(NR, Cannon Films, 105 mins., theatrical release date: August 31, 1984)
[Welcome back to Cannon Fodder, a series devoted to my endurance of a handful of films produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who were Hebrew National yet far from kosher. This is honey-drenched foreplay to precede my review of Mark Hartley's well-received Cannon doco Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Last time, I took a willing bite of The Apple, which at least was spirited in its stupidity. All I can say here is that, "This is a low, Bo..."]
In 1984, Cannon Films hooked and crooked their way to an original breakthrough in the film scene, releasing the Breakin' movies to a wide audience and thus getting a pop 'n' lock on the hip-hop/dance vehicle.
Unfortunately, between those youth-oriented highs lay the adults-only Bolero, one of Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus' all-time greatest follies.
In another attempt to profit high by aiming low, our Israeli anti-heroes turned to actor-turned-auteur John Derek and his wife Bo Derek. Not only was Cathleen Collins infamously less than half John's age, but John discovered her as a teenager whilst he was still wed to Linda Evans in the early 1970s. After they wed in mid-decade, Cathleen went by the stage name of "Bo" Derek and was debuting in Orca: The Killer Whale, followed by her iconic role as the mysterious object of desire in Blake Edwards' 10.
The Dereks remained passionate lovers until John's death in 1998, with husband working hard to preserve the sex symbol status of his wife in the pages of Playboy and on the silver screen. Unfortunately, the projects they concocted were transparently opportunistic and incredibly tasteless. 1981's Tarzan, the Ape Man was the first strike, followed mere months later by their eight-years-old, Greece-located pet project Fantasies.
Bolero was the film which effectively told both John and Bo Derek "You're out!"
That was their fate despite a massive media-hyped controversy over Bolero's distribution and lack of an official MPAA rating. Cannon were producing under the MGM banner for a brief time (the sleeper success of Breakin' was one of the results), but Bolero was bad enough for Frank Yablans to demand a legal escape clause from the studio's contract with Cannon (apparently, it didn't extend to home video distribution). Golan & Globus decided to release it themselves, but John Derek, who was pressured by his producers to make the film more "erotic" than the Dereks already intended, didn't present this film to the MPAA for fear of getting the scarlet X. Instead, Bolero went out unrated, with many theaters having to impose the "no one under 17" rule themselves.
The Dereks and Menahem Golan took blows to each other in the press, with Bo claiming that her private collection of on-set photographs were stolen by the studio and copyrighted as publicity stills. The producers were ashamed of the project so much, they wanted ownership on Mr. & Mrs. Derek's ranch as compensation. Whatever the beef between these clashing egos, Bolero made a quick recoup of its budget after two weeks but then tapered out and stalled at roughly $9 million domestic gross. The film's petering profits as well as its deluge of negative reviews guaranteed a sweep at the coming Golden Raspberries, winning six out of nine nominations.
But time has a way of redeeming even the most abortive artifact of its time, right?
NO!!! It doesn't!
I was reminded of that when I watched The Apple, and now it's even more applicable to Bolero. To paraphrase a Freudian adage, sometimes a fiasco is just a fiasco.
This dual desecration of Rudolph Valentino and Maurice Ravel's funeral plots replaces the silent film era's unspoken campiness with a deluge of head-slapping exchanges that don't deserve to be printed on old-timey title cards (which John Derek actually does!). And despite being named after the composition which soundtracked Bo's nudity in 10, Ravel is nowhere to be heard, the dishonor going to guest conductor Elmer Bernstein, whose son Peter scored every other piece of music outside of the love scenes. Try as he may, Elmer B. is no better suited to orchestrating endless soft-core set pieces than John Williams is, and the climax (so to speak) visually and sonically conveys "eerie" more than "extasy," which is actually spelled out in neon as a beacon amongst egregiously-used dry ice fog.
A running joke involving this grammatical error is genuinely contrived to endear the viewer to Bo Derek, who I steadfastly refuse to acknowledge even plays a character here. In a vanity project as relentless as Bolero, she isn't virginal young Lida MacGillvery, a supposed bonnie lass with a Yank accent who graduates from an English prep school so she can inherit her father's fortune and put it towards a Euro-peon vacation. There is no plot involving this hormonal vacuum of higher education having saved herself for passionate intercourse with a dark, handsome stranger straight out of a Valentino non-talkie. There are no million barrels of wine, hookahs of opium, underage nudie shots, or castrating bulls.
No, Bolero is Bo and John Derek's celluloid passport to Morocco and Spain, with the most rudimentary attempt at an Emmanuelle sex fantasy to frame it. This is Bo Derek at her most unbearable as she one-ups Olivia Newton-John, who convinced more playing a liberated high school sweetheart in Grease than Derek does here as a wide-eyed ingénue. This is two stuporous scenes of simulated sex buttressed by bad comedy and even worse melodrama. This is, like a lot of Cannon's output, too much of a smug slog to provoke the kind of titters which stick out more than the titties, two of which, need I remind you, belong to a 14-year-old!!
Don't let this "European sensibilities" bullshit justification (I've heard it used to excuse Cannon's Lemon Popsicle movies, and it's flimsier than Bo's costumes) distract from the undisputed truth that Bolero is the pinnacle of pretentious crassness. It is not entertaining, it's certainly not erotic, and it's not even worth 1000 words of cathartic dissertation.
So, Bo Derek as "Mac" has her romantic ideals dashed when the sheik of her fancy (Greg Bensen) turns out to be an Oxford-poet pretty boy who can't hold his smoke and sinks into narcolepsy. Whoop-de-har. Then she locks onto a dreamy rejoneador, Angel (Andrea Occhipinti), who shows mercy by not slaying his charges to the public's disinterest. He doesn't sell toros, but vinos. He's also an in-demand stud, with both a feisty ginger-haired suitor and his "gypsy shadow," Paloma (Olivia d'Abo...14-year-olds, Dude), clamoring for Angel's pene.
"Mac" uses her daddy's trust fund to essentially buy her way into entitled ecstasy...oh, I'm sorry, "extasy." She gets deflowered, we get demeaned. But that's not enough, so Angel has to sever a nerve ending in his nether, giving "Mac" all the motivation to goad Angel back into potency: "Don't take it out on me just because you got cute with a damn bull!"
By film's end, you'll have accrued all the earnest agony needed to wish that wily mammal has made it impossible for these two to procreate for the rest of their lives.
Not even Mark Hartley could condense this movie in such a bite-sized way as to make Bolero any more salvageable.
Never mind the pitiful attention to period details ("As Time Goes By" is played on piano in a casbah: written in 1931; associated with a beloved movie released in 1942; having fuckall to do with the 1920s), the ludicrous tonal shifts (the dejected Sheik hunts down "Mac" and has her kidnapped apropos of nothing, with an equally pathetic resolution) or the fact that Bo comes across as perpetually silly rather than sensuous, even in the over-ballyhooed sex scenes.
What really awards Bolero the all-time booby prize is the writing and direction of John Derek. He was a lecherous photographer masquerading as a legit fillmmaker. There is no evidence in Bolero, in his handling of dialogue, performances and scenery, that John D. could achieve at all the pure whimsy which would've helped make this film even the teensiest bit easier to take. He has no flair for editing, as Bolero boasts many of the single worst transitions, montages and abuses of slow-mo in any major motion picture. He makes his wife come across as glassy-eyed imbecile rather than a living centerfold. He likes to throw in fully naked 14-year-olds for spice (the more age-appropriate Ana Obregon, for the most part, keeps her clothes ON as brunette BFF Catalina, who puts the sniggering make on "Mac's" Scottish attorney). And he makes one want to walk inside the movie not to covet his lusty S.O., but to instead put the valiant George Kennedy, as long-suffering chauffeur Cotton, out of his misery, Old Yeller-style.
Good for George that he gets to woo Angel's maid, though. Maybe we can put him down after his conquest, like Jason Voorhees would. At least he can die with joy and some sliver of dignity.
Bolero, meanwhile, deserves every disgrace, the epitome of exhibitionism at its most exhausting. I wouldn't even recommend it to the video voyeurs who would be most satisfied from easy access to the money shots.
I don't even want to devote another precious sentence except "Good riddance."