Recently I saw multiple articles about a scene from an obscure movie that someone had appreciatively posted on Twitter – “that insane Nicolas Cage viral clip,” as Entertainment Weekly put it. Can you believe that Youtube clip he did? The inside story of that Youtube clip he did. What a nut! What a meme! What a Nicolas Cage!
The clip was a very brief and strange uncredited cameo Cage did in the 1989 straight to video sex comedy NEVER ON TUESDAY. It had never made it to DVD because the company that had planned to went out of business first. I’d never seen it even though it’s the first movie from a director I like, Adam Rifkin (PSYCHO COP 2, THE LAST MOVIE STAR).
It’s great that we have the technology to easily share shit like this, but I’m old school so I waited to watch the whole thing. When I checked Amazon it was listed as “currently unavailable” on both VHS and Prime streaming (which I don’t get anyway), but luckily we’re still holding on to Scarecrow Video here in Seattle, so I rented the tape. I’m glad I did!
The now famous scene comes early on. The lead characters have been in a car wreck, and Cage drives up in a red Ferrari wearing a cartoonishly pointy nose. Using a goofy voice, he asks if everybody is okay, giggles, and leaves. He’s only in the movie for that scene, and it lasts less than a minute. I think some people imagine it’s some normal, boring movie and he just came out of some bushes and did that, and they left it in out of confusion. But it’s not an accident. It happened because it’s an interesting movie made by people who knew it would be funny to get Cage to do something like that.
I called it a sex comedy, but in truth I think it’s trying to subvert the genre. It opens with home movie footage creeping on girls in bikinis as the two horny male protagonists talk about leaving Ohio for California. Comedies of the late ’80s include PARTY CAMP, STUDENT AFFAIRS, BEACH BALLS, AFTER SCHOOL and SUMMER JOB, and this definitely seems like it’s gonna be one of those.
Our horny Ohioans Eddie (Peter Berg, not long before SHOCKER, and credited as Pete Berg) and Matt (Andrew Lauer, SCREAMERS) hit the road listening to a soundtrack made largely of bands with plural noun names – The Edsels, The Crests, The Skyliners – not unlike PORKY’S. That opening scene was set to a song called “Girlwatcher” by The O’Kaysions. But they never get to do their girlwatching, because they never make it to the beach, or even L.A. They get into the aforementioned car accident on a remote desert highway, stranding themselves and Tuesday (Claudia Christian, THE HIDDEN, ARENA), a photographer headed to New York City for a big deal fashion shoot.
So most of the scenes involve just these three actors and this one location. It’s a smart budget-limiting conceit, but also a good bait and switch. You thought you were gonna be watching these guys get horny watching girls play volleyball and rub suntan lotion on themselves? Nope, they’re gonna get sweaty in the desert and talk about their lives. We apologize for any inconvenience. Eddie and Matt have clearly seen those types of movies because when they first see Tuesday – she’s introduced high-heel-stepping-out-of-the-car first, by the way – they think it’s an opportunity. Not “oh thank god we didn’t kill her” or “holy shit we are gonna have to pay for totaling her car and ours” or “how are we going to get out of this desert?” but “duuuuude, we are gonna get LAID!” This “two males crashing into one female in desert = they’re definitely gonna have a three-way” theory is espoused by almost every other male that appears in the movie.
So they’re disappointed when she tells them she’s a lesbian. Rather than getting into each other’s pants, they’ll have to learn to get into each other’s, uh, feelings. Friendship. Something like that.
I can’t claim the movie is ripe for rediscovery. It still manages to objectify Tuesday/Christian by showing the boys’ fantasies of doing her in the shower or on a table. And there are more ways it hasn’t aged well. But I think taken in context of films of the time it has a certain amount of respectability. From the beginning the two guys are total buffoons, outclassed in every way by Tuesday, from intelligence to sense of humor to screen presence. A couple of Elmer Fudds stuck with Bugs Bunny. We’re definitely supposed to sympathize with the boys by the end, but it takes a while to get there. The instigating event is that Eddie asks Matt if his hair looks good, which Matt makes fun of him for, and it turns into an argument and Matt trying to mess up Eddie’s hair, which causes the car crash. Then when Tuesday climbs out of the wreckage they hide and try to fix their hair. Eddie in particular keeps making an ass of himself in typically chauvinistic ways like assuming he knows more about engine repair than Tuesday, when he doesn’t even know which end of the Volkswagen to open.
Matt reminded me of a Steve Zahn character. He’s the more conventionally dorky one, and definitely not a genius, but nicer, less superficial, more honest. So he sides with Tuesday more, for example as they get into conversations about losing their virginity and Eddie’s stories are clearly made up. He also seems skeptical of Eddie’s claim that a straight guy can’t be turned gay but a lesbian can be turned straight.
I was a little distracted by their lack of effort to get to civilization. The idea is that they’re in a spot too remote to walk away from, but they don’t seem too concerned about watching the road for cars, and they turn down that ride from Nic. But it’s a good set up for a hang out and talk movie. We watch Tuesday go from complete rejection of these knuckleheads to eventually enjoying their company. I spent much of the movie in dread that she had lied about her sexuality to get them off her case, and would eventually fall for Eddie. Never fear! She’s a genuine lesbian, and sticking to it. However, there are a few times she pretends to be attracted to men in order to mess with them, which is extra uncomfortable when it’s been established how rapey all men in this movie are.
But mostly it’s a pleasant time, and there are some pretty cool, simple long takes, like one where Eddie and Tuesday stand in the foreground patiently watching Matt do a panicked monologue about how doomed they are, take off running down the road, then come back.
And the talks between these three are interspersed with occasional surreal encounters with more unbilled, cameo-ing stars. In addition to Cage there’s a scene with Gilbert Gottfried (after BEVERLY HILLS COP II and HOT TO TROT, but before THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE and PROBLEM CHILD) and one with Emilio Estevez (after STAKEOUT and YOUNG GUNS) and Cary Elwes (his followup to THE PRINCESS BRIDE). Charlie Sheen (following a streak of WALL STREET, YOUNG GUNS, EIGHT MEN OUT and MAJOR LEAGUE) terrorizes them as a psychotic homophobic leather jacket dude in a Cadillac. Judd Nelson (famous for THE BREAKFAST CLUB and ST. ELMO’S FIRE, soon to play a psycho in RELENTLESS) shows up as an equally scary motorcycle cop who likes to pull his gun as a joke and then giggle like the hitchhiker in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. The movie also sometimes leaves the desert setting for daydream sequences or a campfire story about a zombie attack.
I waited until after seeing the movie to read the Entertainment Weekly article. Ironically, Rifkin says in the interview that he hopes the film is not rediscovered, and that he’s happy if it just exists as clips online. (Whoops!) He says there are parts he’s proud of, but that “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing” and “at the time I thought that was a very progressive idea… it was my intention to be very forward-thinking.” Which I think comes through.
Rifkin was only 20 at the time, and had already written THE DARK BACKWARD, but producer Elliott Kastner (WHERE EAGLES DARE, 92 IN THE SHADE, DEATH VALLEY, HEAT, THE BLOB) wanted him to make a teen movie, so he pretended he had a script and then wrote one in the few days before their next meeting. The cameos are Hollywood people that the younger producers, Brad Wyman (WHITE OF THE EYE, BARB WIRE, MONSTER, BLITZ) and Cassian Elwes (THE SON OF NO ONE, LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, WILD CARD, KNOCK KNOCK, MILES AHEAD, MOM AND DAD) had grown up with. Cage was told he could do whatever he wanted, and apparently there was a much crazier alternate take that Rifkin regrets not having.
Vulture did an interview with Cage, where he explains the backstory he imagined for the character. It seems one of the things that was cut was him screaming “Pinocchio!” over and over. He also mentions that at one time (not necessarily related to this role) he wanted to pull a Tony Clifton and “create a whole other career and be somebody entirely different” using the name “David Butter Allen.”
Whatever Rifkin’s misgivings about the movie, it has a definite connection to his later work. He followed it with TALE OF TWO SISTERS (1989), which was written by Sheen, stars Christian and features Berg. Nelson would go on to a great, bizarre performance as the sweaty, uncharismatic comedian lead in THE DARK BACKWARD (1991). Sheen would star as a fugitive kidnapper in THE CHASE (1994). And I think the premise of a sex comedy that takes place stranded in the desert has some of the same DNA as THE CHASE’s romantic comedy that takes place in a car being chased by police.
I get why Rifkin would be embarrassed of NEVER ON TUESDAY, but he shouldn’t be. It’s not one of those legendary directorial-debut masterpieces, but it’s a nice example of some people a little outside of the mainstream putting a unique spin on a popular form of the time and, in whatever baby steps, pushing it past its most appalling aspects. It makes sense that the young wunderkind who whipped this up on short notice to please a producer would go on to an interesting career working on the fringes while occasionally writing a big, weird Hollywood movie like MOUSEHUNT or SMALL SOLDIERS. I enjoyed it.