Tuesday, March 25, 2014



Joseph, my manager, has arranged a meeting with the casting directors for Flying Down to Reno , the new musical remake of Airport '75 . The part of the stewardess, played so memorably by Karen Black in the original, is absolutely tailor made for a woman of my prodigious talents. There's a wonderful sequence where the stewardess leads the entire cabin of passengers in a spectacular production number, complete with an extended tap break down the center aisle of the doomed plane. It’s intercut with an operatic trio for the flight crew and a solo line for the small plane pilot. Everything culminates with the midair collision and the melody lines are resolved in heavenly, harmonious chords as the plucky stewardess grabs the controls and averts disaster over the mountains. Then there's the Aerialist's Love Call- a back and forth duet between the stewardess and the hero as he's lowered into the plane in mid-flight - exquisite.

I had just enough time this weekend, between reviewing scripts, and checking on the progress for my new infomercial, Virtually Vicki , to run down to San Diego to see Norman on the set of his new film. As you may recall, he has the important role of Flounder in Waterworld II: The Gills Have Eyes starring David Hasselhoff and Angelina Jolie. Seaworld was very crowded and Norman was filming in the penguin habitat. I had to fight my way through the throngs to get to the glass to see how the scene was going. Norman's performance is marvelous; despite all the prosthetic make-up, there's a real humanity to his fish. If only the Seaworld employees would stop throwing sardines to him between takes. We had a little quiet time together in his trailer (where I found it necessary to confiscate several gallons of Mad Dog and Night Train) before I had to return home to all of the other obligations that haunt the life of a true diva.

On returning home, there was a message from Mr. Carducci, manager of the VickiWear factory. There's going to be a slight delay in the shipment of the Long Days Journey Into Night line of shoes and leather accessories as there have been labor troubles at one of the Indonesian shoe plants. Missing shoes being very much on my mind, I decided to view a film in which the whole plot revolves around a pair of stolen shoes and consequently popped Scott Silver's study of Hollywood low lifes, Johns, into the home theater system for a view.

Johns is one of those independent films that promises to give the audience a hard hitting look at the grittier side of American life, but doesn't. It reminds me a great deal of Where The Day Takes You in its exploration of the life of street kids in modern Los Angeles, but both films squander great performances in melodramatic plots. If the characters and milieu are strong and honest enough, titanic life and death struggles aren't necessary to keep the viewer engaged. In John , David Arquette plays John, a street hustler who works the low rent end of Santa Monica Boulevard. It's Christmas Eve, the day before his twenty-first birthday, and he's desperate to put together enough money to spend at least one night in a posh hotel. John is a surrogate big brother figure and mentor to Donner (Lukas Haas), a new kid to the streets - tossed out at a young age by his family because he's gay.  Like a lot of throwaway kids, Donner doesn't have a lot of options for survival. However Donner, who is obviously in love with John, has a dream. He has a cousin in Branson, Missouri who runs a resort called Camelot (what symbolism!) where the two of them can get jobs as lifeguards (more symbolism – and undeterred by the fact that neither can swim). The film follows this duo over twenty-four hours during which both of their lives will change after John's lucky sneakers are stolen as he sleeps in the park. Their need for money and pathetic attempts at self-rescue from the life of the streets lead inevitably to a tragic conclusion.

The title of the film is, of course a play on words between the Arquette character's name and slang for the men the two of them 'date'. Both Arquette and Haas give greatish performances in the leads, creating believable street kids with the right amount of naiveté mixed with bravado. Arquette's a bit old for his part and it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to pay someone who looks as grungy as he does for sex - but it takes all kinds. The biggest fault in the film is how underwritten his role is. As the film progresses, we learn a great deal about Donner and why he's on the streets and what motivates him. John remains a cipher. We have no idea where he comes from. It's suggested he's straight by a flirtation relationship with Nikki (Alana Ubach) so why does he sell himself to men? What does he think about it and how does he reconcile his sexual feelings and his sexual practices? Why is it so important that he treat himself to the night at the hotel - which will cost what it takes to live for a week to ten days? What is his relationship to drugs? He has a drug related tattoo and is being stalked by the local pusher (Terrence Dashon) for money not paid but we don't really ever find out if addiction is part of his world.

Various familiar faces (Elliot Gould, Arliss Howard, John C. McGinley) play the johns that pick these hapless boys up. Almost all the other parts in the film amount to extended cameos and the actors are fine in these small parts but it would be more interesting to get a little more detail. Elliot Gould seems to be a regular customer as he has a Christmas present for John. What's the attraction? There are also other street kids around for local color but none of them gets a personality or a story.

As the film soars towards its grand opera conclusion, I got a little annoyed by the whole thing. If I want melodrama, I want it amongst people I know or care a little more about. Silver is also not a good enough filmmaker to know how to use restraint and surprise. The 'shocking' climax is telegraphed from miles away. I'm not surprised that his next film foray was the execrable The Mod Squad . Silver may think that his films are hip and edgy by using young, down on their luck characters, but they're just banal.

I'm giving this one a lukewarm recommendation because of the strength of the two leads. It’s good to see young actors stretch and try something new. For all other reasons, give it a miss. The DVD release is minimalist; it contains the film, in original proportions. There are no significant extras.

Missing green sneakers. Unshaven hustlers. Stolen jewelry. Gratuitous  Waltz of the Flowers. Drug induced car crash. Condom in teeth. Gratuitous grapefruit sex references. Cheap motel decor.

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