The only thing I remembered about MYSTERY DATE was that Gwar was in it. It’s a once-crazy-night movie where this kid Tom (Ethan Hawke, EXPLORERS) nervously takes out his crush Geena (Teri Polo, BORN TO RIDE) and tries to impress her, and they end up at a place called Club Voltaire during a Gwar show. We briefly get to see them roaring and thrashing and performing a cartoonish decapitation – pretty great choice for the “band that would seem intimidating to these people” scene. (In Keanu’s THE NIGHT BEFORE it was Parliament-Funkadelic.)
What I did not remember is that Tom finds a dead body in his trunk, accidentally kills a cop, and gets in a war with the Chinatown mafia. I thought it was gonna be a normal horny romantic comedy type deal.
Tom is a shy recent high school graduate. Since he looks like Ethan Hawke they don’t try to pass him off as a total nerd – he wears a Los Lobos t-shirt and has posters of The Stranglers, The The, Elvis Costello, UB40, and that Lynda Barry “Poodle with a Mohawk” cartoon, all suggesting he’s, like, a guy who listens to college radio or whatever. But he doesn’t make it clear what other passions he may have, save for this “mystery girl” next door (I think she’s housesitting?) who he spies on through a telescope (unethical). He lives in the shadow of his brother Craig (Brian McNamara, SHORT CIRCUIT), who’s at law school, and his parents’ dog, who they’ve taken out of town for a dog show.
Then Craig shows up at the house out of the blue, looking like yuppie Don Johnson, driving a ’59 DeSoto, trying to inspire his little bro to get what he wants by looking through the neighbor’s garbage (even more unethical) to find out her name and details about her life to use when he calls pretending to be Tom asking her on a date. Tom is horrified by the idea but of course goes along with it when she doesn’t specifically say no.
Craig gives Tom a makeover, tells him a good place to take her, gives him cash, his credit card and an ID. I really believed he was an intense douchebag genuinely trying to be his idea of a good big brother, but we later find out (SPOILER) he’s going to kill a gangster he owes money to and is sending Tom out there as an alibi. In my opinion not a good big brother.
I love Ethan Hawke in just about anything, but most of the time the appeal of his characters (or even his interviews) is a lack of self-consciousness. Think of his characters in BOYHOOD or the BEFORE trilogy – he’ll excitedly unload his thoughts on somebody without a worry in the world about if they’ll think he’s corny or pretentious or whatever. Seeing him play this character who’s so awkward and meek is not as fun, and we have to get through the discomfort of him lying to this woman and her having to continue with the date without seeming like an idiot, even as he acts weirder and weirder. Luckily Polo is very likable, so I want to forgive her not seeing through him right away.
The movie picks up when he finally tells her the truth while being offered a fancy meal at a Chinese restaurant that he has to explain to her is actually an intimidation tactic. B.D. Wong (THE FRESHMAN) plays James Lew – not the martial artist in ACTION JACKSON, BEST OF THE BEST, NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR, etc, but a fictional Tong who thinks Tom is Craig and stole a valuable vase from him. Wong seems to be having a blast, doing a weird voice, sporting a long ponytail and beads, not fitting the stereotype of any type of movie gangster, let alone a Chinese one. I think he should’ve talked and dressed like this in JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM when his JURASSIC PARK character inexplicably became a mad scientist.
Mrs. Vern thought she spotted a Washington license plate, so we were wondering if this was supposed to take place in Seattle. I don’t think so, there’s no indication of it. But I was excited to notice a scene at a payphone in front of the Ovaltine Cafe, a diner in Vancouver, BC that I know of because it was in the 2000 remake of GET CARTER (which does take place in Seattle). Anyway I now have a goal of going to the Ovaltine Cafe. Maybe get Veggie Eggs Benedict.
There is a partial but not complete hipness to the movie. Director Jonathan Wacks was a producer of REPO MAN and directed POWWOW HIGHWAY. Cinematographer Oliver Wood had shot ALPHABET CITY (plus DIE HARD 2 and BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY). Editor Tina Hirsch had cut DEATH RACE 2000 and MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI. The opening credits (title designer: Robert Dawson, REPO MAN, RE-ANIMATOR, POINT BREAK) have unexpectedly cool typography reminiscent of album covers of the era. The Gwar cameo was surprising for a mainstream movie at the time, and they make a point of putting Fisher Stevens (as a florist who stalks Tom because Craig didn’t tip him?) in a Jane’s Addiction t-shirt for the whole movie (remember, they had just launched the first Lollapalooza tour). There’s a Sonic Youth song on the soundtrack.
On the other hand two of the most prominently featured songs are “Crazy” by Seal and a song called “Lily Was Here” by David A. Stewart that officially introduced saxophonist Candy Dulfer. I know she’s talented and I saw her play with Prince and everything but she was straight up smooth jazz at this point. I’m not judging anybody’s lifestyles, you should live as Sealful or as smoothly as your heart demands, I’m just saying those are the opposite of the early ’90s idea of cool that the movie otherwise seems to be going for. (I will abstain from judging the three INXS songs.)
MYSTERY DATE was the only new movie that week, but it opened at #8. I don’t think it made back its budget. I don’t think this movie entirely works, but at least it surprised me, made me laugh a few times, and gave me new respect for B.D. Wong.
One of the movies that did better than MYSTERY DATE was PURE LUCK, which was in its second week. I don’t think I had seen this one before, and although some of it is broader than I like, I mostly thought it was pretty funny. It’s part of the weird phenomenon of American remakes of the films of French writer/director Francis Veber. His movies had already been remade as BUDDY BUDDY, THE TOY, THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE and THREE FUGITIVES, and later THE BIRDCAGE, FATHER’S DAY, DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS and THE VALET would be added to the list.
This one has a pretty great premise: Valerie Highsmith (Sheila Kelley, SOAPDISH), the accident prone daughter of a rich businessman (Sam Wanamaker, RAW DEAL, portrayed in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) goes missing after a series of ridiculous events leave her with amnesia while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. After months without a lead, a psychologist (Harry Shearer, a few seasons into The Simpsons) working for the elder Highsmith offers a theory that Valerie suffers from a syndrome of terrible bad luck, and that the only way to recreate the series of fuckups that led to her disappearance would be to send another person with the same syndrome to try to find her. And he knows just the guy: a lowly accountant for the company named Eugene Proctor (Martin Short, THREE AMIGOS, THREE FUGITIVES). He proves his case by breaking off the leg of one chair at a long board room table, calling in Eugene and asking him to sit down. He of course goes right to the broken chair and falls on his ass, and then is dismissed.
So poor private investigator Raymond Campanella (Danny Glover, A RAGE IN HARLEM) is saddled with journeying to Mexico with Eugene, who is under the impression that he has been chosen for his intellect. And there are various mishaps with broken down cars, quicksand, Jeeps falling off cliffs, gun fights, etc. Not all of this is funny, but Short and Glover are both excellent in the roles, and I find it really funny to see Glover glowering in white hot frustration as Short smiles amiably and keeps not quite understanding the situation. It drives Raymond fucking crazy that Eugene could have every single possible thing go wrong, but Eugene seems to barely notice or be bothered by it.
We knew before all of this that Valerie had been knocked over by a car and picked up by a stranger named Frank Grimes (Scott Wilson, MALONE) who realized she was from a rich family and thought he could get some money from the situation. We later learn that the reason he never asked for a ransom is that her clumsiness caused so many accidents and injuries that he just couldn’t afford to continue holding her hostage. Later Eugene’s own bad luck puts him in a hospital with a horribly injured man still terrified of the gringo lady who burned down his entire village by trying to cook them breakfast. Hmm.
I think the only thing I knew about this, because it must’ve been heavily featured in the advertising, is a scene where Eugene is stung by a bee and his allergies puff him up to ridiculous proportions. It’s amusing enough but one of my favorite parts is actually the beginning of that scene. Raymond and Eugene are about to be taken up in a small plane to look for Valerie from above, and Raymond of course has reason to believe the plane will crash. Eugene notices that he seems freaked out, asks him if he’s okay, and they end up agreeing that Raymond will stay at the hotel while Eugene goes up in the plane. Yeah, no problem, happy to do it.
So Raymond thanks him and next thing you know he’s hugging him, saying emotional things under the belief he’s sending him off to his death, and Eugene laughs because he has no idea why he would act this way. See, the funniest parts are complicated situations like this. It’s easier just to show Short in the goofy makeup.
PURE LUCK fits into Sarah Connor Summer only in that it is directed by a woman. Nadia Tass is an Australian director who had previously done MALCOLM, RIKKY AND PETE and THE BIG STEAL. In a later interview quoted on the film’s Wikipedia page she laments that the producers (who include STEEL DAWN director Lance Hool) wanted her to make the comedy broad to appeal to American audiences. She says that she and Glover “would like to have put a lot more pathos and paint into it,” whatever that means. As is, she says, it only appeals to Americans and Germans. As an American with some German ancestry I feel like I should like it better then, but I got some laughs out of it.