elements are there for something potentially interesting, but Douglas, who also directed, doesn’t have the ability to put it altogether, which is probably a good reason why he’s never written, or directed any movie since.
I liked the setting, filmed in Waller County, Texas, but it doesn’t give the viewer enough feel of the region. Just showing the exterior of the homes and the drive-in isn’t enough. We need to see the town that they live-in in order to understand the characters and learn what makes them tick and the environments they are brought up in can have a lot to do with that, but when that environment gets captured in an ambiguous way, like here, it doesn’t help.
The story seems to want to tap into the themes of The Graduate, but that was a brilliant film and if you can’t top that, or at least equal it, then it’s best not to even try. Ann-Margaret is supposed to be an alcoholic, but we only see her with a drink in her hand at the start and then the rest of the time she seems quite sober. I also didn’t like the way she see-saws between being vampish at one moment and then a mature adult who gets real preachy with Bubber the next. It’s like someone with a split personality who isn’t fleshed-out and the same can be said for Howell’s character too.
There was potential for some funny bits like when Rose goes over to Bubber’s house and tells him she’s really frightened of snakes and then gets undressed and into bed with him. The camera then pans down to show a snake slithering under the covers and I thought this was the beginning of a really hilarious moment, but then the film cuts away. Later on Rose is shown to be comfortable in the presence of Bubber’s snake, but we never witness her transition, which was a missed opportunity for character development. The scene where Rose and Bubber going running naked at the drive-in is dumb too because apparently only Shirley notices them even though with the screaming that the two were making it would’ve made anyone at the drive-in look-up and not just her.
Even the reliable Charles Durning gets wasted and becomes as dull as the rest. In fact the only thing that I did enjoy was the tiger. I must commend Howell for being willing to get into a cage with it and stick his hand inside it’s mouth, but I was confused why the tiger is playful one second and then proceeds to try and attack Howell the next. Also, why would Howell want to get back into the animal’s cage later after he almost got his leg bite-off before? Even with that in mind I still felt the tiger was cool, the scene where he kills and eats a pooch of some customers that were just passing through is amusing in a dark sort of way and when he’s eventually set free is the only memorable moment in what is otherwise a misfire.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: August 22, 1987
Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes
Director: Peter Douglas
Studio: Vincent Pictures
Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)