Sunday, April 5, 2020

Dangerous Curves + Hunk

I am writing a birthday present to myself today, as opposed my Amityville Murders article which I wrote out of deference for Diane Franklin. That's not to say I didn't enjoy something special in her honor, what with the recent vogue for social distancing having reactivated my feelings about the bodacious brunette I've been championing as both an influence and friend for six years. I subscribed to Amazon Prime so that I could enjoy a rare 1990s appearance by Franklin, credited under her married name, in an episode of USA's short-lived spin-off of 1987's acclaimed The Big Easy.

"The End of the World" (s02e011) starred Diane Franklin De Laurentis as Zoey Simone, a psychic who can see not in the future but the present, whom lead detective Remy (Tony Crane) brings in to locate his kidnapped partner, played by Leslie Bibb. Turns out a young male bomber has a grudge to settle against N'awlins on behalf of his corrupted sister, and after Bibb's Janine corners the suspect in a uniform company, the hunter becomes a hostage.

There was a lot of silly dialogue involving pigs and ribs, and I can't help but think "incel" about the main antagonist. Yet I smiled upon seeing Diane Franklin in something that I missed back when I was a mere preteen. This would've been first aired around the time I discovered Monique Junet, and as someone who is deathlessly enamored with Diane even in her late 50s, she makes me feel so happy.

Ditto Kimberley Kates, for that matter, who I caught up with in a couple of seductress roles after she made her splash opposite Diane in Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure. I think of her just as fondly as one of the most beautiful women I've ever had to great fortune to speak to. There was one movie in which Kimberley plays a tart trophy wife who lusts after Jared Leto's pool boy, Highway, and another in which she is a bordello belle who sweetly relieves Stephen Dorff of his virginity as he tracks down his main obsession, an abducted Ami Dolenz, the film called Rescue Me. “Happy birthday, Fraser.”

Coincidentally, Rescue Me was a Cannon Film, released a decade after Diane Franklin made her debut in the company's Last American Virgin and after the split between Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. It starred none other than Michael "American Ninja" Dudikoff in a central role opposite Dorff, so it could've conceivably been a relic from the 1980s dusted off for the early 1990s. Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates both have given me so much love that I will never see them as the ingenues of their initial acting days, and I cannot give back enough gratitude to either for the pleasure. I adore them as adults, and turning 36 only replenishes the honey pot. I know they did something wonderful for me recently, but in trying to rebuild the fractured confidence that's been lying around, I need to rediscover some humility.

But I also need to stay true to my own intelligence as I try to respect those of these two women. So I have to tell myself again that when it comes to the genre of movies Diane and Kimberely will be remembered for, I have a kind of blind spot. You see, movies like Rescue Me or The Last American Virgin exist in a sort of vacuum for someone born in 1984. Before American Pie, I grew up thinking of teen comedies as programming filler for the very same USA Networks which aired that episode of The Big Easy with thirty-something wife/mother Diane Franklin De Laurentis.

I mentioned it in regards to Kimberley's Mosquito-Man, the fact that there was once an after-hours cable block called USA Up All Night that was like Cinemax with censors. And if you watched it religiously, it was like an orphanage for all the mercenary youth-oriented films that were so insanely prolific throughout the 1980s. There were Marilyn Chambers and Linnea Quigley vehicles also in circulation, to be true, but I will always associate USA with Rhonda Shear and Hardbodies and others of that ilk, many of which were objectively even worse. It also reminded me that though the teen comedy assembly line sped up in 1985 to an absurd degree, it was still functional up until the end of the decade, with brand names like Crown International and Vestron Pictures.

Which brings me to HUNK (PG, Crown International Pictures, 102 mins., theatrical release: Mar. 6, 1987) and DANGEROUS CURVES (PG, Lightning Pictures/Vestron Video, 93 mins., video release: Feb. 1, 1989), two late 1980s flicks which bore those very distributors on their wrappers. I had only the vaguest possible memory of the latter thanks to my uncle's VHS collection (it was on the same tape with John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, as aired on The Movie Channel, and I never did rewind that cassette to the beginning to watch Dangerous Curves), and the former was mentioned on a Patreon bonus episode of the now-defunct "'80s All Over" podcast by Eric D. Snider, who had written a piece on it prior. Dangerous Curves is one of those films I struggled to remember just minutes after finishing it, and Hunk already has Snide Remarks written all over it.

As someone who harbors little to no nostalgia for the midnight snacks of his childhood, and whom doesn't even love The Last American Virgin as much as Diane Franklin herself let alone the modern online critic circle, I am not the authoritative voice one wants for trashy ol' teen movies. I mourned the passing of Louisa “Carmela” Moritz, but I'll be damned if I say you should watch Hot Chili just so you could remember her by that (the same applies for Joe Rubbo once he passes). Walter Chaw admitted to wearing out a VHS copy of My Chauffeur out of youthful infatuation, but Deborah Foreman couldn't save that flick for me, at all. There are even people who found Diane Franklin suitable masturbation material based off The Last American Virgin, which only makes me question its fan base and even Diane herself (who has repeatedly used the phrase “sex education” in her remembrances) harsher.

Not every teen movie needs to be Gregory's Girl, I understand, but I do have some prevailing standards. And if I hadn't made it clear from the start, I love the players even as I loathe the game. Hunk, for instance, actually has a very good lead performance from John Allen Nelson as the titular panty-melter, and unlike Eric D. Snider, I will give Nelson credit also for helping to burn Killer Klowns from Outer Space into my memory cells (he was Officer Dave, the third in the triangle between Grant Cramer's Mike and Suzanne Snyder's Debbie). Between both Hunk and Dangerous Curves, I also have to mention several luminaries, be they Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Avery Schreiber, and James Coco.

But I have to speak frankly about Dangerous Curves, which is as formulaic a teen comedy as a committee has ever conceived. It's a vessel for PG-rated cheesecake, undistinguished turns from overqualified actors (even Martha Quinn is too good for this) and as many then-contemporary teen film clich├ęs one could cram into a 90-minute run time. A mismatched pair of collegiates, one studious, the other hedonistic, both bumbling clods? Check. Road trip to meet up with a girl? Check. Cherry red Porsche and Ferrari automobiles begging to be hijacked? The former car applies to the latter box, so this check was already cashed. Parade of swimsuit-clad babes? The movie is called Dangerous Curves, after all!

There are other easy boxes to tick off, but you can connect the dots already and deduce the film's plot all too easily. The studious boy, Chuck (Tate Donovan), is entrusted with driving a Porsche down to Lake Tahoe to ensure a prosperous career at Faciano Industries. CEO Louis Faciano (Robert Stack), friend of Chuck's dad from their 'Nam days, threatens Chuck with bodily harm if his daughter doesn't get her birthday convertible on time. Chuck's horndog buddy Wally (Grant Heslov), aka Mookie, aka Homey Boy, tags along as a necessary evil. One parking ticket at a Circle K later, Chuck loses the Porsche only to find it is the grand prize in a beauty pageant. Chuck and Wally scheme to retrieve it while mingling with the sexy talent, the awkward Chuck falling particularly for a supposed tomboy named Michelle (Danielle von Zerneck). Allies include a beach bum named Bam Bam (Robert Klein) and a depressive cabbie named Hector (Robert Romanus); foes include the sailing extortionist who seized the Porsche, Krevske (Leslie Nielsen) and the dotty pageant manager herself, Miss Reed (Elizabeth Ashley).

With a title like Dangerous Curves, I expected something sexier and livelier than the non-entity I had to watch. I was hoping to come across a Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry for the crowd who only want their License to Drive. No go. Everything that happens here is slavishly beholden to the instruction manual, yet the cake that has somehow baked itself deflates upon contact with the fork.

This is One Crazy Summer without Savage Steve Holland (or anybody who could cut a single one of its cast), Spring Break without Sean S. Cunningham (faint praise, indeed) and Risky Business after it has been dismantled beyond recognition by auto pirates. It makes no demands of Tate Donovan, fresh off SpaceCamp and rehearsing his later nerd role in Love Potion #9, or Danielle von Zerneck, fresh off La Bamba and soon to end her sadly nondescript acting career on a high note with 1995's Living in Oblivion. It casts Grant Heslov, soon to be George Clooney's partner in production, as the promising Curtis Armstrong/Fisher Stevens sidekick and strands him on the surf without a board. And as for the storied Mike Damone, the legendary host of Unsolved Mysteries, the king of Second City cut-ups, and the once and future Lt. Frank Drebin? Just keep adding up those checks, because the laughs are strictly on the one hand.

The only interesting thing I can say about Dangerous Curves, directed with sunshiny vacuousness by full-time cinematographer David Lewis and written by a trio of TV hacks, is that Valerie Breiman (She's Having a Baby, Casual Sex?), who plays Michelle's best friend Blake, got the inspiration to write and direct her own low-grade resort comedy immediately after this. That film was Going Overboard, which you may know marked the screen debut of some mensch by the name of Adam Sandface. I forget his real last name, I'm sorry. Didn't he make a movie recently about selling jewels? That was one of the best of 2019, I can attest to that. Shame that I can't place him beyond the first syllable.

Thank heavens for Hunk, a real American hero and not just in the Bud Light sense. Dangerous Curves reinforced my prejudices against the teen sex comedy as being as tasteful as used bubblegum and as beneficial as shooting guns in the air to kill off the Coronavirus. I may not have toilet paper at this time (those Charmin ads breaking up the viewing process are taunting me), but Hunk was as much a relief. Here is a bad movie with personality, as well as dialogue, satire, sentimentality, and many other things Dangerous Curves didn't have. Granted, the star power isn't as electric and the camera is shier in approaching too many strategically-covered nubile bodies (both these movies are tame as hell compared to the ones I've mentioned with Princesses Diane and Kimberley). Hunk is in the gutter but laughing at the weirdly-shaped clouds, which is a true sign of unforced amiability.

Hidden somewhere in the sculpted physique of John Allen Nelson is the mind of that sexy body's previous owner, Bradley Brinkman (Steve Levitt). The movie begins with Hunk (that's his actual name, Hunk Golden) cruising to a short-notice psychiatrist appointment and confessing to one Dr. Susan “Sunny” Graves (Rebeccah Bush) that he no longer wants to be The Stud, and that “time is running out” for poor Bradley and himself. The fantastical story of Bradley/Hunk is Faust updated for the Big Eighties, as a wimpy computer programmer makes the mistake of offering his soul for success and stature. First, Bradley is a victim of that old Weird Science, as his PC prints out a manifesto called "The Yuppie Program" that saves his job with Mr. Constantopolis (Avery Schreiber). He then blows his bonus on a rundown beach house in the resort community of Sea Spray, populated by the Beautiful People he wishes to become one of, as he brainstorms a follow-up to his supernatural runaway success.

Too hopeless for Charles Atlas to reform, Bradley finally meets at his dud of an open house party the literal dream woman who's been making the scene, O'Brien (Deborah Shelton). She is the emissary of Dr. D (James Coco), and has come to complete the transformation by offering Bradley a trial period, up until midnight after Labor Day, of an irresistible alter ego. The nebbish signs his contract via hypodermic pen and wakes up the next morning as Hunk Golden, complete with new accessories and a fortune to burn. After getting his own back against the volleyball-playing snobs who humiliated him while he was Bradley, Hunk is ready for the spoils of social victory, from a 24-hour metabolism to trend-setting fashion choices and, of course, a sex drive ample enough to plow through the entire female populace of Sea Spray in a matter of weeks.

After conquering a sexy woman in a mermaid costume (Andrea Patrick), Hunk gets a rude awakening courtesy of Dr. D himself. If he doesn't want to revert back to Bradley's body, Hunk will have to agree to be the Devil's latest agent of chaos upon death and murder the entire community of Sea Spray on the way to starting the third world war. From this point on, the film plays out in linear time as Hunk and Sunny become out-of-office romantic interests. Hunk also becomes a media sensation after saving her life, although because he's still Bradley, he starts to regret and rebel against the spotlight further. It all culminates with a key to the city ceremony approaching that dreaded deadline, although it is certain that Hunk is a decent enough man to save his soul. But what will become of Sunny?

What gives Lawrence Bassoff's movie an edge over Dangerous Curves is the casting of both Bradley and Hunk. Steve Levitt has a junior Gene Wilder's visage and plays the dorky role refreshingly straight against the hyper-campy competition. The real surprise, however, is John Allen Nelson, who suggests Bruce Davison as a tanned and toned surfer dude. Here is a performer who has a little more to offer than the arch pretty boys and hangdog wisenheimers of your average teen flick, and Nelson projects a natural charisma and innate humor which never lets you forget that Bradley still exists. A dream sequence in which Bradley escapes from hell to reunite with his mortal body keeps the fantasy credible. Bassoff (Weekend Pass) is also more ambitious with his screenplay in terms of humor; references to Letterman, Geraldo Rivera and Chuck Norris are tossed off with aplomb if not consistent levels of laughter, and Nelson isn't too hunky that he can't deliver a prize line of dialogue or three:

"Sea Spray by night means the Sand Castle [bar]. The men are low on body fat. The women are high on themselves...and whatever else is going around."

"I finally meet a beautiful woman and she wants me to bomb Pearl Harbor. Talk about romantic."

"You know you've made it when your garbage is front-page news."

Game as he is, Nelson isn't allowed to upstage James Coco, who is clearly having a ball with his various mephistophelian guises in a posthumous performance (he died shortly before the film's release in March of 1987). Deborah Shelton is passable in her first role since Body Double, mainly because of the comic opportunities afforded her. Supporting performances by the actors playing the bullies and freaks of Sea Spray (i.e. Cynthia Szigeti as local busybody Chachka) are enthusiastic if not terribly memorable. The only role which I felt didn't work completely is the broad portrayal by Robert Morse of a Robin Leach caricature, a gratuitous flash of homophobia so brazen that he's actually named Gaylord.

Much like My Chauffeur, which was another Crown-brand exploitation comedy with a lead performer who deserved better (Deborah "Valley Girl" Foreman, herself), Hunk is at once engagingly high-spirited and regrettably lowbrow. Whereas David Beaird undercut the old-fashioned screwball airs of My Chauffeur with pointlessly vulgar elements, Lawrence Bassoff compromises the integrity of his own fairy tale with misjudged broad strokes. When Hunk gets down with a former candy stripe nurse named Laurel Springs (Melanie Vincz), the result isn't as titillating or as funny as it could be, a common predicament of vintage teen sex comedies. The PG rating is admirable at first because it suggests tactfulness, but the movie's limp swipes at yuppie idiosyncrasies are kid gloves poking your ribs. And your own personal tolerance for corn will ultimately determine whether you accept the time-honored morals this film reheats; unlike The Sure Thing, the journey isn't so unexpectedly charming to make up for the destination.

But there I go again, comparing wheat to chaff. Movies like Dangerous Curves and Hunk are not built for fawning retrospectives by discriminating film fans; they were meant for articles as small as the screens they eventually got the most saturation from. Letterboxd has proven that everyone's a critic nowadays, and again it reminds me just how frustrating it can be to devote your attention, serious or not, to what is essentially marshmallow spread. If I am lucky, a movie like Hunk at least has an endearing performance from an inexperienced actor and some genuine mirth; if not, I get movies like Dangerous Curves, which aren't worth an iota of your nostalgia even with so much proven talent. But just like in real life, you have to count your blessings, and at least you didn't have to read about my opinions of that truly horrible Adam Sandler movie from 1989.

Dear God, if anyone were responsible for killing off '80s nostalgia for me, it would be Shecky Moskowitz. At least Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates will outlast all my worst memories of life and cinema.

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