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DVD Reviews For 3/9: Holy Crap, They Put Out "Solarbabies"

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic reminds you of titles that people like Tom Cruise, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Modine, Jason Patric and Tony Curtis would probably prefer that you forget

In one of those strange instances of marketing serendipity, several different movie studios have independently conspired to make this week a bonanza for fans of perhaps the single cheesiest genre of filmmaking in the entire history of cheesy filmmaking–the 1980's teen film. Yes, this week is a virtual orgy of T&A, polite rebellion against authority, poofy hair, tacky outfits, weirdo plots, instantly dated pop-culture references and long-forgotten pop songs (with the occasional classic thrown in for good measure) that will serve as a virtual time machine for anyone who spent an inordinate amount of time during the Reagan years at the multiplex or in front of the VCR.

The most entertaining title of the bunch is the wildly entertaining 1984 sci-fi comedy “Night of the Comet,” a film that plays like a bizarro cross between “The Omega Man” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” In it, Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney play a couple of Valley Girls who wake up one morning to discover that virtually everyone else in the world has been turned to dust by a mysterious comet that passed by Earth the night before.

After the requisite goofing off, they discover that they are not entirely alone–they discover a hunky guy (Robert Beltran), some zombies (people who were only partially exposed to the comet) and a group of mad scientists (led by cult icon Mary Woronov) with nefarious plans afoot for them. Lucky for them, Dad taught them the kinds of survivalist skills that tend to come in handy after the end of civilization. It sounds stupid, I know, but this is a blast from start to finish thanks to bright and funny performances from Stewart and Maroney (and whatever happened to them?), some hilarious dialogue (“Daddy would have gotten us Uzis!”) and enough cheerful energy to overcome the obvious budget limitations. Long absent from the home video scene, presumably because of rights issues, it has finally arrived on DVD in a sadly bare-bones edition. However, fans of the film will presumably be too happy about the prospect of finally retiring their worn-out videocassettes to mind too much. That said, I can only hope that a full-fledged special edition will come along sometime soon.

You know, a special edition along the lines of the unfortunately titled “Revenge of the Nerds: Panty Raid Edition” (a last-minute for the original subheading, “The ‘We’ve Got Bush’ Edition”), the latest edition of the popular 1984 campus comedy about a pair of sweet-natured geeks (Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards) who decide to form a fraternity of like-minded students and wind up pitting their brains against the dumb jock who want to drive them from campus for good. Besides the film, which is still pretty funny as well as a progenitor of the sweetly raunchy works that the Farrelly Brothers would churn out a decade or so later, this disc contains a commentary track featuring Carradine, director Jeff Kanew and co-stars Timothy Busfield and Curtis Armstrong (the unforgettable Booger), a short featurette on the film and a collection of deleted scenes. However, the strangest extra of all is the painfully awful pilot episode for a proposed television series that, not surprisingly, never got off the ground. However, if you do manage to make it through more than a couple of minutes of the show without fleeing in horror, those of you with a good memory for bad television may be amused to discover that the role of Booger is played by none other than Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist. Of course, if that isn’t enough “Nerd”-based entertainment for you, Fox is also offering up “Revenge of the Nerds: The Atomic Wedgie Collection,” which includes both the original film and the three (I’m as surprised as you are) sequels–1987's “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise” (directed by future studio head Joe Roth), 1992's “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation” (which I believe was designed as yet another pilot for a proposed TV show) and 1994's “Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds In Love” (which I didn’t even realize existed until this moment).

While “Revenge of the Nerds” is a good example of a seemingly dumb sex comedy that turns out to be slightly smarter than expected, the 1983 epic “Private School” is infinitely dumber, even by the already-lowered intellectual standards of the genre. The airheaded plot involves a student from an exclusive all-girls school (Phoebe Cates) and a student from the neighboring boys academy (Matthew Modine) who fall in love and try to spend a weekend together while her arch-nemesis (Betsy Russell) tries to steal him away and his pals dress up in drag to sneak into the girls school’s shower room. Make no mistake about it, this is a terrible movie by even the laxest of aesthetic standards but I have to admit that it does have a couple of compensating factors for those with a taste for such things. For starters, it has a strange sort of cheerful innocence about it–it may be a sleazy sex comedy but it doesn’t act like one. It also contains one of the best-looking female casts of all the sexploitation comedies of the era–besides Cates and Russell (who gets a memorable scene in which she gets to channel her inner and outer Lady Godiva), it even finds room for the still-considerable charms of 1970's sex kitten Sylvia Kristel as well. Finally, it contains a surprisingly strong soundtrack that includes an innocuous ditty sung by Cates, tunes from the likes of Rick Springfield and The Stray Cats and, with the possible exception of “Marie Antoinette,” perhaps the most intriguing cinematic use to date of Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.”

Although it isn’t a very good movie, I can at least understand how a film like “Private School” could get made–there will always be an audience for silly sex comedies. However, a film like our last title, the immortal 1986 epic “Solarbabies,” is so inexplicable that it still boggles the mind that such a thing could have been produced and released by any sentient life form, let alone the likes of executive-producer Mel Brooks and co-writer Walon Green (the same Walon Green who wrote “The Wild Bunch,” you may recall). In this demented blend of “Dune” and “Roller Boogie,” a group of orphaned skate whizzes (including Jason Patric, Adrian Pasdar, Lukas Haas and Jami Gertz) in a future world almost entirely devoid of water discover a mysterious orb that they use to escape the orphanage in order to make a new and free life for themselves while saving the world from destruction. (Of course, the whole saving-the-world thing isn’t nearly as impressive as their ability to rollerblade through dirt and sand without even the slightest difficulty.) While it may not be the worst of all the sci-fi epics of the decade, this one may be the most deliriously stupid of the bunch in the way that it squanders a presumably healthy budget and a talented cast on the kind of schlockiness (including a sadly inevitable breakdancing sequence) that would have given even Roger Corman himself pause. Not surprisingly, this disc is also as bare-bones as can be–I can’t imagine a single participant in the film that might still be listing it on a resume, with the possible exception of Peter DeLuise. That said, I wish that MGM could have shown a little sense of humor about the whole thing (especially since the only people likely to purchase the DVD are going to be doing so with tongue planted firmly in cheek) and spent a few bucks to get the “Mystery Science Theater 3000" gang to reunite for a commentary track dedicated to giving it the razzing it so richly deserves.

NIGHT OF THE COMET: Written and directed by Thom Eberhardt. Starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Geoffrey Lewis and Mary Woronov. 1984. 95 minutes. PG-13. A MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.95

REVENGE OF THE NERDS: PANTY RAID EDITION: Written by Steve Zacharias & Jeff Buhai. Directed by Jeff Kanew. Starring Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Ted McGinley, John Goodman and Bernie Casey. 1984. 90 minutes. Rated R. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $19.98

PRIVATE SCHOOL: Written by Dan Greenburg & Suzanne O’Malley. Directed by Noel Black. Starring Phoebe Cates, Matthew Modine, Betsy Russell, Michael Zorek, Kathleen Wilhoite, Ray Walston and Sylvia Kristel. 1983. 89 minutes. Rated R. A Universal Home Entertainment release. $14.98

SOLARBABIES: Written by Walon Green and D.A. Metrov. Directed by Alan Johnson. Starring Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James LeGros, Sarah Douglas and Charles Durning. 1986. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13. A MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.95.


BORAT–CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): As I assume that we are all familiar with this particular title, I will only add that this DVD includes a few deleted scenes (so those previously unsuspecting people who were relieved to find that they didn’t make the final cut may still find themselves publically humiliated) and a bit in which Sacha Baron Cohen channels his inner Hasselhoff for a spoof of “Baywatch.” Considering the amount of footage that was probably shot, I suspect that we will be seeing another edition of this particular title somewhere down the road.

CINDERELLA LIBERTY (Foxr Home Entertainment. $19.98): In an atypically gentle turn, James Caan stars in this low-key 1973 romantic drama about a sailor who becomes involved with a prostitute (Marsha Mason) and her young son while out on a 24-hour pass.

CONFETTI (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): In this British-made stab at a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary, three couples vie to win an award for Most Original Wedding by coming up with theme nuptials celebrating tennis, Hollywood musicals and nudism. Can’t these people just have a nice, normal pirate-themed wedding like most couples these days?

DRACULA–MASTERPIECE THEATER (WGBH-Boston. $19.95){/i]: The latest retelling of the Bram Stoker warhorse didn’t receive the greatest reviews when it appeared on public television a few weeks ago for the ways in which it mucked about with the original story–here, the relatively minor character of Arthur Holmwood has been promoted to the lead and follows him as his efforts to find a cure for syphilis lead him to a blood cult that worships Dracula. However, it might be of interest to those who can’t get enough of the old bloodsucker and the presence of “Art School Confidential” cutie Sophia Myles as Lucy should fire up the living and dead alike.

FAST FOOD NATION (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98)
: Although Richard Linklater’s big-screen take on Eric Schlosser’s muckraking look at the fast-food industry is nowhere near as powerful or cohesive as the book, it does have a few impressive scenes here and there and nice performances from the likes of Catalina Sandino Moreno, Greg Kinnear, Ashley Johnson and Bruce Willis.

HAWAII FIVE-0: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.98): Otherwise known as the Old Testament in the Church of the Jack Lord.

JOHN AND MARY (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this extremely dated and fairly dull look at the state of male-female relationships circa 1969, Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow star as a couple of swinging singles who hook up for a one-night stand and then decide to try to get to know one another.

LET’S GO TO PRISON (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Actually, jail would be a more-than-viable alternative to the sight of Dax Shepard and Will Arnett floundering about in this depressing compilation of prison rape jokes masquerading as a comedy.

LITERARY CLASSICS COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $59.98): Another month, another nifty box set from Warner Brothers. This time around, the collection is themed around literary adaptations and includes “Billy Budd” (1962), “Captain Horatio Hornblower” (1950), “Madame Bovary” (1949), the Gene Kelly-Lana Turner version of “The Three Musketeers” and both the 1937 and 1952 versions of “The Prisoner of Zenda” and a collection of extras for each film, the most intriguing of which appears to be the “Billy Budd” commentary featuring star Terrence Stamp and Steven Soderbergh.

THE MANITOU (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): In one of the flat-out strangest horror films to emerge in the 1970's (and that is saying something), Susan Strasberg discovers that the tumor growing on her neck is actually a fetus containing the spirit of a 400-year-old Indian demon who is out for revenge and only Tony Curtis (the hip psychic ex-boyfriend), Burgess Meredith (the concerned doctor) and Michael Ansara (the witch doctor) can possibly save the day. While it has been a while since I’ve seen this one, I seem to remember a couple of laser battles, an ice storm, a beheading and a topless exorcism.

MOONLIGHTING–SEASON FIVE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you didn’t fully satisfy your craving for Curtis Armstrong-based entertainment with that “Revenge of the Nerds” set, perhaps this final collection of the late, great TV 1980's TV series will do the trick. Of course, if Lionsgate really wanted to duplicate the true “Moonlighting” experience, they would have kept Cybill Shepard and Bruce Willis off the cover (as they were barely turning up in episodes together by this point) and shipped the set to stores a couple of weeks after the announced release date.

THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): Although this adaptation of the trashy Sidney Sheldon best-seller–some nonsense involving sex, murder, adultery and betrayal–is largely forgotten today, its summer 1977 release was so highly anticipated that 20th Century Fox decreed that any theater chain that wanted the privilege of playing it would have to agree to also show another one of their films that didn’t have as much promise, a little thing called “Star Wars.” The movie is crap from start to finish–imagine “The Greek Tycoon” without the lucid plot–and it drags on to a near-unendurable 160 minutes but fans of high camp may want to check it out for the presence of Susan Sarandon in her ingenue period and a deliriously daft love scene that will ensure that you never look at an ice cube with a straight face again.

PETER PAN: PLATINUM EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.98): Originally released on DVD in a bare-bones edition that pleased virtually no one, Disney’s 1953 adaptation of the J.M. Barrie classic finally grows up with a 2-disc set that includes a new transfer and a set of extras that includes some actual meat (including recordings of Walt Disney himself talking about the project and its long period of development) amidst the kid-oriented games and music videos.

REQUIEM (IFC Films. $24.95): If you enjoyed “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” you might be intrigued by this low-key German take on the real-life events that inspired that film. Although the end results are somewhat questionable–the conclusion is especially unsatisfactory–there is no denying the power of Sandra Huller’s performance as a sheltered young woman undergoing physical and emotional torments that may be supernatural in nature.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): Mock me if you must but I will take any episode of this amiably cheesy sitcom adaptation of the comic-book heroine over anything from the mind of that Aaron Sorkin dope any day of the week. Two questions. Whatever happened to Melissa Joan Hart anyway and how come Paramount didn’t bother to include a single extra on this four-disc set? Maybe if enough people buy this set, they will spring for a couple of commentary tracks from Salem the cat.

SOUTH PARK: THE COMPLETE NINTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.98): The 14 episodes of the Comedy Central perennial collected here are more uneven in quality than some of the previous sets–funny episodes like “Marjorine” and “Bloody Mary” are side-by-side with duds like “Wing” and “Ginger Kids.” That said, this collection is still a must-see for “Trapped in the Closet,” the hilarious episode in which Stan takes a Scientology test which suggests that he may be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard.

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originally posted: 03/09/07 01:51:43
last updated: 03/09/07 16:03:19
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