The Crap Movie Club: Mannequin (1987)

mannequinYou know the drill – it’s a few days after Christmas and the house is finally quiet.

You sink into the sofa with a deep wish to indulge in some comfort viewing.

A guilty pleasure would be perfect, maybe a light Hollywood comedy, late-’80s style, something along the lines of ‘Vice Versa’, ‘Baby Boom’, ‘Innerspace’ or ‘The Money Pit’.

‘Mannequin’, starring Andrew McCarthy, James Spader and Kim Cattrall, would appear to fit the bill.

You haven’t heard of the director (Michael Gottlieb) but surely he can’t fail with that kind of ammo.

So you settle in expectantly. But after a few minutes it’s pretty clear that ‘Mannequin’ is sub-‘Splash’, high-concept dross, and it becomes hard to take your eyes off a bona fide turkey…

McCarthy plays a ‘quirky’ department-store window dresser who falls in love with a showroom dummy (Cattrall). The kicker is that she ‘comes alive’ at night only for him, a state of affairs closely monitored by the shop’s prissy vice president (Spader) and Rambo-obsessed security guard (GW Bailey).

Spader – one of my all-time favourite actors – gets top marks for effort but is hideously miscast. He usually has the ability to rise above apparently ‘unsuitable’ material (see ‘The Rachel Papers’ and ‘The Music Of Chance’) but not here.

James Spader

James Spader

Ditto McCarthy. As an actor, on the evidence of ‘Class’, ‘Pretty In Pink’ and ‘St Elmo’s Fire’, he definitely had something, even if often ‘helplessly sucked down by the undertow of female desire’ with ‘a pair of panicked eyes that bulge out like those of a deer caught in headlights and a mouth stuck in the permanent pucker of a cat’s asshole’, in the memorable words of Jonathan Bernstein.

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Andrew McCarthy and dummy. The dummy is on the right.

But here he (quite understandably) fails to decipher any character motivations, ending up either gazing ‘soulfully’ into the middle distance or yelping nonsensically. Not helped by a horrendous script, his line-readings barely make sense.

Poor Cattrall has a completely thankless role as an oppressed Ancient Egyptian who is put under a spell and then reincarnated as a mannequin (don’t ask). Elsewhere, Steve Vinovich makes for a terrible baddie, his performance barely exceeding am-dram level.

Gay and black stereotypes are hurled around willy-nilly and there’s even a large dose of weird corporate sexism thrown in for ‘comedy’ purposes. The director and editor conspire to extend every shot just too long, killing any potential giggles.

The score is awful too, with blaring sub-Harold-Faltermeyer synths and over-loud drum machines throughout (though there have been many worse movie themes than the Albert Hammond/Dianne Warren-composed, Narada Michael Walden-produced ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, the UK’s second-biggest-selling single of 1987).

But, in its own way, ‘Mannequin’ laid down a marker in Hollywood, arguably influencing the crap/ infamous ‘caper’ movies of the early ’90s such as ‘The Adventures Of Ford Farlaine’ and ‘Hudson Hawk’ etc. So we have that to ‘thank’ it for…

The Wackiest Guitar Solos Of The 1980s

eddie_van_halen_at_the_new_haven_coliseum_2Pop music has always featured its fair share of brilliantly ‘inappropriate’ instrumental solos, from the (uncredited) honking tenor break on Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers’ ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ and Tony Peluso’s brilliant fuzz-guitar feature on The Carpenters’ ‘Goodbye To Love’ to Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter’s unreconstructed rampage through Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’.

And then of course there are the jazz solos that occasionally enhance ‘pop’ material – Sonny Rollins lighting up the Stones’ ‘Waiting On A Friend’, Ronnie Ross’s memorable break on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and Phil Woods/Wayne Shorter/Pete Christlieb’s tasty leads on some of Steely Dan’s best work.

In the ’80s, there was a lot of demand for the wacky solo, often thrown in to pep up some pretty light/fairly inconsequential material. One in particular really set the benchmark for the decade, and it’s naturally where we start our rundown…

6. Michael Jackson – ‘Beat It’ (Solo by Eddie Van Halen)

Eddie’s shock-and-awe break was a perfect distillation of all his trademark techniques: lightning-fast picking, close-interval tapping routines, whammy-bar divebombs and even a cheeky Jimi Hendrix ‘All Along The Watchtower’ homage.

5. Michael Sembello – ‘Maniac’ (1983)

Sembello, hitherto best known as a very able jazz/R’n’B session player for the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Sanborn and George Duke, unleashed this overblown post-‘Beat It’ solo (starting at 2:50) which sounds like it belongs to a completely different song. Maybe he should have stuck to the jazz and R’n’B…

4. Bros – ‘Chocolate Box’ (Solo by Paul Gendler)

Gendler was a respected UK-based session player (and member of Modern Romance!) before getting the call from the Goss boys. He tosses off a Francis Dunnery-esque, way-too-good-for-the-charts solo at 2:40 on this wafer-thin but very catchy single.

3. Europe – ‘The Final Countdown’ (Solo by John Norum)

This song is obviously crying out for a widdly guitar solo, but Norum’s brilliant Malmsteen-esque playing (starting at 3:17) goes beyond the call of duty even by the standards of a mid-’80s hair-metal band.

2. Al Jarreau – ‘Telepathy’ (Solo by Nile Rodgers)

Nicely set up by Steve Ferrone’s wrongfooting half-bar drum fill, Nile plays all the notes he knows and a few more too in this seriously weird but rather brilliant harmonized/double-tracked break (starting at 2:05) from the L Is For Lover album.

1. Allan Holdsworth – ‘In The Mystery’ (1985)

Jazz/rock guitar genius Holdsworth inexplicably saved some of his wackiest solos for vocal-based, ‘commercial’ material. This one, starting at 2:20, is fairly astonishing and, arguably, totally wasted on the song… (Bassist Jimmy Johnson also deserves a mention for his frenetic, Red-Bull-sponsored performance.)