Tag Archives: Tim Robbins

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys hit on babe.

A late season blizzard hits central Iowa just as Easter arrives causing two college chums, Larry (Tim Robbins) and Joe (Cameron Dye), to decide they need to get away to a warmer climate. Their socially inept friend Wendell (Stephen Geoffreys) has a cousin with a fully furnished apartment in Palm Springs that is open for them to go to. Wendell’s parents (Max Wright, Julie Payne) even agree to pay for their plane tickets, but there’s one catch: the boys must bring Wendell along and help him get over his awkwardness, so he can finally meet some girls and get laid. Joe and Larry reluctantly agree, but when they get there they find Wendell to be an almost hopeless case while also bumping into two guys: Chas (Leigh McCloskey) and J.C. (Matt McCoy) from a rival fraternity.  Chas is particularly arrogant and bets the two that he can manage to have sex with a hot babe named Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) before they can, which causes the boys to go on a slew of wild antics to get Ashley’s attention, and hopefully heart, so she’ll agree to go out on a date with Joe and then hopefully afterwards back to her bedroom.

I know I’ve been told by readers of this blog that I’m a ‘tough critic’ and rate these films ‘too harshly’, but the truth is going-in I want to like these movies because who wants to waste 90-minutes of their time watching a dud, but I do have one main rule. If the movie causes me to openly groan, or rub my forehead, which is something I do when I get annoyed, then it’s going to get a low rating and this one had me doing that several times.

The main thing that irritated me was the piss-poor characterizations, which are cliched to the max. The most annoying one is Wendell, played by Geoffreys, who started his acting career doing mainstream films only to by the 90’s devolve into starring-in gay porn flicks under the name of Sam Ritter and then returning to doing mainstream movies by the 2010’s. I felt his nerd vibe was over-the-top. Being geeky and slightly out-of-it is one thing, but this young man is completely oblivious to obvious social cues that anyone with even a minor intelligence would pick-up on making him seem like he must be mentally-ill to be that extremely out-of-touch.

The Ashley character is poorly defined as well. Why is such an incredibly hot woman single, and if so why aren’t a lot of guys hitting on her instead of just these two? Why would an attractive woman undress (performed by body double Roberta Whitewood) by an open window at a busy apartment complex and not fear that it may attract peepers? If she’s an exhibitionist that’s one thing, but the movie plays it like she isn’t, so how could she be so clueless? She also stupidly falls into the boy’s pathetic scheme too easily. I was hoping she’d secretly be clever enough to see through their shenanigans and set them up into a trap of her own, but that doesn’t happen, which is another thing that I hated is that the film lacks any surprises.

Some may like it just to see Robbins in an early role in a film I’m sure he’d like to live down. It’s also fun seeing Amanda Bearse, who’s better known for her later work in the TV-series ‘Married with Children’, and veteran character actor John Vernon as an obnoxious police chief. There’s a few other familiar faces that pop-up here-and-there, but I was shocked at the cameo role Britt Ekland is given where she’s on screen for just a minute playing a waitress at a bar. Usually when famous people are given brief walk-ons they’re at least able to say something clever or funny, but here she just asks the guys for their ID’s and then leaves. It’s a thankless part and I can only presume she must’ve been really desperate for the work to take it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Miss Firecracker (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Entering a beauty contest.

Carnelle (Holly Hunter) lives in Yazoo City, Mississippi where she works in a factory and suffers from the reputation of being promiscuous. In order to improve her lot in life she decides to enter into The Miss Firecracker Contest, which is held annually in her town every 4th of July. She is hoping to emulate the success of her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) who won the contest years earlier as well as proving to both herself and others that she isn’t a loser, but the competition proves harder than she thought forcing her to reevaluate what’s really important to her.

The film is based on the stageplay written by Beth Henley, who is better known for writing Crimes of the Heart, which won many accolades while this one didn’t. Part of the reason is that when this play was first produced in 1980 many critics thought it was going to be a pro-feminist satire poking fun of beauty contests, which it isn’t, while others disliked it because they perceived it as being an antifemist since Carnelle takes winning the contest very seriously.

For me I was expecting something along the lines of Smile, which was a very funny, on-target 1970’s look at beauty contests, the flawed people who run them, and the superficial women that enter them. I was thinking this would be an 80’s update to that one and was sorely disappointed to find that it wasn’t. The two people who run the contest, which are played by Ann Wedgeworth and Trey Wilson are hilarious in the few scenes that they are in and the film could’ve been a complete winner had they been the centerpiece of the story.

I was also hoping for more of buildup showing Carnelle rehearsing her routine for the pageant as well as her interactions with the other contestants, which doesn’t really get shown much at all. For the most part the pageant is treated like a side-story that only comes to the surface in intervals while more time is spent with Carnelle’s relationship with Elain and her other cousin Delmount (Tim Robbins) which I did not find captivating at all.

Hunter gives a very strong heartfelt performance, which is the one thing that saves it, and Alfre Woodard, who normally plays in dramatic parts, shows great comic skill as the bug-eyed character named Popeye and yet both of these actresses screen time is limited. Instead we treated to too much of Steenburgen, who comes off as cold and dull here, and Robbins, who plays a borderline psychotic that is creepy in a volatile way and not interesting at all.

First time director Thomas Schlamme, who had only directed documentaries and comedy specials  before this, employs a few things that I enjoyed like tinting the flashback scenes with a faded color, but overall he doesn’t show a good feel for the material. Too much of the time it see-saws from being a quirky comedy to maudlin soap opera, but nothing gels.

Even the film’s setting gets botched. In the play the town was  Brookhaven, Mississippi, but for whatever reason the film changed it to Yazoo City where the on-location shooting took place. While it does a nice job in capturing the town’s look it doesn’t reflect the right vibe, or any vibe at all for that manner as the townspeople seem more like something taken out of a surreal Norman Rockwell painting than real everyday folks.

The soundtrack is also an issue as it gets filled with a placid elevator music type score that got started in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films and was played in a lot Hollywood comedies during the 80’s and 90’s. While it may have a pleasing quality to it also lacks distinction. The music should’ve had a more of a southern sound that would’ve reflected the region and composed specifically for this production instead of  stealing a generic tune that had been used in hundreds of other movies already.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Thomas Schlamme

Studio: Corsair Pictures

Available: DVD

Howard the Duck (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A big budget disaster.

Howard (Chip Zien) is a duck living on another planet that is quite similar to earth except it’s run by ducks and not the ‘hairless apes’. One day while he is relaxing on his easy chair he gets sucked up into outer space by a laser beam that brings him to earth where meets up with Beverly (Lea Thompson) who is a lead singer for a punk band. She takes a liking to him and has him meet up with her geeky friend Phil (Tim Robbins). Phil in turn introduces Howard to Dr. Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) who offers to return him to his planet via a laser spectroscope, but as the procedure is performed it malfunctions and turns Jennings into a dark overlord out to destroy humanity.

This was produced by George Lucas and based on a Marvel Comic book character created by Steve Gerber, which is where it should’ve stayed. I know this movie has been shredded by many other filmgoers and critics and I don’t mean to pour more fuel onto the fire, but it’s as bad as its reputation says and I tried valiantly to give it a chance. Right away though there are problems including the fact that the planet Howard lives on looks too similar to ours. In fact it looks exactly like ours except it has two moons otherwise it’s impossible to tell the difference on anything. Same type of buildings, cars even the money is the same as American dollars except for a picture of a duck on them instead of Washington. There’s also a barrage of visual gags that make light of the subtle differences between the duck’s world and ours which the filmmakers clearly think are quite clever, but instead they’re just annoying.

The appearance of the duck is a problem too. If it had been animated it might’ve worked, but here it looks like a dwarf in a duck costume and has so many human characteristics that you ultimately forget that he’s supposed to be a fowl at all. Although I do realize that the comic strip character is anthropomorphic as well I still would’ve liked a little more ‘duck logic’ put into it. What sense does it make to create a duck type character if it ends up sharing literally NO characteristics to the actual mammal including the fact that it can’t even swim! The scenes showing him becoming aroused by Thompson’s human body and even talking about one day getting married and having kids was downright creepy.

The second half is where the story really goes off the hinges. The story pivot involving the Jones character becoming possessed by a ‘dark overlord’ is about as generic as it gets and leads to a nonstop assault of special effects and car chases that is both mind numbing and pointless. I never read the comic of which this is based but in researching it I found that it had a lot of unique and interesting villains and those should’ve been implemented into the script.

Thompson gives a terrific performance, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing 1 point, but her character is a little too sweet and lacks the streetwise edge a singer in a punk band would most assuredly have. In the comic book version Beverly was a model and I’m not sure why her profession got changed, but it was a mistake. Robbins is engaging too and Jones has one funny bit during his exchange with a waitress inside a late night diner, but otherwise this thing fails at all levels and is too obnoxious to be enjoyed even in a so-bad-it’s-good category.

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My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Willard Huyck

Studio: Universal

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

Bull Durham (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catcher mentors a rookie.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a veteran of the minor league baseball system and is brought in to the Durham Bulls to help mentor Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) a rookie pitcher with a ‘million dollar arm, but a five-cent brain’. Crash teaches Nuke all about the finer points of the game as well as learning to show discipline and control both on and off the field. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is a local fan who each year does some ‘mentoring’ of her own with one of the players by taking them in and having a torrid sexual relationship with them. This year she chooses Nuke much to the consternation of Crash who would like her for his own.

The film is loosely based on the experiences writer/director Ron Shelton had while being a minor league player during the late 60’s.  Keeping the focus solely on the minor league level and never analyzing the majors was to me a big strength. Too many times Hollywood sports movies try to capture that ‘championship season’ or ‘miracle victory’ while forgetting that there are hundreds if not thousands of players who never get to that point, but still have interesting stories to share. The minor league theme puts the game back to its grass roots level where it should be while evoking a wonderful feeling of modern day Americana.

The film makes the viewer feel that they are right down on the field with the players and they gain special insights into the game that they would never have just watching it in the stands on or TV. The thoughts that go through a hitters head as he stands at the plate are interesting as are the interplay between catcher and pitcher. The meeting at the mound scene where the players get together during a game to discuss what wedding gift to get another player who is about to be married is hilarious as is the segment where Crash teaches Nuke all the sports clichés to give when being interviewed by the media.

Robbins is terrific in what I still consider one of the best performances of his career. The character could have been annoying if there weren’t so many young men out there like that. The composite of the young, brash, cocky hot shot who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows very little is so perfectly done that just about anybody will be able to identify with somebody they know or have known who is just like it.

Costner on the other hand is a bit too detached and his performance comes off very much like the restrained way he dances during the closing credits. The character also seems like a flaming alcoholic as he is seen drinking in just about every other scene, but his ongoing exchanges with Robbins are great and the main ingredient that holds the film together.

Throwing in a sex angle was to me a turnoff as personally I never like to mix the two. The Millie (Jenny Robertson) character that is shown and known to sleep with a lot of the players seemed to me to be idiotic especially since this takes place in the 80’s, which was at the height of the AIDS scare.

Sarandon is okay although the part was originally intended for Kay Lenz who I think I would have preferred. The line where her character states that she would never sleep with a player who hit under 250 unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove man up the middle is classic and the scene near the end where her and Crash make love in a bathtub while surrounded by a throng of lighted candles is on a visual level a highlight.

I loved the bluesy music score as well as the shrine to Thurmon Munson seen at the end. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite sports movie, but the characters are richly textured and the dialogue instantly quotable, which makes it a winner anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Shelton

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Cadillac Man (1990)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car salesman versus gunman.

A jilted husband (Tim Robbins) goes off the deep end and with rifle in hand takes over a car dealership where he threatens to kill everybody inside. It’s up to Joey (Robin Williams) a quick-on-his-feet car salesman to use his ‘people skills’ to get everyone out of the predicament.

Outside of a funny opening funeral procession bit, the first thirty minutes are pretty dull. Too much time is spent on Joey’s interactions with friends and family members that are not funny or interesting. In fact the majority of the film seems more like a drama dealing with the daily stresses of life than it does a comedy. When the gunman first breaks into the dealership it is quite intense and even a bit horrific. The film does eventually catch its stride, but it all seems kind of transparent by the end. There is nothing to really distinguish this film from all the rest, which probably explains why it has pretty much been ignored. In many ways it seems very similar to Dog Day Afternoon.

However, I did like that everything is kept on a realistic and plausible level with dialogue and characters that are quite believable. Robbins makes for an engaging gunman and once the film settles into the hostage crisis there are a few genuinely funny moments. Fran Drescher’s pet poodle is memorable and one of the best pet performers I’ve seen.

If you are looking for a passable time-filler then this film has enough comedy and good moments to make it worth it, but it’s nothing more than that. Williams is energetic as always and it’s interesting to see him juggle both a comedy and drama here. It is also worth catching just to see Robbins in his breakout role.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Donaldson

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD