Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The secret’s in the sauce


The choice of movie to review today on the blog will no doubt have more than a few readers scratching their heads and wondering if all those occasions when I was forced to beat my head against the wall during my hotel night auditing days might have contributed to some long term cerebral damage.  (Though I’m guessing they already concluded this a long time ago, to be honest.)  Fast Food (1989), a teen sex comedy directed by the auteur (Michael A. Simpson) responsible for Sleepaway Camp II: Texas Blood Money Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989), has no redeeming social value whatsoever…except for one interesting detail, which will eventually be made clear within the confines of this essay.

I'll explain where this was filmed in a sec...but it kind of tickles me pink that a prestigious university like "Hopkins" hasn't the money for proper signage yet is able to fund state-of-the-art research into priapism in men.

Here’s the stupid plot: professional students August “Auggie” Hamilton (Clark Brandon) and Drew Taylor (Randal Patrick) are resident con men at fictional Hopkins University; their moneymaking schemes come to a halt when the University’s dean (J. Don Ferguson) decides to rid himself of our heroes by turning them loose in the real world (via forced graduation).  Jobless, they decide to turn a struggling gas station run by Drew’s cousin Samantha “Sam” Brooks (Tracy Griffith) into a burger joint only because fast food king “Wrangler” Bob Bundy (Jim Varney) has been eyeing the property due to its proximity to the college campus.  With the help of Sam’s loyal flunky Bud (Michael J. Pollard) and the boys’ nerdlinger pal Calvin (Lanny Horn), Pop’s Burger Station is soon made a reality…but isn’t coming along as fast as necessary to be profitable.  Thankfully for the purposes of this film, Calvin is a chemistry major whose professor (Julie Ridley) has stumbled upon the creation of a powerful aphrodisiac…and that's slipped into the restaurant’s “secret sauce” (via Auggie) and served at a sorority party.  Inhibitions are soon unleashed!  Rock ‘n’ roll!  Wet T-shirt contests!  Celebrity impressions!  (These are contributed by Calvin, who does by my count Jack Nicholson, Rodney Dangerfield, W.C. Fields and Bela Lugosi.)  And yet all with a curious lack of nudity.

Wrangler Bob’s burger sales start to stumble, and so he has sexy industrial spy Dixie Love (Traci Lords) infiltrate the Burger Station by securing employment…and she soon learns about the secret sauce from the mentally challenged Bud.  Armed with this knowledge, Bundy alerts the FDA about the restaurant and Pop’s is soon hauled into court; Samantha stands to lose everything because Auggie put up the station as collateral for a business loan.  Fortunately, our hero comes clean at the trial and admits that it was he who dosed the sauce with the equivalent of Spanish fly and that he’s really, really sorry and won’t ever do it again.  The judge (Kevin McCarthy) takes pity on this young fool and rules that no harm was really done (of course not—lacing food stuff with powerful drugs and threatening the public’s health by cooking that food in an unsanitary service station…that’s just wacky college hi-jinks!).  When Wrangler Bob complains that he faces financial ruin because of Pop’s better burger sauce, he tries to obtain the remaining doctored concoction…but the last remaining jar is smashed, and Auggie and Sam presumably live happily ever after when the movie audience wakes up from its 90-minute nap and demands its money back.

With the coming of the DVD revolution, a movie like Fast Food would probably bypass theaters today and go directly to disc…this is a curio from a time when you actually forked over six bucks to see nonsense like this in a theater (or more than likely, drive-in) before being stuck with it a second time at the video store when all the good releases were out on a Friday or Saturday night.  Fast Food is a terrible movie, good people.  The only explanation for Leonard Maltin giving it two-and-a-half stars in his Movie Guide is that he was either watching it while stoned or had money invested in the film.  Still, despite it being a ridiculous movie (bad acting, bad dialogue—it’s all bad, really), Food is not without a modicum of talent: you have Jim Varney, known to a generation of couch potatoes as Ernest P. Worrell (“KnowhutImean, Vern?”) from commercials, a TV series and a movie franchise, and Kevin McCarthy, character actor extraordinaire whose films include Death of a Salesman and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Granted, Varney’s shtick appeals mostly to folks who find Mayberry R.F.D. amusing (ahem) but he does generate a chuckle or two considering the paucity of his material.  McCarthy, on the other hand, took the money and ran on this one…though it’s kind of hard to completely dislike someone whose character is named “Judge Reinholte.”

A man must get laughs where he can find them.  Jim Varney is brave enough to elicit chuckles riding a coin-operated pony.

That’s about as sophisticated as it gets for this movie—I’m certainly not averse to puns, mind you, or otherwise I would have stopped watching Rocky & Bullwinkle eons ago (The Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayahm, Wynchatakea Peak, etc.)—courtesy of a script written by actors Brandon and Horn (from a story by Scott B. Sowers & Jim Basile).  Brandon, a teen heartthrob who graced many a Tiger Beat cover in the 70s/80s, was probably best known as Nancy McKeon’s boyfriend on several episodes of The Facts of Life even though he had regular roles on short-lived series such as Out of the Blue and Mr. Merlin (this last one wasting the talents of character great Barnard Hughes).  According to the always reliable IMDb, Fast Food was Brandon’s last major acting role—he later turned his talents behind the camera and directed a few films, one of which I have seen entitled Skeeter (about a giant mosquito) that features Food alumni Griffith and Pollard.  Assisting Brandon as a writer on Skeeter was the ubiquitous Mr. Horn, who also started out as a child actor and has since become a writer for Disney Channel sitcoms like That’s So Raven and Sonny with a Chance.

Brandon’s character is obnoxious and Griffith’s Sam the very definition of colorless and boring—so why we’re supposed to care whether or not they end up together is a question I can’t answer.  Actor Patrick is clearly too old to be a college student (though his character has been among The Halls of Ivy for so long it actually works in his favor) and Pollard is his reliably creepy self.  Varney’s pretty much the only saving grace of the film—he shares a few amusing scenes with comedian Blake Clark, who plays his aide de camp (Varney, musing how he has always got what he wanted, remarks that “Even as a child, my parents were afraid to deny me anything…that was shortly after my brother mysteriously disappeared…")  Oh, I did want to mention: the boss’ sister is in this, too.  Or more accurately, The Boss’ sister—Pamela Springsteen, sib of Bruce, has a small part as a sorority sister gone wild after scarfing down a burger or two.  (Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.)

So how did this teen sex comedy end up in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, you’re no doubt wondering?  Part of the film was lensed on the campus of Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University, which among its studentry at the time numbered my sister Debbie and her future husband Craige.  Several of the students were asked, in Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney style, “Hey—do you kids wanna be in a movie?”  And so my sister and bro-in-law volunteered.  They earned not a nickel for their extra work (although they did get some free grub out of the deal—which Deb later informed me wasn’t very good) and to be honest, Craige kinda got the fuzzy end of the lollypop…


…one of those guys playing soccer is Craige, but because I don’t have the sophisticated technology to zoom in on each player to find out which one, we will instead take solace in the fact…


…that the girl in pink sweater and matching bitchface is good ol’ sister Debbie herownself.  She would later tell me that this movie played in the Atlanta area for about twenty minutes, and that some friends of hers complained that while they didn’t see any of their friends in the movie “we could sure see you!”  (And so has her daughter Rachel, because I e-mailed her copies of the above screen caps.)  She didn’t have a very high opinion of star Clark Brandon, who seemed to approach his role in this film via The Method (“What’s my motivation for being a complete dick?”), but she said his co-star Randal Patrick was pretty nice.  I kind of owe Patrick an apology—the only other thing I’ve seen him in was in a small part as a tape deck salesman (he’s billed at the IMDb as “Patrick Randal,” which is why it doesn’t show up in his listing) in the 1989 indie film Powwow Highway and for years I’ve been telling people that those are the only two things he’s done.  (He’s appeared in Carny, Hopscotch and Project X and guested on such TV shows as M*A*S*H, In the Heat of the Night and Matlock.)

I was toiling at a Savannah Ballbuster Blockbuster Video store at the time this odious piece of fromage was out in theaters and then to video in five-point-two seconds…and I lobbied the store manager to get a copy, which wasn’t all that hard because the movie does feature Lords—who at that time was making the move into “mainstream” features after a successful career in the porn industry.  (The video rented like hotcakes.)  I toyed briefly with the idea of playing up the presence of Fast Food in our store with a display reading “Featuring Ivan’s sister!” but then I realized that it would be hard to do my customer service representative duties in a full body cast.  It later turned up briefly on HBO, where I was able to score a recording of it…and I lent that to a mutual friend of mine and Deb’s, never getting it back.  It wasn’t until I happened to be glancing through some clearance items at Columbia House’s Video Club when I stumbled across the DVD for a buck-ninety-nine.  This disc was released in 2005 by a small company in St. Clair Vision who, despite telling consumers on the box that it was “carefully remastered for best picture quality,” really meant “we recorded this direct from a VHS copy.”

And thus we bring the saga of Fast Food to a close.  The DVD is OOP, but you can find some used copies at Amazon (though why you would entertain thoughts of doing so is up for saner minds to decide).  Some of the reviews over there are hysterical (apparently a few people confused this one with a similarly-titled flick that was out in 1998); my favorite is from a person identified as S. Rasmussen: “I'll probably sell it in my next garage sale.”  (Come on…my sister wasn’t that bad.)

7 comments:

Rick29 said...

Ivan, it should as no surprise that I've seen this film. Indeed, I think I've seen all of the teen comedies made in the 1980s. While this doesn't rank with "classics" like BIKINI CARWASH (what could?), it does have Ernest, Melanie Griffith's sister, and Little Fauss to Robert Redford's Big Halsey! That's pretty darn impressive. And to know you had a sibling that appeared in it...well, that only causes me to admire you even more!

Rich said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't object to you writing about Z-list 70s/80s schlock films like this every once in awhile... especially if you mock them mercilessly!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't object to you writing about Z-list 70s/80s schlock films like this every once in awhile... especially if you mock them mercilessly!

Rich, one the entries I contributed to Stacia's Camp & Cult Blogathon back in September 2012 came from a series of VCI schlocky horror releases called "Scream Theater." I've got a buttload of them, so I will try not to disappoint you by featuring some of them from time to time.

ClassicBecky said...

Like Rich, I hope you do more of these! There are so many lousy movies to choose from! Too cool that your sister got a real almost full-body shot in the movie -- she looks cute. But it's not fair that they didn't get paid. I did when I sat in the Indy 500 bleachers for 10 hours in the broiling sun to be an extra for "Winning." And I got to shake arms with Paul Newman (well, that's how he did it!) However, I've never been able to distinguish the 14 or 15-year old me from the crowd! (I can't remember now the year it came out.)

Stacia said...

I have waited so long for this. So long. And it was worth it!

Now that I've seen some screencaps, I have to tell ya, I'm pretty sure I saw this on HBO. I doubt that I actually watched it, but it was probably on in the background. My memory tells me this was one of about a million teen sex comedies I saw that had basically no sex to speak of. That's a genre I do not understand.

Your sister is going to have words with you, if she hasn't already.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Becko, the forgotten Marx sister, spoke up:

I can't remember now the year it came out.

Winning was released in 1969, but I'm skeptical that you were 14 or 15 at the time. Maybe you're confusing it with The Crowd Roars (1932)?

ClassicBecky said...

Oh! ... Oh! ... you ... you ... you're absolutely right! (You are still a CAD to point it out.) I couldn't remember, honest! I turned 17 in July, 1969, OK? OK! I should have looked it up first to avoid being involuntarily outed!

As for The Crowd Roars ... you bounder, you boor! You, sir, are no gentleman!