Technically summer doesn’t start for more than a month. But it’s beginning to feel like summertime – a time to sit back and unwind. The sun has been coming out, people have been wearing shorts, barbecues are probly happening in states that will have new Covid-19 outbreaks in 2-3 weeks, and it could even be argued that the hardcore dance is getting a little bit out of control.
One major thing is missing: the summer movie season. We were expecting to have NO TIME TO DIE, A QUIET PLACE PART II, BLACK WIDOW, WONDER WOMAN 1984, CANDYMAN, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, the GHOSTBUSTERS thing, THE FRENCH DISPATCH, arguably MORBIUS. And F9 would’ve been coming out Friday! Can you believe that? TENET and MULAN are still planned for release in July, but I’m skeptical. It’s up in the air how many theaters will be reopened by then, or especially how many people will feel safe enough to go to them.
It’s not something I ever considered before. Watching a zombie movie or a Godzilla or something, I never thought, “Oh shit, there were probly huge blockbuster movies that had to be postponed because of that!” Come to think of it in OMEGA MAN he had to watch WOODSTOCK, which was about a year old. He didn’t get to see DIRTY HARRY, SHAFT, BILLY JACK or ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES. They probly never came out in that world.
This strange reality of The Year Without a Summer Movie Season has me even more anxious to throw myself into a retrospective series. I think I got as much or more out of my 1989 revisit last year and ’98 the year before that than I did watching new movies in theaters. A good retrospective series feels like a type of time travel to me. There’s definitely a nostalgia, a reconjuring of excitement I may have forgotten from however old I was at the time in question. But also I’m watching more movies than I probly did back then, all in order of when they came out, giving more thought to the context, being able to see that era with the hindsight of history and the perspective of an adult. It’s always fun to discover things I didn’t realize back then, or didn’t experience, or to respond to things differently.
The trouble is I’ve been reviewing movies for 20 years and I’ve done a bunch of these and it’s becoming harder and harder to find territory I haven’t dug up already. It took me a while to settle on a topic to do this time. I looked at the schedules for obvious anniversaries: 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40. Then I looked at years in between, thinking it didn’t have to end in a 5 or a 0, maybe I should just do s random anniversary. I considered choosing a theme instead of a year, but I prefer zeroing in on one time period.
I think some people were expecting me to do 1990, and I came close. There’s one movie from that summer that’s on my official “movies I refer to all the time but have never reviewed” list, and definitely a few I don’t remember anything about that probly aren’t good but that are the kind of thing I love filling in when doing a series like this (BIRD ON A WIRE, for example). But I kept coming back to the fact that to me the most important movies of that summer are DICK TRACY, DIE HARD 2 and DARKMAN, all of which I feel I have good write-ups for already. And I’ve reviewed most of the other action-y ones: CLASS OF 1999, ANOTHER 48 HOURS, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, NAVY SEALS, DELTA FORCE 2, plus auteur-y ones like MO’ BETTER BLUES and WILD AT HEART. There wasn’t enough new ground to get excited about.
So I decided 1985 was the best fit. There are a few I might skip because of previous reviews, but the most important ones are fresh to me. It’s a summer dominated by one of the most iconic franchise action movies of our time, one that I somehow have not officially reviewed. It has a major Clint movie. It has a bunch of unusually adventurous studio movies, for good or bad. It has two beloved PG-rated ‘80s classics that I’ve always been a little cynical about the popularity of, that I’ll probly end up liking anyway. Also some pretty distinct comedies, including a contender for my favorite of the decade. And there are a few outright horror classics that I’ve already reviewed, but I’ll revisit at least one of them because I’ve been thinking of it constantly in this time of shelter-in-place.
So this will be a good one. It’ll be fun.
Programming note: I plan to run five reviews this week, and at least one of them will be a ridiculously deep dive, so I may end up needing some extra days between posts next week to catch up (and for you to read them!)
In order to get an idea what was in filmatists’ heads while they made the movies of Summer ’85, let’s look at what was released throughout ’84. It was a year of many movies that are still culturally relevant, almost all inextricably linked with that vibe we thinks of as “the eighties.” They include some memorable franchise starters:
THE KARATE KID
THE NEVERENDING STORY
REVENGE OF THE NERDS
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
MISSING IN ACTION
BEVERLY HILLS COP
And I suppose GREMLINS and C.H.U.D. count.
There were sequels, of course:
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
CONAN THE DESTROYER
THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN
There were some popular youth and/or music movies:
And a couple big-swing movies by auteurs that were not well received. On the arthouse side, Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. On the popcorn side, David Lynch’s DUNE.
Comedies were big – GHOSTBUSTERS broke the record for highest grossing comedy of all time, then was overtaken by BEVERLY HILLS COP, then took the record back with a re-release the next year. But BEVERLY HILLS COP maintained the record for highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. According to Wikipedia, adjusted for inflation it’s still the third highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, behind THE EXORCIST and THE GODFATHER! What the fuck – is that real?
But Sylvester Stallone had a flop with RHINESTONE, which I kind of like but of course those dickwads at the Razzies gave him worst actor. That might’ve had an influence on him wanting to return to more comfortable territory.
Robert Zemeckis had a hit with ROMANCING THE STONE, which gave him some clout to do what he wanted at Universal Pictures.
SPLASH was the first release from Touchstone Films, Disney’s new foray into non-family-specific movies. And Lucas and Spielberg (who, for the first time in five years, didn’t make the highest grossing movie) got dark enough with TEMPLE OF DOOM and GREMLINS that it inspired the PG-13 rating. One of the first with that rating, RED DAWN, proved just as Reagan was being re-elected that there was money to be made in movies about fighting The Commies.
Which brings us to May 3, 1985, and our first movie…
GOTCHA! is the story of horny college student Jonathan Moore (Anthony Edwards between THE SURE THING and TOP GUN), who, on a European vacation with his buddy Manolo (Nick Corri – Rod from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET!), falls for Sasha Banicek (Linda Fiorentino, who had only been in VISION QUEST, but was about to do AFTER HOURS), a Czechoslovakian woman he meets in a Paris cafe. She’s amused enough with his terrible attempt to hit on her that she decides to take his virginity and then (judging from the montages) spend several days with him alternating between sex and romantic bicycle rides and shit.
Now all the sudden he’s smitten, so he ditches Manolo and their planned trip to Spain to go with Sasha to West Berlin. And then East Berlin. She says she’s a courier and needs to pick up a package. A very important strudel. And can he hold on to it for a bit? He’s an idiot, but he has a pretty good idea he’s in trouble before he’s having to lie to police and dodge bullets from dangerous agents including a guy named Vlad (Klaus Lowitsch, FIREFOX), who reminded me of Slugworth from WILLY WONKA, and KGB #1 (Gene LeBell).
I’d never seen this one before, but I knew it had something to do with a game where you “assassinate” other players with paintball guns. What surprised me about that is that the game is really only used in a pre-credits montage, and then it comes in a little at the end. I thought it would be about him playing a game that morphs into some genuine cloak and dagger shit. But maybe I was confusing it with a 1982 one called TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME. For this one the game isn’t really the main hook.
The tonal shifts are unusual. It starts out broad, in the ‘80s tradition of movies about college dudes who think with their dongs. In the montage of Jonathan playing the paintball thing on campus he’s doing Bugs Bunny tricks like popping out of a covered garbage can or wearing a disguise that includes a wheelchair. He offends a woman (Kari Lizer, PRIVATE SCHOOL, Matlock) by staining her sweater and, when she complains, asking her out. She calls him “without a doubt the biggest asshole I’ve ever seen in my entire life” and flips him off, which freeze frames for the title. And when he and Manolo arrive in Paris there’s a wacky joke about a crazy taxi driver (Bernard Spiegel) driving on fast speed. Then Manolo immediately picks up a random woman by making her think he’s Carlos the Jackal.
If you look up the director, Jeff Kanew, you think “Oh shit, no wonder,” because his previous movie was REVENGE OF THE NERDS. But as it gets into the plot it gets very serious, a spy movie with cat and mouse scenes, suspense, no idea who he can trust. And the pop songs drop out and it’s a genuine thriller score by Bill Conti (is this why he didn’t do ROCKY IV?) Ah ha, nice trick – it lures you in with this silliness, and then pulls the rug out from under you.
Except no, then every once in a while there will be a big, broad joke. One that I actually found kind of funny is when he’s trying to get a visa and there’s some kind of bureaucratic reason he has to go get a different kind of visa at a different window, and it’s the same woman at the second window but she makes him ask his questions again as if she’s a different person. You don’t get jokes like that in THE PARALLAX VIEW.
Another wacky bit is when he sees some heavily made up punks getting into their art van, tells them a Russian is trying to kill him and convinces them to give him a ride, but they’re going through a checkpoint so all the sudden he has a punk hair do and face paint. (Which promptly disappears in the next scene.)
A problem I had with this one was that I immediately hated Jonathan, was happy that Sasha was clearly lying to him and setting him up, and was disappointed in her for starting to actually like him. The woman who told him off at school (apparently named Muffy, which I think means she’s supposed to be dumb) was absolutely correct. I guess he’s supposed to be relatable because although he’s so fucking cool because he’s good at paintball and does a cool jump over the side of the stairs he seems incapable of achieving his greatest dream of having a girl react positively to his attempted journey into her pants.
I’m no expert but the problem may be that he doesn’t generally talk to women except to ask them on dates or tell them they’re beautiful. In the rare cases where he has a conversation he says asinine things. When she asks him if he’s a “weergin” he says oh no, of course not, when you’ve been with thirty, forty women you lose track of the number. Jesus christ, Jonathan.
Anyway, long story short, he comes back to the states without Sasha but with a roll of film that he figures out has “spy stuff” on it, and he can’t figure out what to do. He tries to tell his parents (Alex Rocco [THE GODFATHER, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, THE STUNT MAN, THE COUNTRY BEARS] and Marla Adams [SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS]) but they ask if he’s on drugs or if he “knocked up” the girl he called and told them he met.
A part that seemed serious but made me laugh is when he thinks he’s being followed and goes to the payphone to call the FBI (if it explained how he knew the number I missed it) and he says, “Yeah, I’d like to report a following.”
You know, a following. There’s a following in progress. Get here quick!
He starts having another following, from the CIA, and he doesn’t trust them so he makes a ridiculous plan that finally ties together his pretend shooting skills and some veterinary tranquilizer darts established in the opening scenes. But also it depends on the pretty racist cliche that Manolo can use his Latino Powers to call “the homeboys” who, much like the truck drivers in THE WIZARD, are willing and able to show up out of nowhere to surround the CIA officers and pull guns on them. Which causes the CIA to just back down. And that’s the end of that. No negative repercussions.
In the end it seems like Jonathan and Sasha are in love, but there’s a final scene where he hits on Muffy again and she quite justifiably tells him to fuck off, so he shoots her in the ass with a tranquilizer dart. It ends on a freeze frame of the dart in her ass. So, no rape in this one, but REVENGE OF THE NERDS fans still get their comical assault of a woman to punish her for turning down the hero’s advances. Ha ha, she didn’t want to go on a date with a guy she hates so he drugged her to make her lose consciousness. Classic prank. (And apparently it became the center of the advertising campaign in Germany, judging from this poster I found!)
Here’s something weird. Jonathan’s parents are rich – most of their scenes are sitting by their giant swimming pool – and they have a housekeeper named Rosario (Irene Olga López). I immediately recognized her as the actress who plays Pilar, the housekeeper of Arthur Digby Sellers, writer of Branded (the bulk of the series) in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, because she acts like the exact same character. And there’s another scene where Manolo comes home to a trashed apartment, and when Jonathan tries to explain that someone tore it apart looking for the film, Manolo looks at the Van Halen poster hanging crooked from one tack and says, “Russians did this?” It reminds me of “So he thinks the carpet-pissers did this?”
All I’m saying is, the Coen Brothers definitely love GOTCHA!
Director Kanew also works as an editor – in fact, he cut 1980’s best picture winner, ORDINARY PEOPLE. And went on to direct EDDIE MACON’S RUN, TOUGH GUYS, TROOP BEVERLY HILLS and V.I. WARSHAWSKI. His 21st century films include a 2003 holocaust drama called BABIY YAR and the 2011 Will Sasso movie THE LEGEND OF AWESOMEST MAXIMUS.
I can’t say I’m a fan of GOTCHA!. The best I can say for it is that Fiorentino is great, and already shows shades of the out-of-your-league-woman-who-doesn’t-give-a-fuck power that became her trademark in THE LAST SEDUCTION. She gets to do an accent, and has more screen time than in (the much better movie) AFTER HOURS. And Edwards is good too, despite his character. Three years later he’d have a much better dork-who-falls-hard-for-a-woman-he-meets-right-before-getting-into-grave-danger movie, MIRACLE MILE.
But that’s okay, there will be plenty of other movies this summer, including two better ones released on this same Friday.
Special thanks to @saintevenlive on Twitter for letting me know this was available from Comcast on-demand. I was going to have to skip it because it’s not available streaming and I’m not venturing as far as the video store at this time.
Jonathan’s professor (David Wohl, the dean from REVENGE OF THE NERDS) says “Go ahead, make my day” before shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer dart. SUDDEN IMPACT came out about a year and a half before GOTCHA!, so that was actually fairly current.
There’s a misquote of the “stinking badges” line from THE TREASURE OF TE SIERRA MADRE. That was less current.
Jonathan keeps reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which I guess must be the inspiration for their France to Spain plan.
When he tells the punk band that he’s from L.A. they sing “I Love L.A.,” ask him if he knows Bo Derek or Joan Collins, and say they watch Dallas every week. “That J.R. is one bad dude!”
As I mentioned, there’s a Van Halen poster.
According to Wikipedia, it “later spawned a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System for use with the Zapper light gun called Gotcha! The Sport! (1987). A line of toys based on the game and film was also released.” I was skeptical as to whether they were really related until I saw a Universal Studios copyright on the game. But the only connection is that there’s a paintball game, and they’re wearing camouflage like they’re on a course. There are some punk rockers, but you shoot at them, they don’t give you a ride.
As far as the toy line, there’s no Sasha Banicek talking doll, just paint guns.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.