Category Archives: Campy Comedy

Pandemonium (1982)

pandemonium

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed the cheerleaders?

In 1963 the town of It Had To Be, Indiana wins the state football championship, but then after the game the cheerleaders turn up dead having been killed by a javelin that manages to slice through all five of them at the same time. This causes the summer cheerleading camp to be closed down, but then 19 years later, it gets reopened. The camp is run by Bambi (Candice Azzara) who had been the only cheerleader not killed during the infamous incident. Now everyone is telling her not to reopen insisting that the place is cursed, but she does so anyway and then the killings start back-up.

This was yet another attempt at parody of the modern-day horror/slasher film, but done in the style of Airplane, which has a gag occurring almost every second. I’m not opposed to horror comedies, and even hardcore horror fans can sometimes enjoy them, as long as they’re structured inside a conventional horror plot like with Scream that mixed the laughs with genuine scares. This film though hired Richard Whitley, who appears briefly along with co-writer Jaime Barton Klein as customers during a restaurant scene, who is best known for penning Rock ‘N’ Roll High School and he approaches the material the same way as that one by throwing in any lame bit of humor that he can whether it works with the story, or connects with a horror element, or not, The result is hit-or-miss with the majority of it being quite stupid and only a few of the jokes managing to land.

The funniest bits are the deaths themselves. The 5 cheerleaders that get turned into a massive shesh-ka-bob and having to be carted away together on this long stretcher is actually kind of cool. The drowning of one victim in a bathtub filled with milk and cookies as well as the killing of another who was obsessed with brushing her teeth, so when the killer stabs her instead of blood coming out it’s toothpaste are good too. Judge Reinhold, who sports a blonde wig here, has an amusing death where a bomb explodes causing him to fly so high into the air that he manages to bump into a Japanese jet and then begs through the airplane window to be let in. The only problem is that due to the high altitude the temperatures would’ve been freezing and therefore Reinhold’s face should’ve been covered with frost.

There are a high number of familiar faces in small roles, so there’s some enjoyment in that especially since the actors give good performances despite the subpar material. The casting of the teenagers though is problematic in that the actors who played them were well past adolescence. This includes Candice Azzara, who has a funny bit where she makes fun of her Brooklyn accent, who was already 37 at the time and Tab Hunter playing the hunky star quarterback even though he was literally 50 though to his credit he still looked young enough to almost pull it off.

Though not listed as the star Carol Kane pretty much becomes the main character having just gotten done starring in a legitimate horror film, When a Stranger Calls, two years before. I found her character’s ability to attain psychic powers after she starts taking birth control pills to be amusing though she does speak with a weird accent here. Tom Smothers is the one who gets top billing despite being the most boring person in it. Having him dressed as a Canadian Mountie is over-the-top and reminiscent of the cartoon character Dudly-Do-Right. He fails to have anything funny to say or do and gets routinely upstaged by side-kick Paul Reubens, who was pre-Pee-Wee Herman at this time, but still quite amusing.

The title of the film was initially going to be ‘Thursday the 12th’, but when production wrapped it was found that another horror parody was being made called Saturday the 14th, so the title was changed to this one, though I would’ve stuck with the original as this movie, as lame as it is, is still to superior to the other one, which was rock bottom. 6 years later another movie from Australia came out called Pandemonium that was a fantasy/horror and received pretty much the same type of negative reviews as this one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alfred Sole

Studio: United Artists

Available: Blu-ray

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

fiendish

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Peter Sellers’ last movie.

Fu Manchu (Peter Sellers) is a 168-year-old man, who on his birthday must drink a elixir vitae in order to remain youthful and alive. When one of his servants (Burt Kwouk) brings in the formula his shirt sleeve catches fire from all of Fu’s birthday candles and it causes the servant to use the elixir to put the flames on his sleeve out. This forces Fu to have his henchmen go on a international crime spree to find the necessary ingredients to create a new youthful formula for him to drink. After one of Fu’s men steals a diamond in an exhibit it catches the attention of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roger Avery (David Tomlinson) who then calls in two F.B.I. agents (Sid Caesar, Steve Franken) to help him on the case. They also visit the aging Nyland Smith (Peter Sellers) who is a former adversary to Fu and knows his traits well, but Nyland has become senile and eccentric. They also use the services of Alice (Helen Mirren) an undercover police detective who masquerades as the Queen, which they feel Fu’s men will try to kidnap, but when Alice gets kidnapped she falls-in-love with Fu and agrees to help him in his crimes.

This marked Peter Sellers last film and for all purposes it may well be the worst one he was in. He was just coming off high praise for his performance in the critically acclaimed Being There, but instead of using his career resurgence to find more highbrow fare he instead reverted back to his old ways of campy comedy. During the early 70’s, when he was in a lot of duds, his excuse was that he was doing it only for the money, but in this case I’m not sure of his reasoning. In any event it’s a train wreck from the first frame to the last.

Initially he was going to team-up with director Richard Quine as the two had worked together two years earlier in The Prisoner of Zenda, but they had a falling-out before production even began. Piers Haggard was then brought in to take Quine’s place, but he became horrified to learn that Sellers had taken it upon himself to rewrite the script turning it from a plot driven story into a cheap gag-a-minute stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Haggard, despite Sellers objections, tried to turn the screenplay back to what it was, or at least in Haggard’s words, ‘give it something that resembled a beginning-middle-and-end’, but his attempts were futile and the whole thing becomes one, long misguided farce that goes nowhere and lacks any interesting elements.

A lot of the humor is lame and includes Nyland having falling-in-love with his lawn mower, which he takes with him everywhere even when he’s inside people’s homes. One segment has him ‘mowing’ the carpet of the inspector’s office, which is kind of funny, but then it cuts to a long shot where we see no damage to the carpet, so what’s the point of doing the gag if there’s no visual payoff? The bit where Nyland turns his country home into a flying machine had potential, but the abysmal special effects ruin it.

Helen Mirren almost saves it with her excellent performance and I enjoyed David Tomlinson in his last film, who shows more energy than the rest of the cast. Sellers though seems tired and worn-out and his acting lacks the required energy. In some ways he looks quite healthy here including showing a nice tan when he’s in the Nyland role, but this actually hurts the characterization as Nyland is supposed to be old and elderly, but despite his gray hair he really doesn’t look it. Peter’s two good moments comes when he’s in the Fu role and breathing heavily as he watches Helen strip, the bit at the end where he becomes a rock star is impressive and he seems to be singing in a completely different voice. If it was dubbed then it takes away from it, but if he was using his real voice then he deserves credit as it certainly didn’t sound like any of the other accents he had ever used in his career.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Piers Haggard (Peter Sellers uncredited)

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Under the Rainbow (1981)

under1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drunk dwarfs vandalize hotel.

In 1938 an audition is held at the Culver Hotel in Hollywood for Little People to play the part of Munchkins for the upcoming movie The Wizard of Oz. Studio assistant Annie (Carrie Fisher) is put in charge of casting 150 dwarfs for the part. Meanwhile German secret agent Otto (Billy Barty), who is also a dwarf, has been sent by Hitler to California to seek out a Japanese spy who will supply him with top secret maps of American defense systems. Also coming to the hotel is secret service agent Bruce (Chevy Chase) who has been assigned to protect an Austrian Royal Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) from assassination and when all these different forces come together in the same place massive calamity ensues especially as the dwarfs get drunk and proceed to tear the place up.

Director Steve Rash and screenwriter Fred Bauer gained a lot of critical success with The Buddy Holly Story and it got them a contract with Orion Pictures where they signed on to direct a movie that would star Chevy Chase. Inspired by a long-running rumor that dealt with dwarfs getting drunk and rowdy while auditioning for the Munchkin roles at the Culver Hotel, where this film was actually shot, and they decided this would make a funny idea for their next project. The concept might’ve worked had they centered it around the dwarfs, but instead they’re treated as secondary players with no discernable personalities, who behave more like children instead of adults with a physical growth handicap.

Throwing in Chase was a bad idea. He had just signed a three picture deal with the studio, so was obligated to take the part when it was given, but he has later described this as ‘one of the worst movies ever made’ and in interviews, most notably on ‘The Tonight Show’, so has Carrie Fisher. I didn’t understand why the three different story threads were needed as it dilutes the plot, but apparently director Rash didn’t think people would come to see a movie that starred dwarfs, so Chase was added in to compel audiences to the theater, but he’s aloof and not funny and looking genuinely uncomfortable the whole way through.

The spy/espionage angle needed to be thrown out and instead everything centered around Fisher and her struggles in maintaining order throughout the audition. The dwarfs needed more of a dramatic presence too with some serious undertones put in showing the challenges of being a small person, which would’ve given the movie some depth that is otherwise missing. I did enjoy Billy Barty, but everything else is a shambles, which justifiably caused it to do poorly with both the critics and box office.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Pirate Movie (1982)

pirate2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd dreams of pirates.

Mabel (Kristy McNichol) is a nerdy girl living in Australia as an American exchange student who does not fit-in with the three sisters (Kate Ferguson, Rhonda Burchmore, Catherine Lynch) of her host family. One day the four visit a sword play demonstration being put on at a local festival. All four immediately become infatuated with Frederic (Christopher Atkins) the handsome swordplay instructor who later on invites them on a boat ride except the sisters don’t want Mabel to come along, so they untie the boat from the dock before she can board. Mabel then rents another boat to catch-up to them, but gets caught in a storm and washed up to shore in an unconscious state where she has a dream about a crew of 18th century pirates lead by The Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) who cast Frederic off their ship when he refuses to become a pirate like them. Frederic then washes up to shore where he meets Mabel and her sisters, but this time the sisters are all nerdy while Mable is the beautiful maiden that he immediately falls in love with. However, they must also avoid the clutches of The Pirate King and his men who also come to the island looking for women to kidnap.

The story is loosely based the the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta from 1880 called The Pirates of Penzance, but jacked-up with a lot of campy comedy and modern day, teeny-bopper songs that, unless you’re really into 80’s cheese, makes it an almost excruciating experience to sit through. I don’t mind some campiness, but there still needs to be an exciting plot and a story that has a sense of adventure and even a few moments of tension for balance, but all this thing has is one lame gag after another. There’s also a ton of anachronisms including an Inspector Clouseau-type character and even light sabers that have absolutely no place in a movie set in the 18th Century.

The dream concept gets poorly played-out as this is supposedly Mabel’s, but when a person is having a dream then everything is from their perspective and they’re involved in someway with everything that goes on in it and yet here there’s a great number of scenes where Mabel isn’t even present. She also mentions at one point that since this is ‘her dream’ she wants a ‘happy ending’, but people don’t usually know they’re dreaming while they’re having it and only become aware after they’ve awaken.

Kristy is much more entertaining in the nerd role (she looks literally like Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story) and she should’ve remained in that character and then earned her way into becoming a beautiful, confident women at the end instead of having her change over to one in a split second like here. Atkins is amusing simply because he has a big-brawny body with the high-pitched voice of an 8th grader though his poor acting, which at first works since the movie itself is bad, eventually got on my nerves.

The only funny bits are the behind-the-scenes outtakes that get shown during the closing credits although Ted Hamilton, who also served as the executive producer, does have a few amusing moments even though as the villain he’s too hammy.

Spoiler Alert!

The romance I didn’t like because it happens too quickly as romances are more interesting when there’s a challenge to overcome and since Frederic had no experience with women many funny awkward scenarios could’ve been incorporated, but aren’t. What really annoyed me is that when Mabel does finally wake up Frederic is right there, almost like magic, and kisses her, so they fall in love just like in the dream, but what’s the use of having a dream concept if the reality is going to play-out in exactly the same way? Could’ve been funnier had they gotten together only to eventually realize they couldn’t stand each other, which would’ve added a smidgen of reality that this otherwise vapid thing is sorely missing.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Annakin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Bananas (1971)

bananas2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From nebbish to dictator

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a shy, meek individual who works as a product tester, but comes to realize that his job has too many pitfalls and wants to pursue another line of work. One night while in his apartment he receives a knock at his door and meets Nancy (Louise Lasser) who is a social activist. Fielding doesn’t have much interest in politics, but finds Nancy attractive, so he pretends to be into her social causes. Their relationship though does not survive, but Fielding decides to travel to the Latin country of San Marcos anyways, which is where the couple was planning to go to before the breakup. The country is suffering through a revolution and Fielding inadvertently gets caught up in it to the extent that he becomes their acting leader and travels back to the US to ask for foreign aid, but once home Nancy recognizes Fielding for who he really is and this soon has him put on trial.

This was done during the period when Woody was just trying to be funny and without all the pretension and nostalgia that make up so much of his later work, which I don’t care for as much. While there are draggy spots, particularly during the second act, the beginning and end are so strong that it more than makes up for it especially the climactic court sequence, which is laden with a lot of non-sequitur sight gags that didn’t come into vogue in movies until 10 years later when it was introduced to mainstream audiences with great success in the movie Airplane. 

What I really liked though is that Woody actually seems to playing a character here and not just himself. No endless whining about his hypochondriac conditions, or New York being vastly superior to L.A., or how Ingmar Bergman is the greatest film director. This stuff seems to work into many of his later scripts and characters, but here he just plays an average blue collar guy whose only ambition is to get laid, which is wonderful and I really enjoyed pairing him with Lasser. The two had already divorced  by the time this was filmed, but she agreed to remain on as his co-star, which is great as I’ve always said she’s the female version of Woody and in many ways can easily upstage him in just about every scene they share. People like Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, who became his co-stars in his later movies, were too normal and didn’t compliment Allen’s quirky style like Lasser does and it’s just a shame she disappears during the second act as her presence would’ve prevented it from getting as draggy as it does. 

While most of the gags are quite funny and even inventive I did have a problem with a few of them. The opening bit, which features a televised assassination of the country’s leader, manages to make even Howard Cosell, an obnoxious, egotistical sportscaster that I never cared for, enjoyable especially as he fights his way through the crowd to get an interview with the dying dictator. However, if you’re going to show a guy getting shot then some blood is needed. Allen said he wanted to avoid this because he feared it would hurt the film’s ‘light comic tone’, but its been proven in movies like Shaun of the Dead that gore and comedy can still work together and having Cosell ask the leader ‘how does it feel’ as he lies there bloodied would’ve been dark comedy gold.

The segment where Woody walks into an operating room to tell his parents (Stanley Ackerman, Charlotte Rae), who are both surgeons performing an operation, that he’s traveling to another country, is for the most part an aspiring bit except that in the scene the patient (Hy Anzell) is awake and talking. There is simply no way that anyone being cut open wouldn’t be put under anesthesia, so having him speak is not only unrealistic, but not necessary as the humor from the segment comes from Woody’s interactions with his folks and not from anything that the patient says. 

Overall though this still comes as highly recommended especially for Woody cinephiles looking to take in his wide body of work. His more serious directorial efforts are good too, but in a different way. Yet its his irreverent style that tests the movie making formula, which he does here, that I enjoy the most and while he has done many comedies after this they cease to have the same rapid-fire zaniness as this one. I also have to mention the cigarette commercial that takes place during a Catholic mass, which is the best ad-spoof I’ve ever seen. It did end up being condemned by the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures, but it was worth it.

 My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Starstruck (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens dream of stardom.

Jackie (Joey Kennedy) is a teen working as a waitress at her mother’s pub, but dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’ Donovan) acts as her manager trying to get her a spot on the local talent TV-show called ‘The Wow! Show’, but Terry (John O’May) the program’s host, refuses to see her, so they decide to have her perform a publicity stunt by walking across two high rise buildings in downtown Sydney on a tightrope while nude. This gets so much news coverage that Terry can’t help but bring her on his show, which initially proves to be a great success until Jackie becomes pressured to cut her backing band and tone down her quirky style. After alienating all of her friends she then tries to win them back by plotting to crash a New Year’s Eve talent contest at the Sydney Opera House where they hope to win the $25,000 cash prize in order to save their now dying pub.

After the success of My Brilliant Career director Gillian Armstrong set out to make a movie that was completely different in style from that one and eventually came up with the idea of doing a musical parody and on that level it works. The musical numbers are not only quite funny, especially the one done inside the pub where all the customers and staff join together to create one long line dance, but impressively staged too. I was literally blown away with the segment done inside Terry’s penthouse pool that was meant to be a take-off on the old Busby Berkley numbers from the 40’s, but in many ways just as good if not better.

The film also gets filled with a lot of humorous moments, most of which, like Angus’ elaborate attempts to try and make contact with Terry and even ditching school to do so, are quite funny. The segment dealing with Jackie’s high wire act I found initially preposterous. How exactly where they able to connect the tightrope between the two buildings, which would’ve been a massive feat in itself and never shown, but the outcome, as silly as it is, still had me chuckling.

The film has a terrific supporting cast especially Pat Evison as the elderly and overweight Nana, who shows exuberant support for Jackie’s ambitions even when the other adults don’t. O’Donovan and his constant scheming is also engaging, but I found Kennedy’s performance in the all important lead role to be flat. Singing-wise she is quite good, which is the whole reason she got the part, but her acting doesn’t have the same energy. Her character really isn’t very funny either and it’s Angus doing all the hard work to get her noticed and she never seems to appreciative it making the viewer not as emotionally invested at seeing her succeed as they should’ve been.

The film gets a bit too quirky for its own good too. It’s got a lot of visual pizazz, but no substance whatsoever and it would’ve been nice had there been some grittiness tied in. Everything happens too easily making it seem like a fairy tale and convincing me that the most suitable ending would’ve had Jackie waking up and realizing it had all been a dream because that’s exactly what it comes-off like.

On a side note I was surprised how much the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was completed in 1932 and stands as the world’s tallest, gets shown. Not only is it featured in every skyline shot of the city, but there’s also a mural of it on the wall of the pub, a toy model of it on top of the pub’s TV, and even a replica of it put on stage during the film’s climactic dance number. I’m not sure what the exact shot count number is that features it in one form or another, but if you take a shot of whiskey every time you see it you’ll be drunk and passed out on the floor by the time it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes (Australian Version) 1 Hour 35 Minutes (US Release)

Rated PG

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Studio: Cinecom International Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, Tubi

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Drive-In (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayhem at the movies.

It’s just another evening at the drive-in movies in a small Texas town except this time there’s more action in the theater than in the movie being shown. As the people watch the latest action flick known as ‘Disaster ’76’ on the big-screen there’s all sorts of commotion going on around them. Gifford (Trey Wilson) and Will (Gordon Hurst) are two bumbling amateur crooks who plan on robbing the concession stand during the show. Glowie (Lisa Lemole) is the fed-up girlfriend of Enoch (Billy Milliken), who leads the local teen gang, and who desires a more clean-cut guy like Orville (Glenn Morshower), but Enoch and his obedient thugs try to prevent this potential union from happening. There’s also the paranoid African American Dr. Demars  (Bill McGhee) who frets about having to live in the middle of ‘Klan Country’, but still manages to take his wife (Gloria Shaw) to the show, but also ends up in the process having several inadvertent encounters with the volatile Enoch.

Rod Amateau’s name may not be as well known as other notoriously bad filmmaker’s like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau who helmed the infamously awful The Room, but he probably should be. Not only did Amateau create ‘My Mother the Car’, but he also did ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-shows ever produced. He also wrote and directed The Garbage Pail Kids, which usually lands high on everyone’s terrible movie list. However, his directorial effort here isn’t bad and for awhile even engaging. My favorite part is a scene done inside a roller skating rink where we see real teenagers, that are age appropriate and with varying body-types, behaving very much like small town teens of that era would. It’s like a taking a time machine back to the simpler times and seeing how things really were, but without the pretension.

The performances are if anything quite lively including Morshower, best known as Aaron Pierce from the series ’24’, in his film debut and sporting a full, bushy head of red hair. It’s also great seeing Lisa Lemole in a prominent role as she later left acting in 1985 when she married Mehmet Oz better known as Dr. Oz. This also marks the acting debut of Trey Wilson, who went on to play many colorful supporting characters before having his career cut short by an unexpected death at the young age of only 40. Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who’s more famous for playing Engelbert in The Bad News Bears, is amusing too as Morshower’s younger brother.

Unfortunately despite a promising start the film ultimately flounders especially during the second act as too much cartoonish silliness gets in the way of any subtle realism. At the end the cars of the customers slowly file out of the drive-in like what had occurred was no big deal and the viewer is left feeling the same way. The stakes needed to be higher and the event needed more of a long-lasting consequence. A funny idea would’ve had the mayhem cause actual destruction to the drive-in while the disaster flick played perhaps even having it burn down to a cinder. Since the theater in real-life got demolished just a few years after this was shot it might’ve been possible and thus allowed the film to leave more of lasting visual impression than it does.

The Drive-in theater in Terrell, Texas as it looked in 1975 when the film was shot.

The same location as it looks now.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Sony Choice Collection)

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Super hero drops-out.

Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) successfully fights off the Nazis during WWII and becomes a hero to millions, but then by the 1950’s, during the McCarthy era, he is smeared as being a ‘communist’, due to wearing a red cape.  The congressional investigators also accuse him of flying in airspace without a proper license and wearing underwear in public. All of this causes him to drop-out of the superhero business by moving to Australia and turning into a homeless alcoholic. Then his old rival, Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) steals a secret weapon called the hypnoray, which puts the whole world at risk. This causes the authorities to plead to Captain Invincible to return and help them stop the madman, but through the years his skills have diminished and he’s not sure he can get back into form to battle crime like he once did.

At the outset this is an inspired concoction made long before the super-hero satire was ever in vogue and there are a few funny bits here and there, but the whole thing gets too bizarre for its own good. The viewer becomes inundated with so much wacky imagery and goofy characters that instead of laughing you’re left scratching your head wondering what’s it all about.

The biggest mistake was adding in musical numbers, which turns the thing into an ill-advised version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The original script was not intended to be a musical, but director Philippe Mora had always dreamed of doing one, so he requested that the songs be added in. The first time this occurs it’s kind of fun particularly the line dance done by the well-dressed advisors to the President, which all helps to add to the irreverence, but then continuing to add in more songs bogs everything down  and makes the already sluggish pace even worse. Arkin and co-star Kate Fitzpatrick do not have good singing voices, so hearing them belt-out a half-hearted tune hurts the ears and with no interesting dance numbers to come along with it, these moments become boring visually as well.

Even though the story involves an aging superhero I still felt Arkin was too old for the part and would’ve liked somebody who could have offered more energy. Typical Arkin is great with offbeat material such as this, but everything is so over-the-top that he gets lost in the access and ultimately becomes just a prop. Christopher Lee suffers the same fate although some fans love his rendition of ‘Name Your Poison’ which he sings to Arkin as he tries to entice him to take an alcoholic drink from his personally made wet bar.

The film offers no special effects which becomes most apparent during the segment where Captain Invincible supposedly upends a speeding car, but the camera cuts away, so we never see him do the actual act, and just hits home how cheap the whole production really is. If you’re going to make fun of the Superhero genre you have to at least show some respect for it, which this thing never does. Instead of going off on wild tangents there should’ve been a big showdown between Invincible and Midnight, but it peters out in this area by being too busy trying to be weird when it should’ve worked harder to get a more coherent and interesting story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philippe Mora

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD

Speed Zone (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another cross-country race.

A collage of wacky characters convene to a countryside inn, which will be the starting point of another illegal cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run that will have people driving their cars from Washington D.C. to Santa Monica, California in record time with the winner receiving $1 million. Many attempts have been made in the past to stop it, but to no avail. However, this time Police Chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) makes a commitment to stymie the race any way he can, but as usual the participants are able to complete it without much hassle.

This is the fifth attempt at making a movie dealing with the real-life race called Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that would start on the east coast in either New York or Connecticut and finish at the  Portofino Inn in Redondo, California. The race was run 5 times during the 70’s with the last one occurring on April 1, 1979. 4 other movies had already been made on this same subject and include: The Gumball RallyCannonball!, The Cannonball Runand Cannonball Run IIWhile those films featured some exciting stunt work the comedy elements and characters were usually quite lame and cartoonish and the box office receipts, particularly for Cannonball Run II, had slowed completely after an initially good first weekend making it seem that producers would realize that this theme had run its course, but Hollywood being Hollywood stubbornly decided to resurrect the idea and even offering Burt Reynolds a big sum of money to reprise his role, but he refused.

Initially I thought this one might be a bit of an improvement as it starts out right away with a Lamborghini, driven by John Schneider, being chased down the highway by a bunch of cops, which if you’re going to do a movie like this is the way it should be done. Keep the emphasis on the action and car stunts while minimizes the comedy and dialogue. Unfortunately this unravels pretty quickly by first having the Lamborghini skip across a lake, which was proven on the Myth Busters TV-show not to be possible, and then deviates to the cartoonish characters standing around interacting with one another, which is not funny and not what people who came to watch a car race movie want to see.

Outside of Jamie Farr, who reprises his role as an Arab sheik, but is fortunately only seen at the beginning, the rest of the cast is made up of new faces not seen in any of the previous ones, but having a new set of people playing the same campy roles doesn’t help. Boyle gets listed as having a lead role, but his character really doesn’t do much and is so ineffective at impending the race you wonder why they even bothered to write-him into the script. Tim Matheson too plays a character that isn’t funny and I can only imagine that he took the part, much like the Smothers Brothers who also appear here, simply for the money, but certainly this cannot be anything they’d want to highlight on their resumes.

I did like John Candy who unlike the rest actually seems more like a real person and not just a buffoonish nut. Unfortunately he gets paired with Donna Dixon as his driving partner who speaks in an affected Brooklyn accent, which I found quite annoying. They should’ve had his SCTV-alum partner Eugene Levy ride with him as the constant bickering the two shared along with their contrasting personalities would’ve been amusing.  Alyssa Milano has a good bit as a student driver being instructed to pass all cars that are foreign made. I really liked Brooke Shields appearance too where she plays herself working as a flight attendant so she doesn’t have to settle for ‘bit parts in movies’. In fact her part is so funny it’s the only reason I’m giving this otherwise stupid dreck 2-points.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jim Drake

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS