Thursday 15 September 2011

Bachelor Party (1984)


There are few movie concepts that have as much free reign for anarchy as the ‘bachelor party’ story. By contrast, bridal showers tend to be demure, reserved and elegant affairs; whereas the bachelor parties are wild and riotous shindigs, replete with insane amounts of drink, strippers, gambling and escapades with some sort of animal. In fact, two of the most successful comedies of the past 10 years have been The Hangover and The Hangover Part II, which build themselves around three guys trying to figure out happened over the course of their friends’ bachelor parties. Well, early on in the career of Tom Hanks, he was in a picture on this very subject. For love, for friendship, for donkey shows - it’s Bachelor Party.

Rick Gassko (Tom Hanks) and Debbie Thompson (Tawny Kitaen) are set to marry in just over a week. Unfortunately, her parents hate him because he’s a wildly immature party animal, with a bunch of friends just like him. To celebrate, these friends decide to throw him a bachelor party with booze and hookers in a huge hotel suite. Debbie’s father wants to stop the marriage, so he enlists Debbie’s ex, Cole (Robert Prescott), to sabotage the party and split the couple up. However, this proves especially difficult with this group.

So the story goes, the seed of the idea for Bachelor Party came from an actual bachelor party, thrown by producer Ron Moler for his friend and colleague Bob Israel. Obviously, this was attended also by Bob’s brother, Neal. From the wild shenanigans of that night came the idea to make a film that echoed the spirit of unbridled hedonism and craziness, and likely try to take the party torch from National Lampoon’s Animal House. The premise, as you would expect, is very simple: Guys throw wild party, where a series of pranks, temptations and misunderstandings occur and someone learns something. Pretty straightforward stuff. However, the very conscious attempt to make things more outrageous and hilarious often works against it, mainly because simple logic stops it from actually being funny. For example, one of the guys hires two hookers to attend the party and put on a show of sorts. However, owing to some small, but nonsensical shift, they hookers wind up at the bridal shower instead. Logic would dictate that the pair would look at the party, realise it’s a mistake and leave. However, they look at the party, full of women drinking tea and eating biscuits off of doilies, and decide that this is the place. They then strip off, plug things in and start about their business. The fact that the whole room has gone slack-jawed and silent, punctuated with the occasional appalled gasp, seems to mean nothing. This then kicks off a bizarre sequence of events that sees the girls go to a strip-club (featuring another rather unfunny moment with the bride’s mother and a waiter’s penis), and then they all decide to dress like hookers and crash the bachelor party, although they get temporarily re-routed to another slightly creepier get-together on another floor… what? How does any of this come off as funny? It all smacks of that ‘what can we throw in to make things funnier?’ kind of thinking that results in someone eating catfood from the clearly marked bowl because, you know, that’s funny… right?

There are problems with a few of the characters, too. For the most part, they’re okay, but a couple are really quite irritating. Such as Rick’s mechanic buddy Rudy, who spends most of the film screaming about women, and I mean SCREAMING! When they’re there, when they’re not there, all he does is drink beer and scream about women and laying pipe and seeing tits and getting some. Rick’s other friend Ryko, played by American Ninja's Michael Dudikoff, is dumb… and that’s it. There’s nothing else to him except to show up and say things that are pointless and none too bright. He does nothing besides that. Another of Rick’s friends, Brad, is a strangely tragic one. He’s a manic-depressive, out of his face on drugs, but utterly suicidal. He spends most of the film crying about his bitch wife and trying to kill himself. Weirdly, he actually has some moments that are funny, such as when he tries to slit his wrists with an electric razor because he couldn’t find any real ones. Rick quips, “Well, at least your wrist will be smooth and kissable.”

And that Debbie’s father wants Cole to break up her and Rick seems so bizarre, because while Rick may be zany and immature, Cole is a scumbag and borderline rapist. It hardly seems like the decision a father would make, I don’t care how much you dislike the other guy. I’d take the one who jokes around too much over the one who tries kidnap the girl after he literally tries to buy her. I know that films like these rely on the dynamic of the father preferring the rich douche instead of the poor, but lovable clown, but they’ve gone too far with it. Cole is a genuinely dangerous individual who tries to commit murder more than once, and it’s all played like he’s just a dick.

Some of the performances don’t really help, but this is mostly due to poor direction from Neal Israel. In an attempt to keep the energy high, actors will often yell or jump on each other or generally overact to the point of aneurysm. There’s nothing wrong with amping things up (it is a party after all), but it’s clearly here to cover up the fact that nothing is actually happening yet. Craziness will arrive soon, but it’s still currently a zany-free zone. And Adrian Zmed just looks incredibly smug throughout.

And there’s a further discomfort to this film that is almost identical to that of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In both films, when a character discovers that the woman he’s just made out with is actually a man, he becomes almost hysterically disgusted, leaping into the shower to scrub his junk and brush his teeth. Later, when he finds himself handcuffed to that same person, he starts screaming bloody murder. Okay, I get this was 10 years before Ace Ventura and attitudes were less progressive. Also, no harm or malice is meant. Plus, the reality of it is that the guy feels cheated and humiliated, and reacts in a way that some would… but come on, really? Isn’t this a bit of an over-reaction? I know it’s all meant as fun and games, but I’m not sure it’s healthy to try and make fun of something purely out of sheer ignorance. A fairly simple removal of that scene would have done much to both pick up the pace of the film and spare us all an unnecessary moment of discomfort disguised as comedy.

You may think that because I’ve just spent a little over 800 words talking about the many flaws of the film that it’s not really worth your time, but that’s not quite true. There actually are some enjoyable things to be had in this film. Tom Hanks has always been a great comedy actor, and this is no exception. He’s got the lovable charm of someone who just wants to have fun, and finds great pleasure in having that fun at the expense of people who don’t like him, like Debbie’s father. The film also has a pretty good pace, so you’re unlikely to find it dragging. The party itself looks like a lot of fun, and does have an infectious atmosphere to it. And the end features a very well staged and funny scene in a 3D movie theatre, where two characters have a fistfight that exactly mirrors the one being projected behind them. Naturally, the audience think this is just great 3D. A man says to the woman next to him that the 3D effect is amazing, to which she responds that she’s seen better. That’s a weak laugh at best, but when a ducked punch cracks her right in the nose, it’s superb timing. Not only is her reaction perfect, but the fact that it comes as a surprise on the back of pretty generic joke just makes it funnier.

Bachelor Party is a sporadically funny, though often rather irritating film. It’s got some good lines, semi-decent pacing and it genuinely seems to be a party that a lot people would love to attend. However, there’s a lot that doesn’t make much sense, it shows its own ignorance on more than one occasion, and some of the characters are grating as all hell. It certainly doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny, but that was never the intention. It’s amusing enough for a night with a bunch of friends and little concentration, so approach it with the right frame of mind and you’ll enjoy.

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