Monday, May 22, 2017

The Hollywood Knights

(R, Columbia Pictures, 91 mins., theatrical release date: May 16, 1980)

As long as there are cars and girls to be romanticized, there will always be a place for filmmakers to wax nostalgic about their high school nights spent cruising the metropolitan strip looking for action and adventure. The benchmark example remains George Lucas' American Graffiti, which was both entertaining and expressionistic in following four Modesto seniors' last tastes of adolescent freedom. We will need sewers, too, which is appropriate in the case of THE HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS

Having built enough of a fan base among after-hours HBO aficionados and suckers for low-hanging slapstick, Columbia/Tri-Star overcame music licensing issues for The Hollywood Knights' initial DVD release in 2000. That Universal Studios managed to put Bob Zemeckis' I Wanna Hold Your Hand on plastic four years after seems a grave injustice.

Writer/director Floyd Mutrux pleads naiveté several times in the audio commentary track (exclusive to the DVD, not on the Blu-Ray release) when he shares ideas that are blatant cribs from American Graffiti and its ilk, from the disc jockey-as-Greek chorus device to the peeping tomfoolery of horn dogs from on high to the sobering depiction of society's fall from grace after the 1950s. But what Mutrux hasn't done with The Hollywood Knights is allow it Lucas' sense of levity, nor turned the period setting into a kitschy cartoon a la Grease, nor went for John Landis' droll burlesque which made Animal House its own trendsetter.

Instead, The Hollywood Knights, cult following be damned, is exactly what it is to the naked eye: the inbred bastard offspring of all three established blockbusters. And in 1980, too, where comedy fans could look forward to Airplane! and Used Cars and The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack and Stir Crazy and 9 to 5 and Private Benjamin. In what stunted brain does The Hollywood Knights share a pedestal with these films, let alone its exalted forebears?

Aping George Lucas' patchwork plotting but adding the kind of gratuitous vulgarity which made it more pliant to the easily amused, Mutrux comes nowhere near close to capturing the spirit of ‘65. He clearly wishes he it were ‘56 instead. The three years of history that existed between Lucas and Mutrux's respective settings doesn't exist, and the soundtrack doesn't even scratch the surface of what I'd imagine listening to the radio in 1965 would be. For one, the only hit song of that year heard in The Hollywood Knights is "Wooly Bully," which was the Year-End #1 song of 1965 and also heard in More American Graffiti. Except for a couple nods to The Supremes, there's little of the Motown sound. No British Invasion at all, no Dylan or McGuire, no Tom Jones, no Righteous Brothers, not even the deathless likes of "I Got You Babe," "I Got You (I Feel Good), "(What a) Wonderful World," "Hang on Sloopy," or even "The Name Game."

He does use "Little Darling" by The Diamonds, in the exact same way American Graffiti did. Maybe Mutrux should've set it in 1964 given that "Baby Love," "Rag Doll," "Goin' Out of My Head," and an a cappella rendition of "Under the Boardwalk" represent the lion's share of a single year's chartbusters. The point is that Mutrux could care less about the ostensible year this takes place in, and that I might be stalling from having to describe the many other ways this movie bombs.

The gist of the movie is that the title posse are into cars and girls, which means that the news of their beloved hangout, a drive-in diner named Tubby's, being closed the day after Halloween at the behest of the Beverly Hills Residents Association will not do. Mutrux doesn't even do thing one with the possibilities of October 31. Where are the costume parties, trick-or-treaters, jack o'-lanterns, fucking anything to make me believe in Halloween?!

Anyway, Tubby's is set to be torn down by the richies, so The Hollywood Knights, a completely anonymous bunch led by the wannabe mythical Newbomb Turk, decide to pull a few pranks at various societal gatherings in between pit stops at their beloved diner and other negligible run-ins with ladies, lawmen and lame-os. Because none of these jokers has any conceivable personality, their appeal lives and dies with their front man. As played by Robert Wuhl in his first movie, Newbomb Turk is as boring as he is boorish. You'd never guess he would be ready for prime time someday (cf: Arli$$) based on Mutrux's film, where Wuhl is the very poor man's John Belushi (lesser than John DiSanti from 1979's King Frat) crossed with an equally broke schmuck's Bill Murray (he's not even Steve Guttenberg).

Turk's most inspired act of sabotage is to kidnap an obese nerd (Stuart Pankin) and, in the place of the scheduled magic act during a pep rally, scream and fart a rendition of "Volare." And Wuhl's not even the least bit funny doing that. It's as if he‘s trying too hard at something Belushi could cruise with. Not that Mutrux writes anything for Wuhl on the level of "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!" The sophomoric comedy is mostly visual, and Mutrux bungles every one of them, including several gags that would thrive in the late 1990s under better directors. Mutrux even rips off National Lampoon magazine's own high school satire during the aforementioned rally. And Turk's other fast ones involve the oldest of standbys, from flaming dog doo to peeing in the punch to ogling/spying on numerous girls to what we will call Chekhov's Pie Wagon.

"But wait, Johnny! What about Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer, who are clearly the stars of this movie based on the DVD cover art?"

I'd pity whoever would say that, because neither of them are in the film for even a quarter of the time as Robert Wuhl is. They do appear onscreen together in a pitiful clone of the Ronny Howard/Cindy Williams subplot from American Graffiti, in which Danza's Duke chafes at Pfeiffer's Suzie Q wanting to escape the boring life of a car hop for a shot at acting. It's as obligatory as their names, as is another Knight's plight (Gary Graham's Jimmy) concerning his one-way ticket to Vietnam. Given how Pfeiffer was Mutrux's choice of leading lady when he was in talks to direct Urban Cowboy, it's astonishing how little she has to do with the movie.

Fran Drescher makes more of an impression than Pfeiffer, but this is the same year she starred in Gorp. So her main function is to prattle away with her two girlfriends while they undress in the unwanted company of the Knights. Although the two attempt to get it on later in the flick, it was never clear if Drescher's Sally is Turk's squeeze. Anyway, the future Bobbi Flekman is just as squandered here as Pfeiffer is.

Am I missing something? Well, Gailard Sartain and Sandy Helberg (another one who went on to Spinal Tap? And Joyce Hyser is in this, too?!) are incompetent patrolmen who incur the wrath of the Hollywood Knights by towing the car belonging to Turk's brother. Leigh French and Richard Schaal are two of the evil hoi polloi who can't keep from engaging in illicit sex in broad nighttime. Did I mention that the Knights are like the T-Birds crossed with the Delta Tau Chi fraternity except I can't remember a single one besides the three who are the most prominently hackneyed?

The Hollywood Knights is non-stop raunchy exploitation too cluttered and clumsy to enjoy on a basic level. It can't even climax with a convincing bang like Animal House given how tasteless it is even looking past the puerile humor, because it is such an unabashed rip-off of American Graffiti. Funny that Columbia Pictures were one of the many big studios who spurned George Lucas on his way to the top, only to greenlight this travesty. "And here I sit, sucking on brown Popsicles."

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