Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Film Review: THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA (1980)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 41






THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA (1980 Universal) Starring George Segal, Natalie Wood, Valerie Harper, Richard Benjamin, Dom DeLuise, Allan Arbus, Bob Dishy, Arlene Golonka, Priscilla Barnes, Marilyn Sokol. Directed by Gilbert Cates.



Segal and Wood are a married couple in their forties.  Having survived Segal's prior flirtation with the seven year itch, they are in the 15th year of what has since been a strengthening marriage.  However the couple's friends seem to be unanimously headed in the opposite direction, and their weekend touch football games dwindle in attendance as the other married couples in their social circle seperate one by one.  The happy couple is now "outnumbered" and the target of peer pressure from both male and female friends who express bewilderment that a couple can remain happy together for a lifetime. Segal even gets advances from Wood's newly single (and newly blonde) best friend Harper, which he initially rebuffs.  But eventually Segal gives in to Harper and starts a chain of events that sends Wood into a rage (and a much younger man's arms), threatening the last union standing.

An entire wave of late-cycle sexual revolution comedies came out at the dawn of the 1980's with the same theme: married people in their 40's wondering if the grass is greener on the other side and simultaneously worried about aging.  After Blake Edwards' 10 was a box office smash in the fall of '79, MIDDLE AGE CRAZY, SERIAL, A CHANGE OF SEASONS and this film attempted to ride its coattails the following year.
 


Of the four, THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA got the worst reviews, with many complaints about the "smutty" humor: leering males straight out of GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN, only with expletives added; Harper matter-of-factly discussing surgery to tighten her vagina; and America's sweetheart Wood dropping f-bombs among the intended laugh-inducers. Unfortunately there was nothing shocking (or logical, or funny) about much of the material, and Harper looks more emaciated than tempting with her hair dyed an unflattering blonde. It's a head-scratcher to wonder why any man married to a faithful, supportive and fun Natalie Wood would be tempted by Harper. Especially after we learned early in the film that he's already been forgiven for one past affair.  Segal comes across as lunkheaded and deserving of the resulting complications.  Also, he gives in to the temptation immediately after lonely, pathetic Benjamin cries on his shoulder at a bar, which seems much more likely to send him home than off to a no tell motel!



The "strategic guest star", then ubiquitous Dom DeLuise, plays a well-endowed porn stud. A wisecracking, obese, balding man in demand for porn?  Maybe good for a few shock related giggles on the incongruity then.  Now, it's just one more joke from this film that hasn't aged wellit isn't so far-fetched after a quarter century of Ron Jeremy.

THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA does provide chuckles in spots, with the reliably amusing late 1970's fashions, music, roller discos and, of course, a swinger's party. But outside of the dated campiness, it doesn't compare well at all to its aforementioned contemporaries.  MIDDLE AGE CRAZY dealt with the Seven Year Itch concept better, and in a twist on their usual screen personas, Bruce Dern was much more sympathetic than George Segal is here.  SERIAL embraces its wackiness and is a lot more fun as a southern California period piece, and 10 benefits from its truly outrageous plot and from Edwards, Moore, Derek and Andrews all being in peak form. In contrast, neither Segal nor Wood were making good script choices at the time, with the former losing his big screen stardom for good after 1981's awful CARBON COPY and the latter coming off a decade of semi-retirement, turning down the likes of THE TOWERING INFERNO and THE GREAT GATSBY but accepting this film and METEOR.

 
With a lead character hard to relate to or care about, THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA is pretty forgettable, notable only as Natalie Wood's penultimate, and sadly, last completed film before her tragic death a year later. 

 
So...why isn't this on DVD yet?

 
Unfortunately, because it sucks. Rarely funny and really dated, despite a good cast.  It would seem that a teaming of Segal and Wood couldn't miss, but this one does.
 
Why it should be on DVD:
 
Might have considerable appeal for Natalie Wood fans, as her last completed film before her untimely death. Thankfully, she is as appealing as ever and provides the film with what little spark it has. 

Also a grudging recommendation for lovers of late 1970's fashions, which provide sporadic laughs at the party finale and the roller disco.  And for fans of Priscilla Barnes, soon to become famous replacing Suzanne Somers on THREE'S COMPANY.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Film Review: COOL AS ICE (1991)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 40



CAMP CLASSIC EDITION!






COOL AS ICE (1991 Universal) Starring Vanilla Ice, Kristen Minter, Michael Gross, Naomi Campbell, Allison Dean, Deezer D, Kevin Hicks, Victor DiMattia, John Newton.  Directed by David Kellogg.

Vanilla Ice plays a mysterious rapper/dancer/motorcyclist who, while out on a ride with his posse, spots Minter riding in a pasture and decides to impress her by jumping the fence (and scaring the shit out of her horse).  Despite this inauspicious beginning, he gets another chance as his gang gets stranded in the next town needing cycle repairs, coincidentally on Minter's block, where the young lovely stays with her secretive and overprotective father Gross.  Ice proceeds to show the yokels how it's done, "it" being rapping, dancing, cycling, bonding with Minter's bird-flipping little brother and sweeping the young lovely off her feet within a matter of hours.  Oh, and solving the youngster's eventual kidnapping and opening a can of whoopass on Minter's ex and the dirty former cops out to settle an old score with Gross.

Despite the fact that absolutely no one went to see it during its brief theatrical run, COOL AS ICE achieved Legendary Bad Movie status practically overnight.  Sure, Vanilla Ice backlash had something to do with it, but that doesn't fully explain a Razzie nomination in almost every category in 1991: high "praise" in a year with competition from NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, HUDSON HAWK, ANOTHER YOU and RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON.  Supposedly Vanilla Ice's starring debut was intended as an updated REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, but COOL AS ICE has next to nothing in common plotwise or themewise with the James Dean classic.  For example, we never meet, or learn anything about, Ice's parents here, while the need for stronger guidance from his weak father was the major CAUSE of Dean's REBELliousness.  There are, however, shades--very, very faint shades--of that other 1950's youth classic, THE WILD ONE.  At least Ice is the leader of a motorcycle gang and intimidates a good portion of Unnamed Small Town, U.S.A.

David Kellogg's resume contains lots of music videos and commercials, but only one other feature film, and watching his work here it's easy to see why.  COOL AS ICE seems largely comprised of music videos that might have made rotation at MTV if Ice's 15 minutes hadn't already been up. Padded even at 91 minutes, Kellogg's film begins and ends with two such clips, with the opening credits taking 6 1/2 minutes(!) over visuals reminiscent of C+C Music Factory, featuring a very young Naomi Campbell channeling Zelma Davis (or, if you're a purist, Martha Wash) and erstwhile "Cherry Pie" video vixen Bobbie Brown. 

To be fair, it would be hard for any filmmaker to make much out of David Stenn's poorly written script.  Ice's character is sketchy at best, and virtually all supporting characters are cardboard and one-dimensional.  For example, the members of Ice's group (Deezer, Hicks and COMING TO AMERICA'S Dean) are given no distinctive personality traits at all, existing solely for reaction shots of awe at whatever cool, unconventional action Ice is taking.  The film is also short on logic, with a man in witness protection consenting to a televised interview and the (literally) 45 second transformation of Minter from ice queen to Ice's Queen, which only took one "Drop that Zero and Get with the Hero!".  

But, hey, you already knew all this about COOL AS ICE.  You watch it because you love bad movies, and Ice's one-liners, Seagal-worthy fighting abilities and rampless motorcycle jumps provide plenty of cheese.  Problem is, ICE lacks the rewatchability of SHOWGIRLS or LISTEN TO ME.  Despite the short running time there's a lot of tedium to sit through to get to the unintentional hilarity (only two very brief and unconvincing fight scenes, for example) and COOL AS ICE is best taken in small doses.  Taken all at once, you're likely to be reaching for the remote or nodding off by the half hour mark.   

So....why isn't this on DVD?

Like The Village People a decade before him (CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC), Ice was already passe by the time his feature debut was released. COOL AS ICE limped onto less than 400 screens in October 1991 and was only tracked by its studio for a mere two weeks.  A quickie cash grab that just wasn't quick enough.

As stated above, not that rewatchable.  It took me 17 years to revisit it, and I can easily think of a half-dozen bad movies from the early 1990's alone I'd rather watch.

Why it should be on DVD:

It may not be my cup of tea, but COOL AS ICE definitely has a following, with bad movie lovers in Austin and Cleveland putting it back on the big screen (for one night showings) within the last month alone.  Hell, it probably grossed more in those two nights than it did during the original release.

"Drop that zero and get with the Hero!" Need I say more? It's still pretty amazing that a film with that limited a theatrical release has an instantly recognizable one liner nearly two decades later. To be fair, the line is probably remembered largely because it arrives about 8 minutes into the actual film....or about two minutes before most people are reaching for the remote.

In the midst of amateurish writing, acting and directing, the film does boast excellent cinematography, by future Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski.  No kidding!