Friday, April 15, 2011

Dope Island.: What In The World Is Charles Watchingsandiego? Perfect (1985)

By Charles Cassady Jr.

I'm strangely nostalgic about the 1980s despite it's being a very uncool decade in a lot of ways. A preponderance of terrible synth-pop music. Saturday Night Live so awful it nearly got canceled, until it was realized the replacement shows NBC had on deck were going to be far worse. Questionable Reagan appointees and neoconservative mutants. US-supported death squads in Central America. Soccer riots. Other Cold War nastiness all over the planet, and here in Gordon Gekko-grade America, no girlfriends and nearly no job opportunities for me (some things never change). My brand-new Ivy-League college diploma determined to be intrinsically worthless as far as ever getting a foot up of the career ladder. Oh, and bad sequels cranked out like Hollywood had just discovered them as E-Z crap moneymakers - which was more or less exactly what Hollywood had just discovered.

Nonetheless, by the time the decade ended I still had hope that things would improve for me personally. The same cannot be said for the 1990s, or ever since. Thus, if I get a turn with a time machine and a life do-over, I think I'd set it for some year in the 1980s. It will be an ordeal trying to learn WordPerfect for DOS all over again. And paying like, what, $300 for a used desktop PC that runs at a whopping 8 Mhz? Ugh. But the bad stuff I'd dodge down the line would be worth it.

Presently I can only commune with the 80s mainly by calling up vintage music-videos on YouTube (T'pau rules!) or listeing to the "She's Got the Beat" Wednesday night 80s show on WJCU-FM. But movies sometimes help. Feeling I needed an 80s fix really bad, I finally watched a rummage-sale discovery, a VHS (t'ape rules!) of what might be the quintessential 80s-movie: PERFECT, a sweaty dramedy with John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Now, just naming a movie PERFECT asks for trouble; it's like waving a red flag in front of any reviewer in the best of times, and 1985 was not the best of times. Still, the degree of critical venom spat on this picture upon its release only made me more curious. Surely no cinema that bad could exist. What might have brought PERFECT a great deal of media hostility even before its opening is the prominent role played onscreen by Rolling Stone magazine, as itself, and publisher Jan Wenner, also (self-deprecatingly) as himself. Half the scribblers who roasted this flick alive had probably submitted resumes galore to Wenner and never got an editorial gig, so knives were being sharpened before the first frame was shot.

Travolta plays Adam, a hotshot Rolling Stone reporter with an up-and-down history. His heart is in doing a controversial expose about a computer tycoon framed for drug dealing by the nasty US government (inspiration was the John Z. Delorean case, I'd judge), apparently a retaliation for the tycoon's trying to do a progressive-thinking business deal with the Iron Curtain. But Adam gets sidetracked by silly old Jan Wenner into handling a puffier cover piece about sex, gyms and the fitness craze. "Health clubs are the singles bars of the 1980s," goes his lead and the article's premise, which is repeated enough that by the end it practically becomes a mantra. Charlie Sheen could make more money by trademarking it.

Adam goes to the hottest health club in LA, apparently a real-life establishment called the Sports Zone, and gets to know the habitues, most notably a gorgeous drink of water named Jesse (Jamie Lee Curtis), the star aeorobics instructor and former Olympics athlete. She dislikes him at first sight because, it turns out, she's got a tabloid-sex scandal in her past she's justifiably fearful will resurface - and she's afraid Adam's story will call health clubs the single bars of the 1980s. Nonetheless, because the movie needs it to happen, Jesse falls in love with Adam, even when he runs out on her during foreplay for a career gig, even when his Rolling Stone cronies (and a colorful Annie Leibovitz-clone photographer, played by Anne de Salvo) stab him in the back and run the sleaziest, most hurtful possible draft of his story [SPOILER ALERT - GIVEN THAT IT'S THE 1980S, A TOTALLY TUBULAR SPOILER ALERT]. Everything seems lost. However, via an act of journalistic integrity Adam manages to redeem himself in the eyes of goddess Jesse and restores peace and honor to the Sports Zone. Note to anyone who, like me once, believed thanks to media images that a reporter's life would be fun: This sort of thing never happens. Never, ever happens.

PERFECT isn't so awful, but it sure isn't "perfect," either. Barely believable, and not really bad enough to be camp, though for one with my perverted tastes its multiple-eightiesgasms make for some amusement, such as a hotel under siege by Boy George-lookalike Culture Club fans (there were those?). Carly Simon and Mick Jagger make cameo appearances as themselves, and the fairytale behind-the-scenes look at Rolling Stone operations are, I think, deliberately hilarious. Every time Adam phones in which some personal crisis Wenner and the staff are enjoying a live in-house jam session or doing weird experiments with liquid nitrogen. Moments specifically inserted, I bet, to sadistically make freelancers in the field like me think that's what things are like in the editorial offices at any given moment, an ongoing party. Insert a string of violent profanity here. All you magazines that went out of business recently, especially ones who didn't hire me, like Northern Ohio Live, I hope the last thing you heard before they turned out the lights was my vengeful laughter.

Hard not to guess where the notion for PERFECT came from. The iconic SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was a hit derived from Nik Cohn's famous Rolling Stone article "Tribal Rites of a Modern Saturday Night," about NYC disco culture (and, if I'm not mistaken, Cohn later admitted that most of his prose he'd fictionalized; thus dies alternative journalism). PERFECT evidently springs from an article about health clubs done for the same mag by big-name writer Aaron Latham, evidently a hope by the producers that, in alchemically mixing Travolta, Rolling Stone and pop-reportage again, cinematic lightning would strike twice. Instead of disco-dance production numbers though, the money shots here are crotch-tastic, suggestive aeorobic exercises, usually led by luscious Jamie Lee, that rival SHOWGIRLS for unsubtle sexuality. They do kind of go on forever, and not even the Bee Gees would've helped.

PERFECT flopped at the box-office, one of the spate of downtrending duds, some going direct-to-video, that marginalized John Travolta until PULP FICTION resurrected his career. One of the kinder reviews of PERFECT came from People Magazine, whose critics weren't pushovers and often went refreshingly against the grain. They liked the dialogue (go figure), newsroom angle and even Jan Wenner's send-up of himself as a semi-clueless trendster. So take it or leave it, that's PERFECT, if you can scrounge it up. I'll just add this. You religious folks who don't like transgenders? I suggest you get over your hangups about human cloning, invent a time machine and zip back to this film's era to obtain DNA samples from Jamie Lee Curtis v.1985. Talk about female perfection! Oh man, grow enough of her in test tubes to supply as mate material to all gay guys, and stand back and watch as homosexuality as we know it evaporates. That's my advice, free of charge. Though I would like to bum a ride on that time machine while you're at it...

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