Tag Archives: Robert Downey Jr.

Back to School (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodney goes to college.

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a successful businessman who runs a national chain of clothing stores despite having never attained a degree. Now his son Jason (Keith Gordon) is attending a university, but he feels like dropping out. Thornton though doesn’t want to let him, so he decides to attend college with him in order to inspire him to remain in school.

The film would’ve been far more interesting had Rodney been poor and struggling to better himself by finally going back to school, which is much more relatable since many adults do this all the time. Making him already wealthy saps the potential drama and reality right out of the story making it more like a game that he is playing with no real consequence. He doesn’t even take any of his studying seriously, so the idea that he is at least broadening his intellect fails here too. The side-story dealing with him being a world class diver is equally ridiculous as this out-of-shape, beer guzzling, 65-year-old man looks like someone who would barely be able to run half a block before dropping dead of a heart attack let alone achieving any sort of complex dive that no one else could do.

Casting Adrienne Barbeau as his shrewish wife was a mistake as she lacks comic ability making the barbs that she trades with him unfunny and what’s a young and beautiful woman doing married to a homely dope like Rodney anyways? Okay, so Rodney’s character here has money and that’s why she married him, but that plays completely against his stand-up persona where he portrayed himself as being this loser that got no respect. The wife should’ve been a female version of Rodney looks-wise while also a nag and thus heightening the stakes for the character to go back to school and succeed. Having him later fall in love with his beautiful English professor played by Sally Kellerman makes even less sense as the two had intellectually nothing in common.

Keith Gordon is boring as Rodney’s son and having the story go off on a tangent dealing with his romance with a pretty coed (Terry Farrell) is derivative and should’ve been avoided as the film is only amusing when Rodney is in it and dull otherwise. Gordon also looks nothing like Rodney and it’s confusing why exactly he’s not ‘fitting-in’. Casting some fat, bulging eyed guy to play a young version of Rodney would’ve been funnier while also making his social ostracism more understandable.

Burt Young’s character adds to the already weird quasi-surreal atmosphere by playing Rodney’s chauffer who despite being out-of-shape, short and middle-aged just like Rodney he somehow also possess super human strength and able to beat-up and even intimidate much younger, more muscular guys. It was like there was no motivation at all by the writers to actually tell a story that made sense and they were simply throwing in any gag that they thought up and hoping some would stick.

Robert Downey Jr. as an eccentric socialist student was the only supporting character I liked, but he is not in it enough. The script should’ve had him rooming with Rodney and examining how these two very different personalities could get along while getting rid of the son character completely. Then we might’ve had a character driven comedy that was worth watching. The film though as it gets done here is too transparent and despite being filmed on-location at the University of Wisconsin in Madison poorly reflects the actual college experience and will remind no one that has attended college of what college life is really like.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Metter

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube.

Firstborn (1984)

first born 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mom’s shitty new boyfriend.

Wendy (Teri Garr) is a divorced mother living with her two teenaged sons Jake (Christopher Collet) and Brian (Corey Haim in his film debut). She begins to feel lonely and insecure when her ex Alan (Richard Brandon) finds another woman and gets remarried. On the rebound she latches onto Sam (Peter Weller) a drifter who can’t seem to hold down a job and deals drugs on the side. He moves in and begins an antagonistic relationship with older son Jake that spirals out-of-control and turns the once peaceful household into a war zone.

I liked the realism particularly the way the anger and animosity come to a head slowly. The characters and dialogue are believable and the film portrays teenagers far more accurately than most other ‘80s flicks. The violent confrontation at the end is exciting, but in some ways I found the way Jake locks horns with his equally bullying English teacher Mr.  Rader (James Harper) as being just as compelling if not more.

On the negative end the plot is by-the-numbers and does not offer any twist or interesting added angle. The characters don’t grow or change and the film lacks a much needed denouncement where we could’ve seen how the ordeal helped them evolve as a family.

Garr is perfectly cast as a vulnerable character and the idea of a lonely divorcee finding someone on the rebound while conveniently ignoring the red flags until it is too late happens quite a lot. Collet is tolerable, but gets out shined by his younger costars including Sarah Jessica Parker as his girlfriend and Robert Downey Jr. as his school chum as well as Haim who clearly display more on-camera charisma and show why they all ended up with the longer, more memorable careers.

corey haim

sarah jessica 2

Weller is convincing as the heavy, but the film is one-dimensional and fails to offer any insight. If you want to catch this simply to see the young stars before they were famous then it will be a fun flick despite the subject matter, but overall it’s nothing special and has an atrocious music score.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray