Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Young man rhythm got a hold on me, too. I got the writin' pneumonia and a bad case of the flu.

Watching Less Than Zero only made me feel groggier, so maybe it's time I aimed in a different direction. How about the sleeper hit of 1982, the definitive guy's movie and the most dubious trendsetter of early 1980s cinema? The film forever associated with locker room peeping, industrial-size rubbers and prank calls to Michael Hunt. The one and only, for better or for worse, it's either this or NyQuil...

(R, 20th Century Fox, 94 mins., theatrical release date: March 19, 1982)

You know, Bob Clark used to have a pretty impressive resume, just like Dino De Laurentiis. I believe this on the strength of the horror movies he started out with in the early 1970s. Flanked regularly by screenwriter Alan Ormsby, Clark started out with the amateurish but promising Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, but the two really came into their stride in 1974, when they blitzed the screens with some highly influential, historically-revered shockers. Before audiences were introduced to Leatherface and his Texas chainsaw, Ormsby and Clark put to screen the grisly true crimes of Ed Gein in Deranged, and also did their previous Romero homage one better with the haunting ghost story/family drama Deathdream (Dead of Night). Those two movies also introduced someone named Tom Savini to the world, perhaps you've heard of him.

And then there was Black Christmas, which shares with Tobe Hooper's classic a preface to the coming ubiquity of the "slasher" film. This formula would be solidified and monetized by the popularity of Halloween and Friday the 13th, so I must give Bob Clark the credit he's due despite whatever opinions I or others may have said. He was an originator, a maker of great independent spook shows and deserved better than to go out on something like those Baby Geniuses stinkers.

And did you know he directed Jack Lemmon to an Oscar-nominated performance in Tribute?

But Clark's ultimate legacy in popular culture might not be A Christmas Story, but a project he allegedly spent 15 years fielding material for, drawing upon his own memories as those of his peers. Yes, we're talking about Porky's now. I was just spermatozoa when this film was spending eight weeks atop the U.S. box office and raking in hundreds of millions from North American audiences. It was the biggest success story in Canadian cinematic history until 2006, when the bilingual Bon Cop, Bad Cop and a Resident Evil sequel(?) usurped it.

To the dismay of Siskel & Ebert (and perhaps myself, to be honest), Porky's made enough bank to ensure an endless series of sniggering, superficial rites-of-passage flicks that are nowhere near the greatness of Animal House and more in league with such desperately raunchy fare as Gorp or The Hollywood Knights. Hell, Porky's wasn't even the first of its breed. You had nostalgia-fueled totems of adolescent irresponsibility as early as Summer of ‘42 and American Graffiti, and there was also Lemon Popsicle. Perhaps it was the audiences getting burnt out on the bastard sons of Friday the 13th that ensured Porky's outrageous success and stream of imitators, a few such as Risky Business and Revenge of the Nerds offering more than the same smug sex jokes. It is a sociological curiosity if not the over-hyped cause célèbre time would convince you.

But I'm not trying to write a term paper, I only want a satisfying film review. So here I am, sneezing my way through every paragraph, to give my take on Porky's. Let's sty one on.

In the great tradition of these "autobiographical" blackout sketch movies, there's not much I can say about the plot as a set-up. The setting is Angel Beach High School in Florida's Seward County, 1954. I assume Bob Clark was simply trying to reach the spot between between Robert Mulligan's 1942 and George Lucas' 1962, but he was 15 years old at the actual time this movie sticks its flag in. The central character is Edward Morris, affectionately/mockingly nicknamed "Pee Wee" (Dan Monahan), and he stupidly strains his member trying to hide his morning wood from his mother on this average school day. No wonder he gets further bent when he busts out the ruler to measure his "progress."

Among his circle of bros, Pee Wee is the most neurotic with his libido. He can't even think right when he's flaccid, let alone hard. This leads to him being gullible on a level that ought to demote him to the level of nerd, only he doesn't have the horn-rims. Recently, he's won the ridicule of Wendy the waitress (Kaki Hunter) for deigning to wear a condom before trying to score. He inadvertently eggs the campus behemoth, Anthony "Meat" Tuperello (Tony Ganios). And he outright hectors the hotshot alphas, Tommy Turner (Wyatt Knight) and Billy McCarty (Mark Herrier), into taking him along on a field trip to the shack of redhead prostitute Cherry Forever (Susan Clark). Naturally, it turns out to be too easy to be true.

Where there's a will, there's a way, so for Pee Wee and pals the path to sexual salvation compels them to Porky's, the fabled redneck dive further out in the Everglades. This time, the joke's on all of them, as Porky Wallace (Chuck Mitchell, four years before berating Lane Meyer) fails to deliver on the action, dumps them out in the swamp water and extorts the rest of their cash with the help of his brother, also the local sheriff (Alex Karras). This development doesn't sit well with Mickey Jarvis (Roger Wilson, previously seen on this site in Second Time Lucky), who alternates between driving back out for revenge and returning home with nastier signs of bodily harm.

The whole of Porky's is as erratic as the synopsis so far, shifting from convivial smut to not-quite-redeeming social value. The Angel Beach Boys finally work out a suitable comeuppance for the Wallaces, but that's saved until the very end. Outside of the blue ha-ha set pieces, there's a subplot for the boys' 23-year-old basketball coach, Roy Brackett (Boyd Gaines) and his pursuit of the luscious Miss Honeywell (Kim Cattrall), whom his mentor Mr. Goodenough (Bill Hindman) refers to as "Lassie," which confuses Brackett until he gets her alone in the laundry room. Also, there's lightweight friction between flagrant bigot Tim Cavanaugh (Cyril O'Reilly) and the Semitic Brian Schwartz (Scott Colomby), who can defend himself verbally and physically.

And then there's Coach Balbricker (Nancy Parsons), the corpulent laughingstock of both the student body and faculty. In a movie where the male leads provide their own laugh track in every scene, Parsons at least gets some deserving chuckles through her nonplussed reactions to their shenanigans. Alas, her prudish devotion to "moral turpitude" descends into psychotic mania, and the broader the character becomes, the nastier Clark treats her, and the more I want to see Parsons as the devious Ida Vincent in Motel Hell.

I want to like Porky's, I really do. The same way that I do Animal House or Slap Shot or Stripes or even Hardbodies! I crave vicarious belly laughs that thumb their nose at authority and explore the multiple ways attempted conquests can go farcically sour. Sometimes going through the "innocent" antics of past generations can be entertaining, hilarious, even insightful. I mean, American Graffiti is a gold standard for lots of reasons. And The 40-Year-Old Virgin, forget about it!

Porky's is also more of an equal-opportunity offender, take that as you will, than the shit it spawned. Yes, there is a lot of ooh-gling and ahh-gling, but at least in the case of Wendy and Honeywell, the girls can give as much as they take. The Angel Beach community feels like a community, where incompatible personalities can unite in some sense of pride (getting one over on Porky) or shame (the generational racism of Cavanaugh). And as the series went on, even Balbricker was humanized somewhat, although she doesn't escape the automatic instinct to mock the obese you find in politically-incorrect sops to the plebeian moviegoers.

It's just that the movie operates on this common tendency among raunchy comedies at the time to filter bygone eras through distinctly modern, unrepentantly vulgar eyes. When it works, you get Animal House, but they can also go way, waaayyyy too far, just look at the Lemon Popsicle series. Bob Clark wants to have his beaver hunt and shoot the ones in the barrel, too. That's how you get such thorny showstoppers as the peephole scene, where the boys reveal their outright hostility to the naked girls on show, who seem to take the voyeurism a little too in stride. It's also where you glean similarly unenlightened attitudes toward blacks and Jews, which at least pays dividends in the performance of Scott Colomby as the ostracized Schwartz, which is more natural than any of the other boys (honorable mention to Boyd Gaines from Fame and The Sure Thing).

Furthermore, the Porky's series as I recall is more about schadenfreude than the joys or dangers of sex. This prevents it from trying to develop a lot of unconvincing sincerity, which I guess beats the alternative as presented by the Lemon Popsicle franchise, but it's still conservative in its own way. By the end, Pee Wee is rewarded with sex after all his mania (again with Wendy, natch), but it's during the end credits and he's the only of the goon squad (read: I don't count Coach Brackett, even if he is one of the boys at heart) to actually make it. There's more fighting than fucking, which I guess says something abut the male ego. And except for a few token exceptions (Pee Wee, Meat, Wendy), the characters are interchangeable and acting is on a strictly sitcom level, right down to the overage actors feigning teenage attitudes (Grease, anyone?). Even Film Freak Central got it wrong when Travis Hoover mistook Mickey for Cavanaugh.

And on the basic level, Porky's is a hangout movie about schmoes who let it all hang out. You'd think something like this would be entertaining in an insinuating, loose manner, but sometimes Bob Clark shows a tendency to let moments stretch out to the point where the humor starts to get less of a reaction. The Honeywell scene drags on...and on...and even with Kim Cattrall baying in heat, Clark could've used a proper editor. It doesn't build to anything unexpected, it's just the joke about why they call her "Lassie." And for a lot of people, apparently that's enough. But it's just not good comedy.

Do I feel Porky's got extremely overrated? Yes, I do. But did I actually cave in and laugh at times? I said, Nancy Parsons is better at reactive giggles than others, and much of Dan Monahan's overbearing eagerness ("Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!" after he strips buck naked) delivers the titters. And Susan Clark as Cherry Forever, sizing up the studs in a single file line, she's amusingly salty. And if you had a prophylactic fit for King Kong (although Balbricker is nicknamed "Kong" constantly, another sour running joke), you'd blow it up and start ramming into every foxy lady's groin in sight for the amusement of your friends. It's not entirely an arid desert of comedy, if only because the enthusiasm of getting away with improper behavior is a reliable fantasy.

But to deny the film has problems is to admit to wearing blinders on your eyes. Having engaged in social media, I find myself inundated with a bevy of nostalgia for a period piece set in an era its audience would have little knowledge about. It's not like in 1981 we pined for Patti Page, Hank Williams and The Crew Cuts on our jukeboxes, right? (Well, as the Eighties continued, it certainly felt like a brazen attempt to recapture the Fifties) In the blaze of wisenheimer quips, innuendos and expletives, there are bound to be groaners, from the joke about angel food cake to the dopey deputies of the finale.

Bob Clark would remain proud of Porky's until his untimely death, getting his say in on a special edition DVD release, and its mammoth success remains undeniable. But in 2016, I can't help but feel that this will never turn up on a list of my all-time favorite comedies, eliciting nothing more than a shrug and minor confession of what did strike me as funny. Hardly proportionate to its status as the fifth most lucrative release of 1982 (luckily, Tootsie bested it as the year's blockbuster comedy). Sometimes, bad jokes are simply bad jokes, no matter how loud the canned laughter is. And though I think I prefer Porky's to much of its suckling spawn, that same year brought us Diner, which rings of greater truth and camaraderie. Porky's was a smash, but even though the reasons for it are obvious, I wouldn't want to wallow in that thought for too long.

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