Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quarter Back: March 1985

Quarter Back is a monthly feature looking back at the movies of 25 years ago. One movie will be watched for the first time, one will be revisited.

This month marks 25 years since "the shift."

In the early '80s, the success of Porky's led to a glut of imitators - juvenile comedies more interested in breasts than brains. Some recaptured the gleeful spirit of honest, R-rated fun (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Revenge of the Nerds), but most were just flaccid excuses to show nipples to American teens. Not that there was anything wrong with that.

Seriously, the stretch from '82 to '85 saw so many bawdy, boob-filled flicks, today's teenagers should be careful watching. Odds are, their mom is in at least one of 'em.

Bachelor Party, Class, Fraternity Vacation, Hardbodies, Homework, Hot Dog... The Movie, Hot Moves, Hot Resort, The Last American Virgin, Losin' It, My Tutor, Police Academy, Porky's II: The Next Day, Private Resort, Private School, Risky Business, Secret Admirer, Spring Break, Tomboy, Up the Creek, Valley Girl, The Wild Life, Zapped.

A few great, some good, most bad, all R-rated and aimed at the same demographic: males who couldn't yet see naked women with the click of a mouse.

All good things must come to an end, though - and that end was never more apparent than in March '85. Within three weeks of each other, two films were released with the same general theme: "guys will do anything for sex." Beyond that initial set-up, though, their paths diverged wildly.

Featured Movies

The Sure Thing
Seen it before?: Surprisingly, no.
Release date: March 1, 1985
Actors: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Tim Robbins
Director: Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride)
Box office: $18.1 million (#49 in 1985)

"Stereotypical '80s teen movie" is well-represented on that poster. A hot bikini babe, the same variety seen in the ads for Spring Break, Private Resort and Hardbodies. The longing teenage boy. The hot girl you're supposed to think isn't hot because - gasp! - she's wearing a sweater.

There's something different, though, and you need to squint to catch it. At the very bottom. See it?


The introduction of the teen-friendly rating in 1984 put dollar signs in the eyes of studio executives. No longer would their younger-skewing films have to go all-out for the R rating (thereby losing a significant portion of the audience), or completely sanitize themselves for PG. There was a middle ground now, and filmmakers could take advantage.

On its face, Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing is about a college guy (John Cusack) going cross-country with a single-minded purpose: sex. His best buddy in California has promised him a "sure thing," a stupidly hot blonde (future desperate housewife Nicollette Sheridan) who will definitely drop trou when he arrives.

Through a set of semi-believable contrivances, he ends up road tripping with snooty classmate Alison (Daphne Zuniga, who should have eventually been A-list). It's not exactly rocket science what happens: they fight at first, but eventually learn to laugh, love, blah blah blah. But it's amazing what great performances and a clever script bring to even the most predictable of affairs.

The Sure Thing did break some new ground, however. When a female character goes topless, we only see her bare back. When Cusack gets mad, we hear nary a "fuck." And the climax of our lead couple's relationship isn't between the sheets, but a simple kiss. It was a new world for Hollywood, and would be the norm for quite awhile. (And being completely honest, the movies were a lot better. I hate admitting that.) Grade: A-

Porky's Revenge
Seen it before?: Hells to the yes.
Release date: March 22, 1985
Actors: Dan Monahan, Wyatt Knight, Tony Ganios
Director: James Komack (this was his only feature, though he did helm episodes of "Star Trek" and "The Monkees")
Box office: $20.5 million (#43 in 1985)

Porky's Revenge was the third and final film of the quintessential '80s trilogy (screw you, Indiana Jones!). And as noted above, it was the dying gasp of the raunchy teen comedy, until a neutered revival 15 years later with American Pie and Road Trip.

A little bit of Porky's history: the legitimately hilarious original, a comedy about '50s-era high school seniors, arrived in theaters in 1982. It was a massive hit, finishing fifth at the box office that year, ahead of Star Trek II, 48 Hrs. and Poltergeist. A quickie sequel followed a year later, and ignored the raunch for - no lie - a politically correct, anti-racism theme. It crashed, burned and smoldered.

So three years after the original, Porky's Revenge arrives - with the same cast still playing high school seniors. (The film's IMDb page reveals most of the guys were in their 30s by the end of '85, so one can imagine the receding hairlines getting in the way of teenage hijinks.)

Revenge gets back to the baser aspects of the original, mostly by introducing the tried-and-true "Swedish exchange student" who constantly removes her top. However, unlike Porky's, the script falls limp, and there aren't any gags worth remembering. Still, the cast is incredibly game, and it kills me nobody ascended from that likable group.

Sure, Porky's Revenge outgrossed The Sure Thing by a couple million, but the die was cast. John Hughes was on the scene, and his PG-13 run (Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful) would soon commence. In 1989, Cusack himself would make the undisputed king of puppydog teen romances with Say Anything..., and boobs would disappear from teen flicks for over a decade.

The raunchy comedy has "evolved" in some ways, replacing the constant stream of nudity with a healthy dose of gross-out gags. So in a way, Porky's Revenge deserves our thanks for raging against the dying of the bimbo light. Grade: C

Other films 25 years old this month:

Almost You - Griffin Dunne's wife is incapacitated in a car accident, so he does what any upstanding New Yorker would do: bangs the nurse taking care of her. Can't claim to have heard of this one.

The Aviator - Christopher Reeve desperately wanted to shed the red and blue tights. No matter how hard he tried, though, the guy never had a hit without the word "Superman" in the title. His movies between Superman III and IV - The Bostonians, The Aviator and Street Smart - all failed to crack the $1.5 million mark, and it didn't help he was making stuffy period dramas like this one.

Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend - True story: When we got home from this "dinosaurs exist!" family film, my brother (then all of eight) announced his intent to build a life-size brontosaurus, stretching from our driveway to a neighbor's house. He got wood, foam, paper mache and wire, and set out to blow us away. A week later, he had moved on, and our trash can was full of wood, foam, paper mache, wire, and an eight-inch long tip of a brontosaurus tail. (And the first person to tell me "brontosaurus" isn't correct terminology gets kicked squa' in the nuts.)

The Care Bears Movie - Oh, and similarly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves inspired him to become a master archer. A barely used bow is probably still rusting in some bushes. (Oh, The Care Bears Movie? Not sure I could tell you anything the title doesn't perfectly describe.)

Certain Fury - Tough girls Tatum O'Neal and Irene Cara are running from the law in this low-rent drama from director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Yes, Jake and Maggie's dad.

Def-Con 4 - I remember staring at this poster when I was a kid, just sure there was a super-cool movie behind that super-cool image. Seeing it hasn't been released on DVD yet, however, I'm skeptical.

Desperately Seeking Susan - Vision Quest cameo aside, this marks Madonna's movie debut - and it was huge news in March '85. To be fair, though, nobody knew what Madonna's movie career would amount to.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning - It takes a special kind of flick to be the "the worst Friday the 13th movie." I even hated this as a kid, and I didn't hate anything as a kid.

He-Man and She-Ra in The Secret of the Sword - Again, what do you want to know that the title doesn't tell you?

The Hit - Gangster-in-hiding Terence Stamp is suddenly kidnapped by two hitmen (John Hurt and a 22-year-old Tim Roth). A '90s movie before its time.

Into the Night - Jeff Goldblum is an average guy who meets Michelle Pfeiffer and finds himself on the wrong side of Middle Eastern criminals. Mmm, mid-'80s Michelle Pfeiffer.

King David - Once upon a time, somebody thought casting Richard Gere in the story of Israel's King David would be a moneymaker. Once upon a time, somebody was really, really wrong.

The Last Dragon - This martial arts film, starring one-name wonders Taimak and Vanity, is still wildly popular in the black community. So there's no surprise a remake is on the way, starring one Mr. Samuel L. Jackson.

Lost in America - Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty travel cross-country in this critically adored comedy. According to Netflix, I watched it in March '07 and awarded three stars. I have no memory of this. Either I'm getting old, or it really wasn't that great. Or both.

Mask - Nope, not the Jim Carrey one. The Eric Stoltz-as-a-Nightmarish-Ginger one.

Mission in Action 2: The Beginning - Just four months ago, I profiled Missing in Action in this space, and found a quality nugget of trivia: this prequel was actually filmed first, but released later because it was of lesser "quality." Considering the first one was crap, I wasn't about to throw myself on the viewing grenade again. Oh, and how stupid was it to release this Chuck Norris-goes-to-Vietnam flick two months BEFORE Rambo: First Blood Part II hit theaters? At the very least, they could have surfed the copycat wave for a few extra million.

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment - My least favorite trend of the '80s: a perfectly fine R-rated original produces a de-balled sequel, all in the name of selling tickets to kids like me. Blame the invention of the PG-13 rating, I guess, but it happened all over the place: Caddyshack, Major League, Police Academy, Revenge of the Nerds, Vacation. All R-rated classics (yes, classics) with PG or PG-13-rated sequels. And you know what that meant? LESS BOOBS.

A Private Function - A pig theft rocks 1947 England, and Maggie Smith and Michael Palin are on the case! No, this didn't really play a huge part in making Smith the highest grossing actress in history. (Her participation in six Harry Potter films, on the other hand, skews the results).

The Purple Rose of Cairo - My introduction to Woody Allen. In this comedy, a movie character (Jeff Daniels) gets fed up and walks off the screen, leaving the other characters to wonder if he's coming back. Mia Farrow also stars, and no doubt brought adopted teenage daughter Soon-Yi Previn to the set.

Return of the Jedi
- The third Star Wars film returned to theaters two years after its original 1983 release, but George Lucas hadn't gone fatface-crazy yet. So there's no Hayden Christensen, Sarlacc beak, or Broadway musical in Jabba's palace. Simpler times, my friends.

The Slugger's Wife - Oh, there was excitement 'round these parts when The Slugger's Wife opened. The baseball-centered romance starred Caddyshack's Michael O'Keefe as a member of MY Atlanta Braves, and it featured cameos by a number of local talking heads: Skip Carey, Pete van Wieren and Brad Nessler among them. As godawful as the movie was - and holy shit, it was bad - I still remember how cool it was seeing my hometown skyline in a movie for the first time (my eyes had been shielded from the R-rated Sharky's Machine).

Sylvester - Every damn year would have a damn movie about a damn horse, which meant I'd have to go with my damn sister, instead of seeing something damn cooler. Like Police Academy 2. Seriously, it was all the time. The Black Stallion Returns was '83, Phar Lap was '84, Sylvester was '85, Lightning the White Stallion was '86, Hot to Trot AND Return to Snowy River hit in '88, and Steel Magnolias was '89! (See what I did there? Julia Roberts looks like a horse? Get it?)

Quarter Back: February 1985
Quarter Back: January 1985
Quarter Back: December 1984
Quarter Back: November 1984
Quarter Back: October 1984
Quarter Back: September 1984
Quarter Back: August 1984
Quarter Back: July 1984
Quarter Back: June 1984
Quarter Back: May 1984
Quarter Back: April 1984

1 comment:

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