Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Can't Wash This Movie Off: "Can't Stop the Music" (1980)

I'm willing to bet that more people saw Bruce Jenner's coming-out interview with Diane Sawyer than saw his acting debut in this 1980 disaster which safely holds the title of "one of the worst movies ever made."

Jack (Steve Guttenberg, kicking off his 1980's career crapfest with a bang) is a struggling composer/dweeb who lives with recently retired supermodel Sam (Valerie Perrine, who tries way too hard considering the material she was given). Sam is dating uptight tax attorney Ron (Bruce Jenner), who is consistently shocked at his girlfriend's behavior. Sam is being pursued by her modelling agency head Sydne (Tammy Grimes) to return to the catwalk, and she also uses her relationship with former boyfriend Steve (Paul Sand, who comes out of this better than anyone), who owns a record company, to push Jack's disco "sound of the '80's" music on an unsuspecting public. Sam's BFF/Sydne's assistant, Lulu (Marilyn Sokol) is along for the ride, trying to do too many things at once behind the scenes- like choreography, and bedding anything male in the area.

I know what you're thinking: isn't this movie a psuedo-biography about the founding of the Village People, who had three huge hits in the late '70's disco era? Yup, but the band members take a supporting role in their own flick. Some of the guys are given character names, but some aren't, and their limited acting skills come through in a big way. Even the final credits only list them by their "roles" when singing as a group: Policeman (Ray Simpson), Construction Worker (David Hodo), Indian (Felipe Rose), Cowboy (Randy Jones), Leatherman (the late Glenn Hughes), and G.I. (Alex Briley). The six represented fantasy roles in some homosexual circles, and it's both fascinating and embarrassing to watch straight women in the film fall over themselves trying to bed the men.

This was actress Nancy Walker's only theatrical film, thank god. She had directed a few sitcom episodes, but I don't know what possessed anyone to give her a twenty million dollar disco musical. The opening scenes, with Guttenberg rocking out to his own music while rollerskating, is a mess. Guttenberg doesn't play a musician well, and can't dance to his own music, so every time he lets the rhythm get him, you'll want to die. Producer Allan Carr cowrote the script with Bronte Woodard (who penned the "Grease" screenplay, and died too early at 39). I use the term "script" lightly, since I cannot believe any of the lines spoken were ever written down, much less thought out. The screenplay is awful, and with Jenner's recent big news, hearing his character talk about his dual personality, and seeing him in a half-shirt and denim short-shorts, is hysterical.

Guttenberg is awful, Sand is okay, Perrine is bland, Sokol is sleazy and kind of pathetic, Grimes is sad to watch, but what about Jenner? He had been considered for the role of Superman a couple of years earlier, and I could see that. His only direction here seems to be "wince, huff a lot, and bug your eyes out." In the right director's hands, he might have been able to make a go of a cinematic career. Instead, he debuted in an infamous flop and never recovered until reality television came along.

Sure, "Xanadu" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" also came out around the same time, and all three films succeeded in killing the movie musical for a few years. I argue that "Xanadu" and "Sgt. Pepper's..." were slightly better (not by much) because their songs (thanks to Jeff Lynne, and the Beatles, respectively) were better. Here, the Village People perform one hit ("YMCA," in the most bizarre musical number ever) and a bunch of songs no one listened to (including "Liberation," as gay a gay anthem as has ever been sung).

Finally, a story from my life while I watched this. I was speechless and close to tears while viewing this on a streaming service, when suddenly the movie stopped and an error message appeared on the screen. I thought, "wow, this is so bad it broke the internet." I had to call and have my modem rebooted automatically, and couldn't continue watching until the next day. I sat down again, and figured I had to be half way through this monstrosity (which runs an astounding 123 minutes), only to discover I was twenty-two minutes in. I've never come so close to physically harming myself to get out of finishing a film in my life. You "Can't Stop The Music," but you can shut off the television. (*) out of five stars.