Monday, January 28, 2013

Where the Boys are '84 (1984) - Campy Retro Fun

Where the Boys Are '84 - Cult Classic about Chicks on the Prowl

Poster Where the Boys are '84 1984
"Where the Boys are '84" (1984).

Movies would be not be as much fun if they were all big-deal classics like "Les Misérables" and "The Godfather." Yes, those are the types of films that will always make the "Best Movies" lists, but that doesn't mean that throwaway films can't be a lot of fun. "Where the Boys Are '84" (1984), directed by Hy Averback for ITC Productions, is one of the most misguided films ever made - and, sure enough, it has become an underground cult classic. With the remarkable distinction of being the first film distributed by Tristar, and produced by the legendary Alan Carr (his name is mentioned twice during the opening credits so that you get the hint), "Where the Boys Are '84" has so many things wrong with it that you just watch in disbelief as one improbable cliché after the next parades across the screen. If you let them, though, the characters draw you in and you actually wind up caring that this one hooks up with that one, or the other one actually has a wife and little kid waiting at home, and so on. If you like trashy beach films, "Where the Boys Are '84" is sheer heaven.

Poster Where the Boys are '84 1984
The girls drive down to Florida as the "Where the Boys are '84" titles play.

Four Senior college girls (Lisa Hartman as Jennie, Lorna Luft as Carole, Wendy Schaal as Sandra and Lynn-Holly Johnson as Laurie) set off on spring break to sunny Fort Lauderdale (all we know is that, wherever their school is, it's snowy there, this isn't the kind of film that gives lots of background). Carole (the film opens with a gratuitous shot of her having thrashingly comical sex with her boyfriend, Chip (Howard McGillin)) wants to take a break from her relationship (this isn't the kind of film that explains the "whys' of things like that) by having a separate vacation. Laurie is the "wild girl" who has a blow-up doll boyfriend (once again, don't ask "why" about things in this film), while Sandra simply is looking for "Mr. Right." Jennie becomes the focus of much of the conflict, but everybody's story is important.

Scott  Where the Boys are '84 1984
Scott looking for a ride in "Where the Boys are '84."

Laurie is driving the girls down the highway in Sandra's fancy convertible (the film's highlight is this drive, with quite nice aerial shots) when she spots Scott Nash (Russell Todd) thumbing a ride and slams on the brakes.
Sandra: What are you doing?
Laurie:  S.A., major S.A.
Sandra: What's an S.A.?
Laurie: Stud Alert, you nun. I'm givin' that guy a ride.
The merry travellers continue on down the highway, Scott now safely aboard. Turns out he's a struggling but highly self-confident musician who goes down to Florida each year with his band to "make his fortune." After this scene, which is Laurie's best moment, everything swiftly goes downhill, and after the ride, Laurie never even seems to look at Scott again. That's a good thing, too, because it turns out Scott only has eyes for Jennie, who thinks he has nice "buns."

Poster Where the Boys are '84 1984
Laurie driving, Scott in the back with Carole and Jennie in "Where the Boys are '84."

They hit the beach, where Scott quickly sees his mates in the midst of the masses of humanity ("It's a supermarket of sex!") and ditches the girls. They wind up in a "seedy" motel pad (which actually is palatial) which has about 500 people in the lobby with a "creep" behind the counter (Barry Marder as "Rappaport," who inexplicably also turns up much later at a party). Once they get to their room, Laurie suddenly has a personality change from aggressive to ditzy and weird, quickly blowing up "Dave," her man-sized blow-up doll.

Jennie Carole Laurie Sandra Where the Boys are '84 1984
Four wonderful ladies on the beach in "Where the Boys are '84."

We then meet Camden Roxbury (Daniel McDonald), a celebrity pianist (in the early '80s?) who is Sandra's cousin, and policeman Ernie (Asher Brauner), who solicitously warns the ladies about the sun. Laurie spots her dream man, "Conan" (Frank Zagarino, who later became a z-grade producer/director), and dreams of a night of unbridled lust with him. Scott returns, having forgotten his bag in the girls' car, and Camden brings his entourage (mother and aunt) to the local hot spot, where he meets Jennie and asks her to attend his next concert. Laurie drops some hints as to where this is going when she casually mentions that Camden is weird but "kinda cute." The girls decide to get "seriously s---faced," as Carole puts it. Chip, meanwhile, is insanely jealous and has come down with a buddy to spy on Carole, the two cruising the strip unsuccessfully for hours looking for her and ultimately sleeping in their car.

Lisa Hartman Where the Boys are '84 1984
Lisa Hartman as Jennie in "Where the Boys are '84."

Laurie gets pulled over for drunk driving on the way home from the club, and she and Sandra get hauled into jail by Ernie (Sandra screams "F--- you" and slugs him to earn her sentence). Scott and Jennie wind up alone on the beach after she insults him and later apologizes, thereby, of course, proving her true love. "I haven't seen a spring vacation this bad since '69, when I had to call in the National Guard," says Officer Porter (Dan Fitzgerald) at the station during his ten-second appearance in the film. The other girls bail out Laurie and Sandra (who threatens to kill herself if she has to ask her rich family for money), but that leaves them dead broke. Carole then enters a "Hot Bod" contest on the beach to get some spending money and, in the funniest scene in the film, takes only second place (the other contestants being obvious strippers, while she does an actual comical dance which involves a lot of wild arm-waving) after the next girl whips off her bikini top. Camden shows up (after an icky kiss on the lips of his mother, played by Louise Sorel, for telling him where Jennie is) to invite Jennie to a party, while Chip finds Carole and "breaks up" with her for entering the contest.

On the Beach Where the Boys are '84 1984
The girls enjoying the beach and looking for guys in "Where the Boys are '84."

Laurie uses "Dave" to show Sandra how to kiss, but when told to "bite it" she destroys the doll, leading to a ceremonial tossing of the doll into the ocean. Sandra is upset about destroying Dave, but Laurie is ok "as long as you climax with Ernie... Dave would have wanted it that way." The next day, Scott sabotages Camden's party by advertising it to everyone on the beach, leading to a stampede to the nearby estate. Laurie, meanwhile, has an "appointment" with Conan which goes disastrously awry when he turns out to be a male hooker. "You expect me to pay you? Hey, what are you, on drugs or something? You son of a bitch!" she shrieks in a classic scene. Stopping herself and playing along just to twist the knife in a little deeper, Laurie then has Conan undress, giving her the chance for a classic zinger: "So, where's the rest of it? I'll see you in small claims court." She then flounces out, wondering, no doubt, what day the Academy Awards will be held so she will know when to pick up her trophy.

Carole, Jennie, Scott, Tony Where the Boys are '84 1984
Carole recovering from her dancing, watched by Jennie, Scott and Nick in "Where the Boys are '84."

The party at Camden's mansion is ruined by all the uninvited guests, with Rappaport trying to sell Camden's mother back her belongings and then doing the same thing to Officer Ernie. Scott helps Camden finish writing his big number for the upcoming concert, but Jennie then leaves after both men insult her in very minor ways. Chip is still spying on Carole and sees Tony (Christopher McDonald) kissing her at the party, so to provoke her he comes on to Maggie (Alana Stewart) where Carole can see. At the concert the next night, Camden dedicates his number to Jennie, but then Scott shows up with his band on stage and takes over the show, adding words to the piece, giving it a classic '80s power-ballad sound and singing directly to Jennie. Jennie then falls for Scott (she's pretty easy), Carole makes up with Chip (who wound up spending the night with Maggie but that will be their little secret), and Laurie reveals her true feelings hinted at earlier for Camden and spends the night with him. The girls, happy, then head back to school with Scott.

Jennie Scott Where the Boys are '84 1984
Jennie and Scott share a moment in "Where the Boys are '84."

'Where the Boys Are '84" is cheesy fun. It is packed with raw '80s music that does its best on the cheap to imitate current big-name acts such as the Bangles, and the soundtrack actually is pretty good. There are amusing scenes of older ladies listening to one of the boy bands at Camden's place, while Lisa Hartman pounds out a fairly decent version of "Where the Boys Are" at the end. There is plenty of frenetic fun, interspersed with comic romance that never gets too overbearing. If you can get into the spirit of the proceedings, "Where the Boys Are '84" is a lot of fun and does bring back the feel of '80s vacations.

Carole dancing in Hot Bod Where the Boys are '84 1984
Carole during the Hot Bod contest in "Where the Boys are '84."

The flaws of "Where the Boys are '84" become advantages if, again, taken in the right spirit. Lorna Luft, fresh off the horrific "Grease 2," is the by far the best actor in the film, with moments of true comic inspiration that unfortunately also dissipate far too quickly. She is wildly miscast as someone who might even be permitted to enter a "hot bod" contest, much less come anywhere near winning it, but the idea is so wacky that the scene actually works - and Luft really does show some dancing skill, being Judy Garland's daughter pays off here. Laurie's hair style keeps changing throughout, from pinned-down predator style to big-hair to a sort of bouffant 'do, sort of following her changing personality. The character of Scott is overbearing in an overly masculine way that comically underscores his being cast as the big "ladies man."

Laurie Where the Boys are '84 1984
You can see Conan's reflection in the mirror behind Lynn-Holly Johnson as she tells him off in "Where the Boys are '84."

All of the leads are given at least one big dramatic scene, and comparing how they handle those scenes is part of the fun. Lisa Hartman plays it cool throughout, letting all the guys come to her, but works hard at getting the best close-ups. Lynn-Holly Johnson has her big "Academy Award" scene with Conan, where she actually manages to show some dramatic emotion before blowing it with an exit that is way too underplayed. If you are going to make a melodramatic exit, go all the way with it next time! The character of Laurie wanders through so many different attitudes, hair styles and dress styles that it sometimes takes a second to realize that, yes, that girl having the soulful conversation with Camden, or playing with the blow-up doll, or drooling over some hunk on the beach is, in fact, the same Laurie who very coyly asks Camden out after the concert. Wendy Schaal attempts to portray pathos when breaking up with Nick, but the scene goes nowhere in a way-too-obvious attempt at manipulative tear-jerking that jars with everything else in the film and, thus, becomes unintentionally humorous. Russell Todd has his big moment at the end, where he lip-syncs someone else (Peter Beckett) singing "Jennie," but there is no follow-through. You are left feeling they left out about five minutes of the film where Scott actually discusses the incident with Jennie or has some kind of meaningful exchange that doesn't involve singing. Lorna Luft does her best to hold the whole thing together, being the only one who conveys any kind of genuine feeling and showing a hint of real comic timing, but it would take Lucille Ball to really turn this creaking mess around, and Lorna Luft is no Lucille Ball.

Scott Where the Boys are '84 1984
Scott had too much to drink but that won't keep him off stage later in "Where the Boys are '84."

If anyone besides Lorna Luft steals the film, though, it is Daniel McDonald as Camden. Stuck with an obvious figure-of-fun character, McDonald manages to make Camden courtly and almost sympathetic. Daniel's older brother, Christopher McDonald, inexplicably gets higher billing in the minor role of Nick and remains the better-known performer (Christopher died tragically several years ago), but Daniel McDonald is the one who gives "Where the Boys Are '84" some depth and class it really doesn't merit otherwise.

Jennie Laurie Where the Boys are '84 1984
Lisa Hartman and Lynn-Holly Johnson in "Where the Boys are '84."

Make no mistake, "Where the Boys Are '84" is unmistakably silly and full of juvenile humor and strained attempt at topical profanity. It meanders all over Fort Lauderdale with little plot and even less purpose. 'Where the Boys Are '84" is not a "serious" film. But if you are looking for some cheesy fun that lacks all pretentiousness, you could do a lot worse than "Where the Boys Are '84." Pick out a favorite character (mine is Laurie, partially because she won a Razzie for the role playing the role so weirdly, but any will do) and enjoy!  A DVD of the film was released in 2011 by Scorpion and is eagerly sought by cult fans.


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