Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a criminal for the people, not against them

Screw this movie. I say that because I saw it back in 1986 and I know how it ends none of this is even going to happen... Must I warn you of SPOILERS for a film that is nearly 3 decades old? ...because the end of this movie lets us know that none of the movie happens. Movie starts with John (Emilio Estevez) in the tub and ends with John still in the tub, imagined the whole thing.

More narration as the "fantasy" (i.e. the plot) gets going.

Oh, the movie is Wisdom. Came out at the end of the year, tied for #1 at the box office with Witchboard (which I would later see on video. Movies I'd seen in the theater in the top 15: Platoon, #5 in its 3rd week; Little Shop of Horrors, #7 in its 3rd week; Lady and the Tramp (reissue) (maybe; I'd seen it on video for sure, may have seen it when it was reissued), #8 in its 3rd week; Heartbreak Ridge, #12 in its 5th week (and which was the first movie I saw at the then new United Artists Marketplace in Old Town Pasadena, which has gone away now for (I think) a jewelry store); The Mosquito Coast, #13 in its 6th week (though I might not have seen it yet at this point, because I'm pretty sure we saw that at the Academy Theater, a second-run theater); Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, #14 in its 6th week; and An American Tail, #15 in its 7th week. (Also out, but I wouldn't see them until video or cable: No Mercy, # 6 in its 3rd week; Three Amigos, #10 in its 4th week; and The Golden Child, #11 in its 4th week.)

The dialogue in this movie is a little too... rehearsed, a lot of trying-to-be-clever repartee between John and his girlfriend Karen (Demi Moore), and between John and his father (Tom Skerritt), even between John and his janitor boss who fires him. This movie is really trying to be good. But, ultimately, it's all one big fantasy about (so far) getting fired twice (the second time by his real-life brother Charlie Sheen in a cameo (with a really lame yelling match that we don't get to hear because of some machinery in the foreground--which I think was supposed to be funny), when down the hall at the same multiplex he was starring in Platoon, fighting with his father and his girlfriend) and voiceovering... voicingover? narrating far too much, like this should-be-classic explanation of what kind of criminal John wants to be and why:

Jesus H. Christ. Fired from City Burger... for lying. Karen was right; I really was angry at the world for not getting a fair shake. I needed to make some changes. I needed to take some risks in my life.

I would never, ever put on a suit and tie again. There just didn't seem to be a place for me in the business world. And that's okay by me.

So, I decided that I was going to become exactly what the world had expected me to become. Something our society had left me no choice but to become. A criminal.

I only had one small problem: I was a criminal without a crime.

Robbery: a good payoff with a sound, three-minute investment. But, you gotta be into the money to make it worth your while.

Kidnapping was a possibility. But being stuck with some screaming kid for days on end can be trying for even the most hardened criminal.

The idea of arson was interesting. But, unless I actually owned the building that I torched, I didn't see what could be gained.

Then there's murder. No way. I just didn't have the stomach to kill anybody.

I started to feel like I was going to fail at being a criminal, too. I was desperate. I needed a crime.

I'm guessing that was when he remembered seeing The Legend of Billie Jean--

(I had this movie waiting around since I watched that movie, figured I'd finally get to it now.)

--while writing this script and decided he wanted there to be a serious message in this film. John watches the news (or some weird documentary) on a coin-operated TV at the bus station--a bit about foreclosures. Deus ex televisiona. 25 minutes in.

The narration here, especially when Estevez is trying to be meaningful--like that "hardened criminal" line--is so cheesy, especially when (again) down the hall in the multiplex his brother is giving some narration of a different color in Platoon.

And then he went out and bought a bunch of melons (apparently) to practice with the uzi he bought for his upcoming criminal career. I swear that this movie is not supposed to be a comedy but when John's gunning down a line of melons with faces drawn on them, it just plays so sillily.

If he's got all this money--yes, he claims he was saving up for a car, but, I'm not buying it--for melons and uzis and gasoline and whatnot for explosives, it seems like he might be doing okay. Instead, he's borrowing his mother's car to drive to the bank robbery, it breaks down and Karen happens by and offers him a ride. She doesn't know that he's robbing the bank, of course, so she drives off to get a tofutti (even though they were supposed to be going to lunch after the bank) which makes his initial getaway go a little strangely. Then again, he accidentally started to read his grocery list instead of his demands during the robbery... And, seriously, I swear this is not supposed to be a comedy.

He blows up the file cabinets where they have the... foreclosure documents or something, so the bank can no longer foreclose.

Then the movie gets weirdly schmaltzy in the midst of its craziness as John and Karen debate what to do next while standing in the desert.

Emilio Estevez, in making this movie, was the youngest person to write, direct and star in a feature film (at the time; not sure if anyone younger has done it since). He took advantage of the opportunity, for sure, did a road picture with some serious voiceover, got sex scenes with his (if I remember correctly, then girlfriend) Demi Moore, got to shoots guns and blow things up. The problem, I'm not sure Estevez was up to any of those three jobs--writer, director, or star--for this film; doing all three was probably just too much for him. apparently he told the Los Angeles times ten years later, "I'm not a writer, and it was evident. These [early] films never had a solid foundation to begin with, and that was my fault." At least he didn't think this was amazing after the fact.

The biggest problem, though, is not with the movie itself. It is that 10-year-old me loved it. I thought the ending was a cop out, but I loved the rest of it. And, to be fair, the montages are fun. Once John and Karen go on the road, robbing banks and sightseeing (and eating; there's a lot of eating) in between, the voiceover drops away and some generic 80s music plays in the background, and it is actually kind of fun.

The celebrity bank robber angle works better than just about anything in that first act. The old motel manager (Ernie Lively) seems genuinely excited to see them and his presumption that they want two beds because they are not married is really cute in context. (And then, he gathers a crowd to show off his celebrity guests, too.)

Nitpick: FBI Agent Williamson (William Allen Young) calls John a criminal, then says he bork the law--"and those are the facts." But, that's really just one fact said two ways. That's just not fair.

John's turn to it being over comes out of nowhere. If he'd actually had to shoot that security guard that pulled a gun on him, there might have been reason to quit, but the way things are going... nope.

And the voiceover returns. Color me disappointed.

Then, they kill someone (or rather, Karen kills someone), which offers an actual reason for John to want to quit.

And, this everyone-is-sad montage is not as fun as the roadtrip montage. Not at all.

 

 

 

 

You know, I kind of like the bit with the sandwich.

The last bit of voiceover, though--I mean, first there's the copout ending happening but even worse, in the narration John says:

You know, America is a funny place. We can fabricate just about anything we want now. Even heroes.

America tried to make a hero out of John Wisdom, then found out that it was wrong.

Shit. I coulda told them that.

Except, a) America didn't make him a hero because none of that stuff happened, b) America didn't find out it was wrong; his fantasy stopped with his death, so he America had no time to react and there was no implication that America turned against John and Karen after she killed that Sheriff.

c) Screw this movie.

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