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 serious 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. Decent cast. 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 car-crash movie…

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 a dummy. The dummy is on the right…

But here he (quite understandably) fails to decipher any of his 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.

Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall

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 at least we have that to ‘thank’ it for…

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Movie Review: The Rachel Papers (1989)

rachel papersHere’s a late, almost completely forgotten contender for the pretty short ‘film better than the book’ list. Writer/director Damian Harris’s ‘The Rachel Papers’, based on Martin Amis’s 1973 debut novel, crept out in May 1989 to mediocre reviews and underwhelming business.

At the time, the post-‘Mission‘, pre-‘Four Weddings’ British film industry was in its latest rut, unsure of its place in the global marketplace and reeling from massive government cuts.

But somehow ‘The Rachel Papers’ movie remains true to Amis’s irreverent, adolescent, sweary, very ‘London’ vision, while understandably playing down the overt racism, sexism and druggier aspects of the novel.

The plot centres around Charles Highway, a precocious, upper-middle-class tyke on the cusp of his 20th birthday. He’s no virgin (the title alludes to the secret ‘research files’ he keeps on all his previous conquests) but is desperate to sleep with an older woman before he hits his twenties. The lovely, intelligent, well-bred Rachel seems to fit the bill perfectly, but Charles gets a lot more than he bargains for when he pursues her. Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan, etc, etc…

He also has to contend with Rachel’s on/off American boyfriend DeForest. Charles does a fair bit of learning and ‘growing’, but with an agreeable lightness of touch. Most importantly, the movie rattles along at a good lick.

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Ione Skye and Dexter Fletcher

I came across ‘The Rachel Papers’ completely by chance in the early ’90s when I was almost exactly Charles’s age, and it rang a lot of bells. Watching it again recently, I was pleased how well it stands up whilst obviously being very much of its time. The movie lives or dies by the casting of the Charles character – lead actor Dexter Fletcher carries it off with some aplomb. Often breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to camera, Charles is a fusion of Ferris Bueller and Alfie, basically a cocky, rather spoilt little prick with, as it turns out, a few deep-rooted insecurities. Fletcher (the recent director of ‘Eddie The Eagle’) brings just the right level of ratty, insouciant charm to Charles.

In Amis’s book, Rachel isn’t American – the casting of Ione Skye was apparently a studio-imposed decision, but it doesn’t upset the balance of the film at all. She does a great job in an underwritten role. She’s a fresh, natural, uplifting presence, carrying on from where she left off in the classic ‘Say Anything‘. James Spader delivers a typically superb performance as DeForest, mining the same smarmy, condescending schtick he so memorably employed in ‘Pretty In Pink‘.

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Skye, Spader, Fletcher

The film is also chock-a-block with other memorable character turns – Jonathan Pryce, Michael Gambon, Lesley Sharp, Aubrey Morris, Gina McKee and Claire Skinner do some great work, particularly Gambon as an amusingly-off-hand university interviewer. Ian Dury’s right-hand-man Chaz Jankel does a decent job with the soundtrack on top of some choice contributions from Shakespears Sister and John Martyn.

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Jonathan Pryce in ‘Rachel’

In the final analysis, ‘The Rachel Papers’ is the only Brit romcom I’ve seen that approaches something like ‘The Sure Thing‘. It’s irreverent and unpretentious but certainly not dumb. It’s a fairly accurate portrait of late-’80s London, bringing an appealing cheerfulness to the city without resorting to picture-postcard clichés (there’s not a shot of Big Ben or Trafalgar Square in sight). The sexual politics and shenanigans are also refreshingly upfront.

It’s surely due a remake, possibly with a bit more emphasis on the seedier aspects of the plot – the recent ‘Don John’ seems to touch on similar areas but looks like somewhat of a disaster area if the trailer is anything to go by. Don’t judge ‘The Rachel Papers’ by the trailer either, though, by the way…