If you’re in the mood for undemanding summer camp wackiness: Gorp (1980, Joseph Ruben)
Not much going on in the middle, but check the margins. Gorp involves the shenanigans of a waitstaff at a low-rent summer camp run by a perpetually apoplectic David Huddleston, with before-they-were-famous turns by Dennis Quaid as a gung-ho would-be military man and Fran Drescher as an unapologetic party girl. That description should openly mark it as a hybrid knockoff — the anarchic slovenliness of Animal House transported to the setting of Meatballs. As such, it’s less concerned with telling a coherent story than stringing together a series of dopey lowbrow yuks. There’s lots of vulgarity and crudity and exaggerated mugging, and most of the major setpieces (e.g. a sequence where literally everyone in the movie gets dosed with speed-laced food) are so strenuously wacky that they can’t help but fall flat. However, the inexhaustible Borscht-belt drive to make ‘em laugh at all costs means this thing is jam-packed with gags and punchlines, and eventually a few of them start to land.
It’s like watching a spitballing session in real time, where the screenwriters are so scared of losing the audience by allowing for any moments of quiet that they’re throwing everything they can think of at us, even if it’s weird or doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This is why there’s a mind-blown Jesus-freak turned freak-hippie who’s introduced trying to eat the boobs off a centerfold and later, apropos of nothing, wanders into a scene, shouts, “LET THERE BE ORGIES!” and sprints away buck naked. It’s why there’s a scene where a wino gets into a fistfight with himself. It’s why Quaid is trying to build an atom bomb, and when it turns out to be a dud he screams, “You treasonous bitch!” at it. The spirit in Gorp is very much an old-school anything-goes exercise in silliness, and while the pacing is weird and lurching and there’s a lot of flopsweat, there’s also a looseness and an enthusiasm that ultimately proves fairly appealing. A giant wooden middle finger rolling past a group of shocked, outraged parents isn’t the joke that lands. It’s the rabbi, barely audible in the middle of the hubbub, muttering, “There’s no blessing over a finger! I can’t give a blessing over a finger!” that makes me laugh.
If you’re in the mood for bikinis, beach babes and a light battle of the sexes: It’s a Bikini World (1967, Stephanie Rothman)
Sun, sand and stupid people: what else does one need to make a film? Stephanie Rothman’s It’s a Bikini World provides those elements in spades — the plot revolves around cocky beach rat Tommy Kirk’s attempt to woo new-in-town redhead Deborah Walley by posing as his less abrasive bookworm brother while also competing against her in a series of athletic competitions hosted by a local surf & skate shop/teen-bop nightclub, and amid all the skateboards and surfing and sunbathing, nobody thinks to ask from where this heretofore unseen brother of Kirk has materialized. Anyone who thinks that the current crop of summer movies is as dumb as it gets need look only to the ‘60s and the vacuous beach-party genre. Show me a beach party movie with smarts, and I’ll show you an anomaly.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. The point of this genre isn’t to inspire deep thought but to provide a genially fluffy experience, one that can be either watched in mild amusement or ignored in favor of exploring the inside of your date’s mouth. Built on a mountain of bare flesh and tiny bathing suits, its brains baked to pudding by the relentless bronzing rays of the sun, It’s a Bikini World is no different. That said, it’s an innocent and fairly charming kind of dumb, a breed apart from the aggressive stupidity of today’s nine-figure FX extravaganzas. Plus, there’s a number of likable lip-synched musical performances (including The Animals performing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”) and an early funny role for Sid Haig as Daddy, the hairy hippie shopkeeper/entrepreneur who sponsors the competitions. A film like this is akin to a summer fling — designed to be enjoyed and forgotten, sweet and wispy like cotton candy, leaving nothing but vague memories come autumn.
Then again, if you’re more like me and prefer to beat the heat by thinking as cold as possible: Goon (2012, Michael Dowse)
Who knew a film that opens and closes with the image of a tooth falling onto bloody ice would be so good-natured? Goon, very loosely based on Doug Smith’s memoir of the same name, is a study in contrast. It tells the story of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a nice-guy meathead who just happens to have a talent for punching people out. He flexes this talent one night at a local hockey game after an irate player charges into the stands to take out his obnoxious friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel, also co-screenwriter), which catches the attention of the coach. Before you know it, Doug is plopped into the role of team enforcer, sent out to scrap with opposing players who’ve been playing it a bit too rough. It’s a film built around a basic contrast — geniality versus violence, with Doug representing the former and mustachioed Liev Schreiber standing for the unapologetic application of the latter. — and if it works at all, it works because of Scott’s great performance. His Doug is a sweet, slow guy with terrific control over his suppressed animalistic side, unleashing it dispassionately and without malice, as needed like one would use a hammer to pound in a nail. There’s nary a wink to the audience or any trace of the cocksure Stifler mannerisms that pop up in a lot of his other roles. It’s a genuinely disarming performance, a tricky bit of all-in acting that’s really the only way to make scenes like Doug apologizing to a teammate by going on about his “E.T. stomach light” work.
If the contrast between Doug’s nature and his job is what makes the film compelling, the myriad laughs emerge from the other great contrast in the film — that between Doug’s guilelessness and the rough-hewn vulgarity of his surrounding teammates and opponents. Goon is very much in the vein of Slap Shot, with its characters spinning out astonishingly creative profanity (example: “you Slavic-fucking borscht-blooded cabbage-headed motherfuckers!”) as a buffer against a cold and seedy world and a salve for the inevitability of failure. In this mileu, Doug’s dogged eagerness to please proves even more consistently amusing than it normally would have, and the vulgarity bouncing off the niceness of Doug only amplifies its effect. It can be summed up in a quick exchange where Doug asks a teammate where their star player is, the response being, “Probably givin’ some single mother herpes in a parking lot.” Doug’s response: “Oh, yeah, sure.” Mining honest laughs from sincerity takes real work, and thankfully the appealing Goon is up to the task.
The Netflix streaming library is vast and daunting and mostly filled with crap. Steve Carlson is the Netflix video clerk, and every week he hand-delivers three awesome movies you’ve never heard of before. He’s been writing about movies in one form or another on the Internet since 2002 and co-hosts the Bad Idea Podcast. Someone once called him the lonely Magellan of exploitation cinema. He thinks that’s the best compliment he’s ever received.