Let’s call it happenstance. My friend Greg has been trying to get a podcast up & running for awhile, but life keeps getting in the way. With football finished & The Sammy Awards in the rear view mirror I find myself in an all too familiar writing funk, and since it’s my therapy the melancholy compounds itself. But then Ivan Reitman died. Now, with all due respect & total sincerity, I am NOT saying that Reitman’s demise is in any way positive or good, however I do believe in making lemonade out of lemons, so when Greg contacted me with an idea to do an episode of the podcast dedicated to the departed director a couple of decisions were made. First of all, if I am going to intelligently opine I needed a refresher on Ivan Reitman’s work. Secondly, while I am not sure what path we may go down on the podcast, I had always planned on doing a Weekend Movie Marathon focusing on Reitman. So here we are.
No Strings Attached
Ivan Reitman isn’t a name I immediately associate with rom-coms, but he did direct this one about a decade ago. No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman & Ashton Kutcher and should not be confused with Friends with Benefits, a similarly themed film starring Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis that was released just six months later. Since Kutcher & Kunis are married I wonder if they’ve ever argued about which movie is better?? Personally I find both mildly pleasant, although critics like Friends with Benefits significantly more. Anyway, you know what you’re getting from the jump…two people who agree to a casual, non-romantic, purely physical relationship catch feelings. It’s nice to see an Academy Award winning actress like Portman have fun and not fall into the trap of thinking she has to stick with tedious, pensive, dramatic roles.
At some point someone got the idea that action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger should transition into comedy. Perhaps it was Ivan Reitman since he directed three such efforts. To be honest Kindergarten Cop isn’t as much of a straight comedy as it is a lighthearted action drama that utilizes cute kids in supporting roles to make it seem less…actiony. The future Governator plays a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher (hence the title) to apprehend a drug kingpin. There are some vaguely recognizable faces (Angela Bassett shows up as a stewardess just a year or two before she became well-known), and Penelope Ann Miller portrays the protagonist’s love interest. Whatever happened to Miller?? She should’ve been a huge movie star, but really hasn’t done anything notable since the early 90’s.
One of Bill Murray’s earliest films, and the first of a few collaborations between he & Reitman. Teens at summer camp is a tried & true cinematic formula, and though Meatballs doesn’t really stand out from the crowd (it’s not particularly raunchy or even that hilarious), it is notable as a showcase for Murray’s comedic talents and solidifying the idea that his shtick could migrate from Saturday Night Live to the big screen.
Kevin Costner is known for his sports-centric movies. Bull Durham. Field of Dreams. Tin Cup. American Flyers. For Love of the Game. I’m pretty sure Draft Day wouldn’t crack the Top 3 on that list, but if you’re one of those nerds whose eyes are glued to the television for three days every spring watching guys like Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, & Rich Eisen break down the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting then you appreciate this underrated gem. I just so happen to be one of those geeks. It’s kind of predictable & the romantic subplot is totally unnecessary, but a supporting cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sam Elliott, Chadwick Boseman, & Ellen Burstyn helps make it sufficiently entertaining.
The Schwarzenegger comedy experiment came out of the gate strong. The plot involves 4ft.11, 150lb. Danny Devito & 6ft.2, 260lb. Schwarzenegger being long lost fraternal twins as a result of a genetics lab experiment. Of course that kind of amusing visual joke would typically make a funny SNL skit, while turning it into a feature film is tricky. Kudos to the actors & Reitman for pulling it off. Critics offered mixed reviews, but Joe Sixpack made Twins the 16th highest grossing movie of 1988, which isn’t too shabby in a year when the competition included classics like Coming to America, Good Morning Vietnam, Big, Die Hard, Moonstruck, Scrooged, Beetlejuice, & Bull Durham. A long rumored sequel (that waited so long Eddie Murphy’s role allegedly shifted to Tracey Morgan, which is like downgrading from Dom Perignon to Mad Dog 20/20) was set to get off the ground soon, but with Ivan Reitman’s departure from this mortal coil who knows what might happen. Perhaps his son Jason will take on the project.
Annnnnd we’re back!! Today we finish up our first round matchups, but before we go forward there let’s go back and tie up some loose ends as usual. I posted two polls that absolutely no one voted on. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I’ll just go with the flow. So in the Gnarly Division it’s gonna be Weird Science taking out Raising Arizona and Biloxi Blues defeating Parenthood. Now let’s move on to the first round in the Radical Division. Enjoy.
Radical – Round 1
Fast Times at Ridgemont High vs. Brighton Beach Memoirs
Fast Times is the quintessential high school movie. Released in 1982, it was the first directing effort for Amy Heckerling, who would go on to direct films like Clueless, European Vacation, & Look Who’s Talking, as well as the first screenplay written by Cameron Crowe, who has since had a solid career writing & directing movies such as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, & Vanilla Sky. That’s already a pretty impressive pedigree for Fast Times, but then we must consider the cast, featuring the earliest work of some very talented performers…Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forrest Whittaker, Eric Stoltz, & Anthony Edwards. Oh, did I forget to mention the soundtrack?? It has great 80’s songs from folks like Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, The Go-Gos, Sammy Hagar, Jimmy Buffett, Poco, Donna Summer, & Stevie Nicks. Not to be outdone, 1986’s Brighton Beach Memoirs features Jonathan Silverman, Blythe Danner, & Judith Ivey in the cast and is based on a Tony Award winning play by Neil Simon. It is the first entry in Simon’s Eugene Trilogy about his youth in Depression era Brooklyn. The movie is well written & acted, but I suspect that the theater production is even better.
The Verdict:Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This is 80’s Movie Mania, right?? It only seems right that one of THE signature 80’s films makes it out of Round 1.
Fletch vs. Night Shift
Aside from blundering family man Clark W. Griswold, Chevy Chase’s most famous role is that of L.A. Times journalist Irwin Fletcher, aka Fletch. Based on a series of novels written in the 70’s, 1985’s Fletch follows the reporter as he investigates a drug ring on an L.A. beach. He is approached by a wealthy businessman offering him a big wad of cash to kill him because the businessman is ostensibly dying of cancer anyway. Things get complicated from there. The supporting cast includes Tim Matheson, George Wendt, Geena Davis, & Joe Don Baker and the VERY 80’s score was written by master of the synthesizer Harold Faltemeyer. Fletch isn’t really a traditional comedy…it’s more of a mystery/action flick with funny moments provided by Chevy Chase being…well…Chevy Chase. 1982’s Night Shift has an impeccable pedigree. It was written by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, who have gone on to write such fantastic films as Splash, Parenthood, City Slickers, A League of Their Own, The Money Pit, Liar Liar, Fever Pitch, & Parental Guidance. It was the first film directed by Ron Howard that anyone remembers. And it stars Henry Winkler as a decidedly un-Fonzie-esque character, as well as Michael Keaton in his first leading role and Shelley Long right before Cheers made her famous. The story has a straight-laced morgue employee, his wild & crazy co-worker, & a “hooker with a heart of gold” team up to start their own escort service. Hilarity ensues. It was an indication of great things to come from Keaton.
The Verdict:Night Shift. I don’t quite get the love for Fletch. It’s mildly amusing I suppose, but mostly quite forgettable. Meanwhile, NightShift has a solid cast doing some of their best work supported by a really fun script and a director who was just beginning to demonstrate his immense talent.
Spaceballs vs. Summer School
Spaceballs is a rather amusing Star Wars parody from the mind of the legendary Mel Brooks. Made in 1987 and starring Bill Pullman, John Candy, Brooks, Daphne Zuniga, Rick Moranis, & Dick Van Patten, it is chockful of amusing word play and funny sight gags that any Star Wars fan will appreciate & enjoy. A sequel has been discussed for many years, but half of the original cast is dead now so who knows what’ll happen with that. 1987’s Summer School is a lightweight yet sneakily entertaining comedy starring Mark Harmon (from NCIS) as a slacker gym teacher who gets roped into teaching remedial English to a group of less than stellar students during the summer. The cast also includes Kirstie Alley and a young Courtney Thorne-Smith. Word on the street is that a remake is in the works, which is a shame.
The Verdict: I like both of these films and really don’t want to make a choice, so let’s see if we can get enough votes to take the decision out of my hands.
Sixteen Candles vs. Red Dawn
John Hughes strikes again!! In 1984 Hughes wrote & directed Sixteen Candles, about a girl whose family completely forgets her 16th birthday. Molly Ringwald stars as Samantha, whose sister is getting married so she kind of gets lost in the shuffle. On top of that Samantha has a thing for the hottest hunk in school but her existence doesn’t even register on his radar…or so she thinks. Anthony Michael Hall is around too as a geek who has a thing for Samantha (he has NO shot). The supporting cast, including Samantha’s grandparents, their foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong, & the sister who becomes gooned on tranquilizers to calm her wedding day jitters are all quite humorous additions. Conversely, 1984’s Red Dawn is a very sobering action flick about a group of Colorado teens who go on the lam after their town is invaded by the Soviets in the midst of World War III. The movie is notable for its star-studded cast of youngsters, including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Leah Thompson, & Jennifer Grey. A remake was produced in 2012 but I’ve never seen it and likely never will.
The Verdict: This one completely depends on a person’s taste in movies. Do you prefer teen comedy or violent war?? I have my preferences but I’m going to be generous and leave the decision in the hands of The Manoverse.
The Naked Gun vs. Dragnet
It’s police spoof vs. police parody!! 1988’s TheNaked Gun is an alleged continuation of a long forgotten TV show from a few years earlier called Police Squad. No one remembers it because it only lasted six episodes on ABC. At any rate, Naked Gun follows inept police detective Frank Drebin (portrayed by the hilarious Leslie Nielsen) as he tries to prevent the assassination of England’s Queen Elizabeth while she visits Los Angeles. The film is wall-to-wall sight gags, word play, & slapstick comedy and features an intriguing supporting cast, including George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley (before she got too out of control with the plastic surgery), Ricardo Montalban, & O.J. Simpson (before he started murdering people). 1987’s Dragnet is a comedic big screen take on the legendary 1950’s/60’s TV show and stars Dan Aykroyd as the ultra-serious Sgt. Joe Friday (allegedly the nephew of the original) who is saddled with a quick-witted yet lackadaisical partner named Pep Streebeck (a GREAT name), played by Tom Hanks in one of his more underappreciated funny roles. Together the duo investigate a bizarre rash of thefts committed by a weird cult (which is a redundancy I know). The plot is silly and the reviews weren’t great, but I rather enjoyed the Aykroyd/Hanks chemistry and wish they would have gotten an opportunity to do a sequel with a better script.
The Verdict:The Naked Gun. I probably enjoyed Dragnet more than the average person, but it is admittedly a flawed film. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun, for people who enjoy these kinds of movies, is a classic that spawned two sequels and ranks as one of the funnier flicks of the 80’s.
Revenge of the Nerds vs. Twins
It’s a story as old as time…David vs. Goliath, unsophisticated vs. cool, ugly vs. good-looking, ostracized vs. popular, geeks vs. jocks. In 1984 it was presented as a battle between two fraternities…one full of socially awkward computer geeks, the other comprised of cocky football players. The hows & whys of their rivalry are unimportant…all that matters is that there is an abundance of conviviality, with an undertow of social commentary about discrimination & pride in being true to one’s self. The cast consists of second tier performers like Ted McGinley, Curtis Armstrong, Timothy Busfield, & James Cromwell, although Anthony Edwards would go on to brief moments of stardom and John Goodman has a small part as a football coach. A few sequels followed over the next decade, but none are as fun as the original. 1988’s Twins pairs diminutive Danny DeVito with brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger as long lost fraternal twins. DeVito’s Vincent is a hardened ne’er-do-well who was raised in an orphanage. Schwarzenegger’s Julius was raised on a small Pacific island by the professor who conducted the genetic experiment that resulted in the two men’s birth. Julius learns of Vincent’s existence and seeks him out. The two then go on quite the adventure in search of their long lost mother. Hilarity ensues.
The Verdict:Revenge of the Nerds. It’s not the most unique concept but it works really well. Twins relies on a one-note joke about the obvious physical differences between its two stars, but that gag runs out of steam. Schwarzenegger is better than one might assume in comedies, yet it is very much a meta idea that it’s supposed to be hilarious seeing a muscle-bound tough guy doing comedy. Sorry…I need more.
Flight of the Navigator vs. The Goonies
Flight of the Navigator still flies under the radar three decades after its release. Made in 1986 and starring Howard Hesseman (WKRP’s Dr. Johnny Fever) and Sarah Jessica Parker in one of her early roles, the story is an intriguing time travel tale about a young boy who falls into a ravine and wakes up the next morning to find that eight years have passed, though he hasn’t aged at all. It turns out that he was abducted by aliens. Folks, trust me…this is a seriously entertaining film. It strikes the perfect balance of action, drama, & whimsy. Meanwhile, The Goonies is a much celebrated film starring a group of youngsters (including Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, & Josh Brolin) who go on an adventure in search of a long lost treasure map. The film’s pedigree is first rate, with the script being written by Chris Columbus (who would go on to write and/or direct stuff like Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Home Alone movies, Only the Lonely, the first two Harry Potter movies, & Jingle All the Way), directed by Richard Donner (Superman, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon), & produced by the iconic Steven Spielberg.
The Verdict:Flight of the Navigator. This will probably be considered a pretty big upset by many. However, I’ve just never understood what the big deal is about The Goonies. Several 80’s films had ensemble casts with kids that would end up having memorable careers, but that’s not enough. The movie has to be engaging, with a plot that makes me want to enjoy repeat viewings. The Goonies isn’t that…atleast for me. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay. I happen to believe that Navigator is a superior entertainment experience…escapism at its finest.