Thursday, May 27, 2010

Film Review: TAPEHEADS (1988, Bill Fishman)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Tag-line: "Let's Get Into Trouble, Baby!"
Notable Cast or Crew: John Cusack, Tim Robbins, Clu Gulager, Susan Tyrrell, Jessica Walter (PLAY MISTY FOR ME, Lucille on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), Sy Richardson (STRAIGHT TO HELL, REPO MAN), Xander Berkeley (CANDYMAN, TERMINATOR 2), Don Cornelius (host of SOUL TRAIN), Stiv Bators, Bobcat Goldthwait, 'Weird Al' Yankovic, Jello Biafra, Ted Nugent, Michael Nesmith, Courtney Love, etc. Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (SURVIVING THE GAME, KING OF NEW YORK, PATTY HEARST). Music by Fishbone.
Best one-liner: "I'm gonna make him eat that syllable!"

If you ever want to see a movie where Clu Gulager (playing a presidential candidate) is alternatingly naked, wrapped in Christmas lights, spanked by Courtney Love, and riding a shaggy-dog leather-daddy costume-clad Susan Tyrrell, then this movie is your 24/7/365 one-stop shop for Gulager perversity (or at least until FUCKING TULSA comes out).
I guarantee you this is better than TRASH HUMPERS.

Being as Gulager (THE KILLERS, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, WONDERLAND COVE) and Tyrrell (FAT CITY, CRY-BABY, FLESH + BLOOD) are the lofty standards by whom I judge all character actors, I enjoyed this thing quite a bit.
Tyrrell + Gulager = cult movie gold.

Presented by Mike Nesmith (former Monkee, producer on REPO MAN, and MTV pioneer), TAPEHEADS is a ludicrous exposé/send-up of the burgeoning MTV scene and the toilet down which it was priming to flush itself. It's far from perfect and the characters are often grating, but it possesses this energetic, anarchistic sensibility which makes it endlessly watchable. Having absurdist comedy and subculture cameos occasionally worthy of a Paul Bartel film doesn't hurt, either.

John Cusack (with oily mustache and a cigarette holder) and Tim Robbins (looking like a precursor to Napoleon Dynamite) play our fledgling entrepreneur heroes as they navigate the sleazy, sycophantic world of video production, from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles
to the Frankenstein's monster of a band called 'Menudo.' Along the way, there's everything from Ninja gals, Svankmajer-style stop-motion food,
Was inappropriate, slightly troubling use of stop-motion food written into Cusack's contract? (Also see BETTER OFF DEAD.)

buckets of paint poured on Swedes lip-synching to Devo,
the Busey-worthy line "F.E.A.R.- False Evidence Appearing Real!," to Clu Gulager muttering phrases like "you bet yer sweet ass" and "ya pissant."
Plenty of Gulager eyebrow action, too.

The bit parts are ridiculous- Sy Richardson as a wry bartender,
Stiv Bators as an Alice Cooper knock-off,
Weird Al as himself, Jessica Walter as Clu's long-suffering wife,
Jello Biafra as an FBI man, and a very special appearance by one Mr. Bobcat Goldthwait.

The nostalgia factor is high, from all manner of terrible early 80's video transitions (the 'mirror' effect, overdone pixelation, et al.) to those ubiquitous shots of L.A., which are somehow likably evocative (think Paxton's wandering in FISH HEADS) and vaguely post-apocalyptic (think ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).
And fans of obsolete video formats should find a lot to like here, too.

Nearly four stars worth of 80's cult movie tomfoolery- but only see it if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

Instant cult film! And isn't the band that Cusack and Robbins idolize really Sam and Dave? I forget as it has been some time.

I always get the feeling that this is the kinda role and film Cusack would rather do than, say, 2012 as he gets to play against type and trash his good guy image.

Loads of fantastic cameos and use of stop motion animation is only rivaled by other bizarro cult item FREAKED. Ever see that one? It also riffs on the MTV video gen vibe as well and features Keanu Reeves as Jojo the Dog Faced Boy! (seriously)

The Swanky Modes!

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, this one's a lot of fun. And I'm sure that Cusack must pine for these cult movie days of yore. Supposedly he and Robbins made media appearances while promoting TAPEHEADS 'in character,' much to the chagrin of their interviewers!

And you're right- the Swanky Modes are Sam Moore and Junior Walker of Sam and Dave. Pretty good stuff.

I have not seen FREAKED yet, though its recent move to Netflix instant watch should remedy that shortly...