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Grandview, U.S.A. (DVD Review)

10 Oct, 2011 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 DVD
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Jamie Lee Curtis. C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze.

So you’re Randal Kleiser, and your clunky direction hasn’t prevented the screen version of Grease from becoming popular or even a cultural phenomenon. And on a lesser level, one might even say the same of your labors with Brooke Shields and her fig leaves (or whatever they were) during your take on the old Jean Simmons Technicolor paean The Blue Lagoon.

But it hasn’t gotten you industry respect, and no one came around with a script for Raging Bull or The Elephant Man to say, “Here — you do it.” And 1982’s campy Summer Lovers didn’t accomplish much more than making me, Mike Clark, want to go to Greece (but never again Grease) to commit a sin or 12 with Daryl Hannah. So what do you do?

Well, for one thing you can make the only movie there’ll ever be where Jennifer Jason Leigh cuckolds Patrick Swayze for Troy Donahue. And all told, this is probably enough justification for Paramount Home Entertainment to bring Grandview, U.S.A. out on DVD, even though this is a distributor that can’t see its way to give VistaVision stunners like Funny Face or To Catch a Thief or Artists and Models a showcase on Blu-ray. And besides: The ‘80s are indeed “back” because at least two repertory film theaters I know have done recent retrospectives on the decade — and, what’s more, I can’t go into a commercial house these days without being served notice that the new version of (are you kidding me?) Footloose is about to open.

As has happened so often in movie history — and possibly does even more in today’s faster-moving environment — it’s possible to watch an agreeably mediocre movie that’s only a little more than a quarter-century old and appreciate it as an artifact of an age. Not only does G.U.S.A. have the semi-obligatory rock video fantasy numbers that look like remnants from MTV — but also a cast (the aforementioned and more) who turn the result into a tolerably mellow experience. Though she looks as attractive here as she ever did on screen, Curtis plays a blue-jeaned tomboy named “Mike” who operates a demolition derby speedway she inherited from her father, a rundown breaker of safety codes who employs Swayze. Meanwhile, he’s married to JJ Leigh, whose role never expands much from the single sentence that could describe it: “heavily made-up bowling alley tramp who wears a cross around her neck.” (This is the best she could get only a couple years after Fast Times at Ridgemont High?).

Double meanwhile, our Grease director finds himself back at high school — or more precisely, high school graduation, in that Howell is cast as the institution’s valedictorian (we’ll let that pass). Poor kid: he louses up his prom night by parking dad’s Caddy in a creek of mud during a make-out session, destroying his date’s fancy dress in the experience. Cast as her father (a Mr. Clark) is M. Emmet Walsh, not a guy whose daughter you’d ever want to date. First, there’s the gene pool consideration, and then there’s the fact that Walsh has rarely ever come off as warm and cuddly, a streak that remains unbroken here. Also around in a cast just jammed with familiar faces are John and Joan Cusack — he looking fresh-faced and impossibly young just one picture before Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing shot his career to a new plateau.

Kleiser followed this movie with Flight of the Navigator (on a trajectory out of theaters), Big Top Pee-wee (the Pee-wee Herman movie Tim Burton didn’t direct), Getting It Right (which got him good reviews, some of them disbelieving) and Disney’s White Fang — which produced an irritated quote from my then 4-year-old son (now in med school) on the way out of the multiplex: “I told you it wasn’t going to be inster-ing” (yes, inster-ing). But in fairness, just as good is the deathless line an emotionally frustrated Swayze spouts to Curtis here: “I like to smash cars — and I am damned good at it.” Though who knows what that would like on a resumé?

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