Tag Archives: Gary Busey

Carny (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway joins the carnival.

Bored with small town life and an overly-protective boyfriend (Craig Wasson) Donna decides at the age of 18 to break-free of her restraints and travel the countryside by working in a carnival. She befriends Frankie (Gary Busey) who works as a clown and she gets a job as one of the strippers before eventually working the string joint booth while slowly adapting to the shady ways of the gypsy-like lifestyle.

The carnival atmosphere is well-recreated and was directed by Robert Kaylor who years earlier helmed the documentary Derby, which was a behind-the-scenes look at life on the roller derby circuit and this film works much the same by fully immersing the viewer into the dark aspects of a tough environment while also exposing the personalities of the people who work in it. The revealing story manages to be both hard-hitting and intriguing.

The tone though stays too much on the negative side until the viewer feels almost bombarded with one unpleasant situation after another. There’s never anything redeeming and you’re made to feel tense waiting for the next uncomfortable twist to come about, which gets overdone. Certainly there had to be some good times and bonding that occurs and the film lightly touches on this at the very, very end, but I felt more of that should’ve been sprinkled in throughout.

There’s also too many con-games and underhanded shenanigans making me wonder if all carnivals were really this bad , or is it simply playing-it-up for dramatic purposes. The ending in which everyone works together to pull off an elaborate con on a meddling crime boss (Bill McKinney) comes off too much like a poor rendition of The Sting. Some potentially intriguing storylines get dropped; like what happened to Donna’s psycho boyfriend when he finds out that she has left him? I was fully expecting him to come back into the picture at some later point once he tracked her down, but instead he gets forgotten.

Robertson is a famous songwriter and musician whose been around since the ‘60s, but he grew up working in the carnival circuit and helped put his real-life experiences and insights into the script. His performance is okay, but the soundtrack he composed for the film is too upbeat and does not jive with the dark, moodiness of the plot.

The performances are the best thing. Foster usually plays characters that are confident, but here she is someone who is unsure of herself only to acquire an edge as the story progresses. Kenneth McMillan is engaging as the nervous, stressed-out owner and Meg Foster is good as a woman who’s become hardened from being on the road too long. Gary Busey is a standout too even though he sometimes gets mocked today for his weird behavior off-screen, but this guy was at one time considered a serious up-and-coming star and his presence here shows why.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Kaylor

Studio: United Artists

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

Foolin’ Around (1980)

foolin around 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Redneck falls for hottie.

Wes (Gary Busey) is a college student who has moved from Oklahoma to Minnesota to attend the university. Desperate for some extra cash he takes part in a program run by the student science department where he gets strapped to a chair and given an electrical shock every time he gives a ‘right’ answer. The procedure is facilitated by Susan (Annette O’Toole) who’s an attractive coed there. Wes is immediately smitten, but finds himself in an uphill battle as she is already engaged to Whitley (John Calvin) an obnoxious stuck-up social climbing man whose equally arrogant mother (Cloris Leachman) wants her to have nothing to do with Wes and tries to completely shut him out of her life.

Although far from a critic darling this obscurity still manages to have a few funny scenes. The best are Wes’s encounters with Whitley particularly when Whitley tries parking his car in wet cement or trying to subdue an out-of-control carpet cleaner in his office. Wes’s conversation with Susan’s grandfather (Eddie Albert) high up on the edge of a skyscraper under construction is nerve-wracking particularly when Albert walks out to the end of a beam hundreds of feet up and then challenges Busey to do the same. The film also has a unique car chase that features an automobile made to look like a giant hot dog as well as a hang gliding segment through the Minneapolis skyline that is downright exhilarating.

Busey does well as an amiable doofus in a part that seems best suited for his acting ability. O’Toole is at the peak of her beauty and Leachman manages to get a few choice moments as the meddling mother. Tony Randall is fun as a snooty butler with a French accent and it’s great to see William H. Macy in an early, but brief part near the beginning.

The on-location shooting done in the state of Minnesota adds some verve particularly the segment done on the sidelines of an actual Vikings-Rams football game. Unfortunately the script is threadbare with certain gags that become labored and lame and a romantic angle that is sappy and contrived. It is also hard to believe that Susan would for even a remote second consider marrying the Whitley character who is a one-dimensional arrogant asshole to the extreme. It is even more absurd that she would fall in-love with Wes as she is clearly out of his league both physically and intellectually and it’s about as farfetched as Busey ever one day winning the Academy Award.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard T. Heffron

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS