Friday, May 27, 2011

The Lost Weekend (1945)

by Brian “Straight, No Chaser” Roe

Black-and-white movies are the pure symbolism of my soul. When everything else fails, I put in any monochrome film and I get deep into it. There is an absolute purity to early films that all other movies strive to attain. Our minds work in black and white; color is just a subtle lie. A lie that distracts and misdirects. Reality is black-and-white my friends. And I must always delve deep into the past to find movies that speak with such blatant truth.

The Lost Weekend is truth and lies, real and fake, facade and core, all at once. This is one of those films that I’ve been told is “Great” for so fucking long that it’s become like the buzzing of gnats in my ears. Nobody watches Great movies unless they are forced to. And often once they do they become a part of the Church of Great and then start suppressing other poor bastards with their opinions. But I'll tell you this, boys and girls, The Lost Weekend is truly worth your consideration.

Ray Milland is Don Birnam, the “young man who drinks,” and a failed-because-of-never-really-having-tried writer who loves the hooch. If the guy would just write down the patter that he spews when he’s drinking, he’d never have a problem creating new work. When he drinks he becomes a verbose wordsmith of great magnitude. But when he faces the cold steel of his typewriter, he flounders like a fat kid in a pool. He’s always far too busy wanting to write and creating new reasons not to to ever actually create anything. This is the curse of so many of my most beloved friends. We will be wanting to start on some new project until the day we die. And by then the only things getting any work done will be the worms.

So Don gets a fine young Jane Wyman to fall for him and she defends him with the fierce love of a lioness mother. Don’s brother has tried and tried, blah blah, and can’t take it anymore. If Don is going to get help, he’s going to have to help himself.

And we all know how that little tune whistles don’t we?

Don tanks. He tanks hard. In the always perfect downward spiral of film noir, Don begins a decent that should take him four days. In that time, he will make those that love him to hate him and so on and so forth. The woman who refuses to let him go will do her damnedest to give up on him and his few friends will just walk away. Addicts sometimes take a sadistic if unaware pleasure in seeing how far they can push those that love them. And Don Birnam does his best to become his worst.

I’ll tell you no plot points with this movie. It’s obvious what’s going to happen from the first five minutes and the movie’s title for crying out loud. But I will point out the joys that you might find if you feel up to watching this little gem shine.

Millland is genius here. One minute petulant and childish, the next suave and heroic, he owns this film. The sudden and constant shifting that he pulls as this character is respectable and a great pleasure to watch. Like a well-trained athlete Milland does what needs done to tell us the story of this self-centered bastard and the damage that he does to those around him. And in the end you still give a shit about the guy. There is a silent-film style of facial acting that Milland employs to get his points across, and they work as dynamic spurts of jet fire to move things along. But Milland is not really the main actor in this story.

Professor Roe’s Film Frikkin’ Noir class lesson 12:
The protagonist of a noir has no control over his story path. He can only react to the situations around him, and usually he reacts quite badly.

Don Birnam has no real control over any of the moves he makes during the course of this story. Someone else will say something or do something and these act as triggers to set Birnam off in some new direction. The noir hero is a pinball that is constantly bumped and pinged around by the less mobile forces on the playing field. Yes, sometimes the protagonist can help things along in a particular direction, but normally when the downward spiral has begun, all he can do is hold on, act his part out, and pray.

The secondary characters in The Lost Weekend act as the gears and conveyor belts that feed little Birnam along his path. Like a freaked-out kid on a ghost ride, Birnam is pulled along until the next quandary presents itself. And that’s fine for a film like this. We don’t want to see him straighten up and stop drinking, the film would be far too short in that event. So we watch like we watch nature programs to see the prey make its misstep and get taken down.

Three actors besides Milland deserve your attention.

Jane Wyman as his girlfriend, Helen St. James. Cute, tough, and short, Wyman keeps her character from devolving into sappiness and she implies a fierce passion that attempts to keep Don in check. Too bad that at this time young Wyman was sleeping with fucking Ronald Reagan. She deserved better than that prick.

Howard Da Silva as Nat the bartender. Although he is ethically coerced to keep serving Birnam, he does so with lessons aplenty and a complete contempt for someone whom he sees as having been dealt a pretty good hand whom is also determined to throw it all way. Nat acts as Birnam’s conscience even though he is rarely heeded.

And finally my new crush, Doris Dowling as Gloria, an implied prostitute who takes a shine to Birnam and comes across as one of the most real characters in the movie. I want to punch Ray Milland in the jaw for the way that he plays with her.

So there you go. I’ve told you little about The Lost Weekend and you should appreciate that small kindness. Discover it for yourself. You know the plot already, whether you think you do or not, and the joy in this film is sitting back and finding the resonant moments. These will hit you hard and sweet if you let them in.

So Don Birnam is a failing writer who drinks because of his fear of being a failed writer. This is an eternal conundrum within those who attempt to create worlds and tell stories. Writing is sometimes as easy as writing down what we see; other times, we must become little gods who create and control all of the small lives on our pages. Although this seems like an act of enormous ego, it is actually a mechanism to try to understand the world around us. We don’t write because we want to become gods. We write in the same way that drowning people tread water. We are all afraid and alone all of the time and only by creation are we sometimes reminded that the world is truly a place of joy and not only of pain, loss, and disillusionment. And those of us, for whatever reason, who can’t get the words on the damned page, well, sometimes we drink. The perfumed temples along the banks of The Nile open to us and we find our way by not really trying. And we are so enthralled with the story that we forget to tell it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

by Alec “It’s snowing in September!” Cizak

There used to be a saying among those in Hollywood that the movie industry was a Jewish business selling Catholic morals to the Protestant masses. That’s no longer true. Hollywood pushes one moral at this point—“Why can’t we all just get along?” And they push it in every single goddamn movie they make.

Anybody old enough remembers where they were the first time they heard that phrase. The early 1990s was marked by a tide of hatred towards law enforcement. I might go so far as to blame the Republicans and their amped-up “war on drugs” for this phenomenon. Just as incompetent as their handling of the AIDS crisis (“don’t have sex!”), the “war on drugs” was propped up by a desire that Americans remain stupid and chatter “just say no” like zombies. Another prescription was to put more cops on the streets and eradicate the Fourth Amendment (nobody wrote about this better than Hunter S. Thompson). Pretty soon, people were losing their property based solely on suspicion and they rarely got it back, even after they were proven innocent. We were entering the age of America as a Police State and folks, especially young folks (like me, at the time), were pissed off.

In those days I carried a copy of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton in my car and if I rolled up next to a cop, I put the tape (pre-queued) in and blasted “Fuck tha Police.” Of course, I was a punk-ass white boy, and if the cops even knew what the hell the song was coming from my shitty little Chevy, they just laughed and probably said, “There goes another punk-ass white boy supporting the sadistic side of the music industry.” But I knew I was part of a movement that culminated in the events that unfolded in Los Angeles. First the beating, then the bogus trial, and finally, The Riots (Reginald Denny should be part of that story, but the way his attackers were so obviously let go in compensation makes me sick, so I, like the rest of the country, pretend that part didn’t happen). When I moved to Koreatown in 2001, the ghosts of those turbulent days lingered, nearly a decade later. Korean shop owners were quick to tell their stories of protecting their stores. They sounded like war veterans. Half of the Ralph’s at Third and Vermont is still missing because it was burned down in the riots and nobody bothered to rebuild it.

But, as I often do, I digress…

Showing up in my hometown, Indianapolis, just after the L.A. riots, was Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. It played at the Irving, a rundown artsy-fartsy joint on the east side that showed all the movies my Bible-thumping neighbors wished didn’t exist. It’s too bad they dismissed it so quickly, calling it ‘trash’ and ‘subhuman’ without even seeing it. Bad Lieutenant is a very religious movie about cops, coke, and Catholics. Ferrara had said a few things about Catholicism in an earlier film called Ms. 45, but that belongs in a different category, so I won’t waste much time on it here.

The story is framed by a playoff series between the Mets and the Dodgers. Our hero, known only as The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel), has many addictions and gambling is the one that will ultimately do him in. Throughout the film he second-guesses the gods of baseball and builds an enormous debt he’ll never recover from. We see early on that he has kids. He takes his sons to school, admonishing them for not telling their aunt what to do—“Are you men or mice?” he asks them, suggesting they tell their aunt to “get the fuck outta the bathroom!” when she’s keeping them from getting ready for school. If his use of the word ‘fuck’ every two seconds in front of his boys doesn’t tell us what kind of parent he is, perhaps when the kids get out of his car and he decides to snort some coke in the parking lot of their school will. Right away, Ferrara makes sure we don’t think he titled his movie inappropriately. And for those of us who had come to suspect cops as the real bad guys, our opinions were instantly justified.

The movie foreshadows its conclusion when the Lieutenant shows up at a double-shooting. Two girls are dead in a car. The Lieutenant looks them over for a moment, then goes to talk gambling with some other officers. Next on his to-do list is pretend to chase down a crack dealer in a shitty apartment building where he trades some hits of rocked-up coke for an evidence bag filled with powder. When a woman in the hallway complains, the Lieutenant tells her to go back into her apartment, demanding he’s engaged in “police activity.” After taking some of the powder for himself, he visits a woman with a fantastic body and someone who looks so gender-free we have no idea if it’s a man or a woman, where he engages in a bizarre threesome. While the girl and the gender-less wonder mock-fuck on the bed, the Lieutenant pours some vodka in a shot glass and then tilts the bottle to take a real shot. The Lieutenant dances with the other two and then, naked, holds his arms out like Jesus Christ, preparing the audience for the film’s Catholic message.

After taking money stolen by small-time thugs at an Asian grocery store, the Lieutenant goes to visit an anorexic redhead who freebases heroin with him. While the Lieutenant is enjoying the fantastic mix of chemicals in his system, a nun is raped. We get a brief scene in the Lieutenant’s home, though we never get any sense of which one of the grown women there is actually his wife. Nor, for that matter, do we ever see the Lieutenant at a police station doing paperwork (the staple of a good cop movie, according to Billy Friedkin). No, he just strolls through New York City doing blow and smack and drinking and banging strange chicks and gambling. Kind of makes you want to be a cop!

Just before learning about the raping of the nun, the Lieutenant visits another crime scene where a hooker tells him there’s a bag of coke behind the back seat. He tries to get it out and into his jacket but drops it on the ground and has to act like a real cop and introduce it as evidence. When he’s told about the rape, he accuses the church of being “a racket,” no different than the mafia. He assures his fellow officers that he’s a Catholic despite his suspicion of the church.

The Lieutenant becomes obsessed with the nun, maybe out of good old Catholic guilt, or maybe because the same mob he owes money to is offering a reward for the capture of her attackers. He stares at her in the hospital while she’s naked on a table. Before going to the scene of the crime, he stops and redefines sexual harassment when he pulls two teenaged girls over and threatens to call their fathers if one doesn’t show him her ass while the other pantomimes a blow job. The Lieutenant jerks off, right there in the street and walks away. This is one of a few scenes that earned the film an NC-17 rating. Some might wonder what purpose it serves, other than to continue the theme that this cop is a real scumbag. Because it comes (no pun intended) halfway through the movie, I believe there is a comparison being made to the two girls who were found dead in the beginning of the film. Ferrara seems to be equating the Lieutenant with the killer, suggesting they are equally dangerous. This will help the audience accept the film’s stunning conclusion.

The Lieutenant goes to the church where the nun was raped. He passes out and wakes up while ‘good’ cops are actually investigating the scene, gathering evidence. He does nothing to help them. Instead, he drives around listening to the next game in the playoff series, snorting coke and drinking vodka from a pint he carries in his jacket. When the game goes bad, he shoots his radio and screams racial slurs at Daryl Strawberry (a real life crack junky). The Lieutenant attends services with his family and is threatened by a representative of his bookie in the back of the church, basically giving weight to the Lieutenant’s contention that there is no difference between a Don Capo and the Pope. We see the extent of the Lieutenant’s disregard for his family when he snorts coke right off of a stack of family photos. He pulls more dust up his nose at a club and then, in one of the most inexplicable scenes in the movie, visits a Hispanic family that gives him thirty-thousand dollars to pay off some of his debt. He smokes some crack in the hallway, pointing his gun at a woman who steps out of her apartment, then goes home and sets up a meeting with his bookie. He visits the redheaded woman one more time. This time they shoot the heroin directly into their blood, showing the film’s progression from mild to lethal drug use which, in turn, drives home the point that the Lieutenant is on a mission of self-destruction. The woman lets loose some bizarre philosophy about junkies and, perhaps, American society in general—“We gotta eat away at ourselves…until there’s nothing left but appetite.” Hmm, sounds profound. Might make more sense if I was on junk as well.

The Lieutenant confronts the nun, demanding, “How could you forgive these mother… these guys?” She reminds him what it means to be a Catholic and leaves the Lieutenant to break down before the altar where we get a good dose of Harvey Keitel’s famous crying. He hallucinates Jesus, standing in the aisle, who then turns out to be a black woman, which makes a lot of sense since black women in America are probably treated worse than any other U.S. Census category of people. Why anybody would think Jesus would waste his time in New York City is beyond me, but that’s another discussion for another time. The woman takes him to the boys who raped the nun. While the audience is hoping the Lieutenant will either shoot them in their faces or bring them in for “justice,” the Lieutenant has, instead, found religion. Whether it’s before or after he shares a rock of really good crack with the rapists, we don’t know. It may not be important.

He puts the kids on a bus and gives them the thirty-grand and sends them off to start their lives over. Parked outside of Madison Square Garden, underneath a sign that says “It All Happens Here,” some mobsters roll up and shoot the Lieutenant dead in his car where he will be found, just like the girls in the beginning of the film, by cops with more important things on their minds than who the victim is and why he was killed. In the final moments of the movie, the Lieutenant becomes Jesus, sacrificing himself in the name of forgiveness.

I know there are some bad-ass sons of bitches who will scoff at this movie’s finale, but I think they’re posers. I think this movie meanders in a stoned and drunken stupor towards a very powerful revelation about what makes Catholicism a philosophically profound set of beliefs. Yes, the church itself is corrupt, but the power to forgive is holy and sacred and very hard to accomplish. It’s the reason we can call the Lieutenant a hero after all the terrible things he’s done to himself and other people. Bad Lieutenant is one of the last great independent films this country has produced. And if you like movies about people getting wasted, this one certainly won’t fail you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shakes the Clown (1991)

by Jimmy "The Doormat" Callaway

You'll often hear people remark on the irony that comedians are generally pretty miserable. It does seem odd that people whose job it is to make others laugh can often be fairly humorless and bitter, or just kinda fucked in the head. Apparently, Chevy Chase is a complete and utter asshole. George Carlin seemed to only get angrier as he aged, which was a tall order even for a crankypants like him. Bill Cosby isn't even immune to this (although I guess if my only son got murdered, I'd be pretty bitter, too).

I think this perceived irony is indicative of the attitude that most people have towards comedians and comedy, that it is a lower art form. For a painter or literary author to be moody and unpredictable is a sure sign of his or her genius, in a lot of eyes. For comedians to be the same way just makes them big weirdoes. I will grant that since comedians' stock-in-trade is laughter, it seems counterproductive to be such a bummer all the time. But comedians are artists, just the same as Van Gogh or Diego Rivera or Hemingway or any of the other assholes the so-called finer arts have produced.

And like a lot of artists, comedians will sometimes party themselves to death. Belushi, Farley, Hedburg, and who the hell knows how many more. Again, it's all romance when Dylan Thomas or even a hack like Jim Morrison medicates himself into the great beyond. But all Lenny Bruce gets is a kinda boring bio-pic made of him.

You don't have to be much more than an armchair psychologist to see how all these behaviors are related. The drive to create is often produced by a need for approval, a need which is all encompassing and therefore doomed to go not completely met from the word go. When even creative success is not enough to please the artist, the artist will often turn to drink and drugs to numb the pain or become a bitter crank to protect him/herself from further emotional damage, usually a combination of the two, and usually to the same lonely end. It's a big depressing cycle that can seem unbreakable.

The only way to make it really funny is to add clowns. I've never been one of these guys who's scared of clowns. I dunno, I guess I can kinda see where folks might get creeped out by these charlatans of chuckle, but I guess there were lots scarier things to me as a kid, like poltergeists or Dobermans. Regardless, the juxtaposition of comedians as tortured artists is only all the more highlighted and hilarious when it is acted out by a buncha guys in clown outfits, as it is in Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial debut, Shakes the Clown.

The opening image of the film is a broken record. It's the morning after a big party, and the young son of the hostess awakes to a dog eating pizza off the coffee table and a drunken clown in his bathroom. The first thing the kid does, though, is take the needle off the record. So, the way I'm reading this, the record represents the seemingly unbreakable cycle we've been talking about, this constant treadmill ride for some sort of brass ring of love that just drives you nuts. This flick also has a nice undercurrent about children and innocence that's always hovered around my viewings of it before, but has only become clearer this time around.

See, the way I look at artists is that they act as sorts of champions for the beauty of human experience, the innocence often lost. Comedians especially fall under this since their work is often in the vein of what can be considered juvenile or silly. So comedians have attained this status in my mind of hero, in that they were something of a salvation to me from the normal, eat-your-vegetables grown-ups that I was surrounded by. And what I've come to notice as I've gotten older is that this is a reciprocal situation. Comedians tend to work from a painful place, and often that pain derives from an innocence lost. In Shakes's case, as we find later in the film, his father was trampled to death by elephants. So Shakes entertains children at birthday parties, an environment in which we see him truly thrive, and in return, the joy he spreads salves the loss of his own childhood joy.

This is what I see when little Billy removes the needle from the broken record. Shakes has a need to create, to entertain, in order to keep himself sane, to tame the chaos in his life. When that isn't enough, he hits the sauce, and how. By the film's end, when everything has been rendered okay in the world, he has realized that the work is enough, that he does far more good as a clown than as a drunk. Doing it for the kids is a worthy cause, possibly the worthiest of them all, and it will redeem him.

This theme of innocence lost is only reinforced here by Florence Henderson as Billy's mother, the anonymous woman Shakes has nailed the night before. Taking the materfamilias of that staple of good, wholesome television, The Brady Bunch, and tarting her up like this is played up for laughs (and Henderson herself, God bless her, has been doing such in a ton of other roles satirizing her most famous part). But it's also a clear indication of the lost innocence we're dealing with here: Mrs. Brady reduced to drunkenly banging birthday party clowns without even learning their names first.

There's then a fairly touching slo-mo shot of kids playing in a lawn sprinkler as the theme from A Summer Place plays. Again, we have happy smiling children in a direct visual counterpoint to an unshaven, hung-over clown. It's also here that I realize that this is one of the few times we see Shakes not in full make-up, when he's hung-over. This could easily be taken as showing how the guy's not himself when he's not a clown, but I think it's more accurate to say that he's not himself when he's sober. Whether drunk on adoration or drunk on Amstel Light, Shakes cannot function when sober.

It also makes a nice visual when he emerges from the gas station men's room in full clown regalia. Now Shakes is in command, and his role as defender of the innocent is brought to light. As he arrives late at the birthday party he's to be working, he's immediately confronted by a typical tight-assed suburban father, excellently played by Tim Kazurinsky (and it makes me feel warm seeing these two together again for the first time since Hot to Trot)(though I admit, I can't remember if they had a scene together in that. They must have though, right?). Shakes gets right back in his face and backs him down, striking one for the little guy right away. It's a very brief role, but like I say, Kazurinksy nails it completely with his face and his voice tempered right in the part of the throat that I heard my dad and all my friends' dads yell at us from (when later Shakes puts an extra party hat on Kazurinsky's head, effectively giving him horns, this just drives home who's really the bad guy here).

Then as Shakes emerges into the backyard, he's greeted by a party of utterly bored kids. But now their friend Shakes the Clown is here, and with his bag of tricks and goofy japes and gibes, everybody's having a good time. Yes, Shakes is more than likely buzzed, but he's also just really enjoying his work. And this I'd say is kind of a smaller tragedy within the larger, namely alcoholism will really put a dent in your drinking. Like when Dink, one of Shakes's buddies, later wonders why the guy just can't drink normally, y'know, have fun with it. It all makes me grateful that I've never gotten so bad off that I had to quit altogether. Karaoke would be a lot less fun, for one thing.

Take, for example, the music montage scene of Shakes and Dink and Stenchy driving around, drinkin' beers and raisin' hell. I think overall the scene is supposed to show that these guys can kinda be dickheads, but man, it still looks like a lot of fun (although, I can do without NRBQ on the tape deck, personally). Like, I guarantee audiences cheered or at least smiled widely at the sight of Shakes and the boys beating up a buncha mimes. But technically, mimes are also artists (even if they generally represent a prissier, au francais kinda art that guys like me, who may have artistic inclinations themselves, still find kinda fruity), and as Shakes finds out, mimes are people, too. Without the keen insight of Mime Jerry (as played brilliantly by Robin Williams)(quoth my old roommate upon seeing this scene: "Man, Robin Williams should really get back on coke."), Shakes would never have been able to figure out who really killed his boss, Mr. Cheese, and thereby clear his name.

The real murderer and the clown who frames our hero is the vile antagonist, Binky the Clown, portrayed by Tom Kenny (in what is probably one of my top three personal favorite film performances ever). Binky acts as an excellent foil for Shakes in that Binky is not an artist, he "can't even throw a fuckin' pie straight." By having beaten Shakes out for a plum role as host of the afternoon TV cartoon show, Binky has succeeded only in drawing attention to himself. Binky cares little for art--as his stage manager tells the children in the studio audience, "We're all older, we know what's funny." This notion that Binky is purely an egomaniac is reinforced by his base treatment of his henchclowns, Boots and Hoho, his desire to look cool in front of the coke-dealing rodeo clowns, and most especially in his pursuit of Judy, Shakes's girlfriend. The fact that Judy continuously brushes Binky's puerile sexual advances back drives Binky into a homicidal rage, and while in the throes of which, he attempts to murder Judy in front of the boys and girls in the studio and those at home. Binky revels in his total disregard for humanity, for beauty, and works as an excellent counter-point to Shakes: Shakes may be "a drunk and a bad lay," but Binky is a stone-cold psychopath.

So overall, the moral of Shakes the Clown is art first. Shakes's drinking is only the catalyst for all his woes, but it's when it begins to affect his work that the damage starts to become near-indelible. There is one scene where Shakes goes off on a kid, calling him a loser and insisting that his parents "had to pay grown men to come and play with you today, because kids collectively, on a whole, think you suck." Yes, the kid may have been acting like a brat, but this is not Shakes, the defender of the innocent, the artist. The fact that he's sober at this point only belies the importance of creativity over sobriety, I'd say. Shakes had to go into a rehab program in order to continue his work, but the closing shot--a young boy, laughing and cheering--illustrates that this is what is the most important thing.

Battle not with clowns, kids. Just keep 'em laughing, and I promise you, it'll all work out.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fandango (1985)

by Josh "Ripcord" Converse

Fandango is an '80s movie about the '70s. It centers around the draft, Vietnam, and a group of college drinking buddies known as "The Groovers," out for one last fling on the road. Did I mention it’s an '80s movie? Did I really need to?

This flick marks the first in a series of collaborations between director Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner, who would go on to dazzle us with Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the upcoming Learning Italian. I know, I know. Scorsese and DeNiro, it ain’t. Hell, it ain’t even Scorsese and DiCaprio. It is, however, a movie about a bunch of dudes getting shithammered, so cover it we must.

Starts out at a party of the college variety. Graduation night. We are introduced to perennial screw-up Gardner Barnes, the ringleader, played by the ever-affable Costner. We are also introduced to the first in a long series of horrible accents perpetrated upon the ticket-buying public lo these many years by the aforementioned Kevin, this the precursor to the one he used eight years later in A Perfect World, and not all that different from the one he used just before that in JFK, and oddly enough, just a lilt off the one he used as Robin Hood. It also marks the debut of what I like to call Costner’s signature "dammit of no dammit" move, in which he lets his mouth hang open and sharply bobs his head as one would when saying "dammit," but he doesn’t actually say anything. Ever catch that? It’s his approximation of outrage and he’s used it in everything he’s ever done, oil spill clean-ups included.

Judd Nelson does well as the weenie Phil Hicks, an ROTC geek and fortunate son whom nobody in the crew really respects. Consider it a precursor to the weenie he went on to play in St. Elmo’s Fire. Also at the party, comically fat and quiet guy Dorman, played by Chuck Bush, and skinny, quieter guy Lester Griffin, who will go on to spend virtually the entire film unconscious and stuffed in the back window of the car, played by Brian Cesak.

Rounding out the Groovers is Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards), who shows up late to the party sporting a hang-dog. Looks like Ken, freshly graduated, has been nailed by Uncle Sam, and is due to report for boot camp Monday morning. As a result, Ken has decided to break off his engagement.

This is all music to Gardner’s ears who, having fallen short on his own bid to graduate, has also been drafted, is also expected at boot camp on Monday morning. Solution to all our ills? Howsabout one last alcohol-fueled run for the border, in which we grasp for the glory days, dig up an old, buried secret, and learn the proper way to deploy a reserve parachute? Takers? C’mon, then. The fat guy can drive.

The film succeeds on a lot of levels. It’s a rowdy good time, filled with all the requisite hijinks that one would expect from a road comedy of this era. Performances are solid all around, with plenty of good-hearted, good ol’ boy grab-assing to keep you in the giggles. The scene in which Judd Nelson is goaded into taking skydiving lessons is the indisputable comic high point, due largely to a standout turn by Marvin J. McIntyre as freaked-out pilot and parachuting instructor Truman Sparks.

Kevin Reynolds, working under the auspices of Amblin Entertainment, lays on a tasteful but thick dose of Spielbergian magic hour sappiness. The Groovers’ bottle rocket fight in the middle of a darkened graveyard, foreshadowing their coming trials and tribulations on the field of battle in Vietnam, is particularly heavy-handed, but not without aesthetic grace. Most of the film’s other gags are played for laughs, so muscle through. Spoiler Alert: As the film draws to a close, expect to be strong-armed into a poignant, reflective catharsis, as everybody simultaneously, instantaneously grows up.

The movie is available now on the Netflix Instant Queue and, likely, the discount bins at your neighborhood Marshall’s, and is a good time to be had by most. Feel free to toss a few back before you press play.