Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Missionary hostages," Feb. 20, 1998

'50s, '60s, '70s, or '90s?

Retro is the way everyone is doomed to repeat the past whether they learned from it or not. It lets yesterday's chart-toppers get back on the floor for one more dance before being ever after tagged as "timeless classic" (Star Wars) or "hopelessly dated" (Battlestar Galactica). One movie, The Wedding Singer, even waxes nostalgic about the world of 13 years ago. One of the kitschiest retro-works is Grease, the musical that refuses to die. It's been running on Broadway since 1994 with B-list celebrities like Linda Blair, Debby Boone, and Lucy Lawless as guest stars. Now the 1978 movie is coming back to theaters with a remastered soundtrack. This way we can hear Sha-Na-Na, Olivia Newton-John, and pre-Scientology John Travolta in glorious DTS Digital. But who needs it? The movie is tacky and inane. It hasn't aged well. Most people remember the catchy soundtrack, but the point of the original play is long lost. Back in 1972 when Grease first opened on Broadway, it was a spoof of the '50s, not a celebration. It mocked the pre-sexual revolution mores of the time with sequences like "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" that mocked the prefab wholesomeness of the times. The satire was toned down for the movie and the cheese remained. No school was ever like Rydell High, but who would have wanted to go there anyway? The Grease phenomenon is retro-retro. A piece of nostalgia from the 1970s is actually a piece of nostalgia about the 1950s but takes its cues from the social upheaval of the 1960s. This tells us something about the 1990s.

Just tasteless

An even worse piece of retro rubbish is Blues Brothers 2000, which is a horrible update of a movie that wasn't that great the first time around. Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) gets out of jail, reunites his band, and creates more mayhem. They should have given him the chair. Perhaps the Blues Brothers are the hipster equivalent of the Dukes of Hazzard. They're good ol' boys who don't mean no harm, drive around in their souped-up car, and cause the destruction of numerous police cars. At least the first movie had some character and timing. This one runs on forever (over two hours!) with never-ending misfired comedy and mind-numbing rock 'n' roll overkill. There are lots of musical numbers wasting a billion dollars worth of talent. There are also three Bluesy additions to the family: Mighty Mack (John Goodman), who serves the movie's need for a Fat Guy to replace John Belushi; Cab (Joe Morton), the black Brother; and an orphan named Buster (J. Evan Bonifant), who resembles a reject from Home Alone. An astounding number of irreligious scenes litter this movie. The switch-wielding nun who wants Elwood to behave is back. Rev. James Brown holds a revival meeting where Cab realizes he should leave the state police, switch sides, and join the Blues Brothers on the lam. The climax of the movie comes at the temple of a cannibal voodoo priestess who decides to host a battle of the bands. At one point she turns the Blues into zombies because they don't know any Caribbean music. If BB2K weren't so awful, this would be more repulsive. Instead it comes off as merely tasteless.

Desperately seeking die hard

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So what do you do to heat up a reheated Die Hard clone? Turn it into a refried morality play. In Desperate Measures, police officer Andy Garcia has a son who's fading fast from cancer. The only available organ donor is an eccentric psycho killer convict (Michael Keaton). The convict is offered "redemption" by saving the boy. Instead, the mad genius makes an escape attempt and winds up taking over a whole hospital. You can guess the rest. The boy is ready for his operation and fading fast. Daddy decides to rebel against his supervisors and go after the escapee as a lone wolf. The rest is paint-by-numbers. Do you expect the movie to end with the kid dying before his transplant? Naturally, if the villain gets killed the little boy dies. But unless the crook is caught again, his son might live but other innocents might not. What to do? The answer is obvious-Dad goes after him-and cops out creatively. The biggest plothole is the San Francisco hospital that sets most of this movie. The movie explains that this place turned an entire building into a high-tech, crook-proof fortress. If that's true, why do the people in charge have such trouble dealing with this convict? Desperate Measures has some decent twists and turns, but everything has been done before. Eggheaded evil is old hat. We just had a villain who couldn't be killed because of his body parts on Face/Off. Evil geniuses are an action-movie perennial anyway. Michael Keaton acts like he's Jack Nicholson doing Hannibal Lecter, and Garcia doesn't work as a Bruce Willis clone. This movie is one big obstacle course for the two leads to run through before the predictable finish.

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