Movie: One Crazy Summer (1986)

Savage Steve Holland.  No air quotes around “Savage”.  That is how the director of 1986’s One Crazy Summer is billed.  This sounds like somebody who might be a pro wrestler, but he doesn’t look like one.  Still, I can imagine him being a fan of that, as this movie has a similar kind of manic energy.

That feeling begins from the opening sequence, an animated bit that is visually reminiscent of Robert Crumb.  In this sequence, a lovelorn rhino is tormented by cute and fuzzy bunnies which he ends up mowing down with a machine gun. 

Turns out John Cusack is animating this scene and he abandons it, tossing the crumpled paper toward a hoop over a trash can.  He misses completely. The floor is obscured by all the papers from previous attempts, but there’s not a single paper in the can itself.  And yet his nickname is Hoops.  This makes for what will be a good recurring gag.

Joel Murray is his best friend, and we will next see them together at their high school graduation commencement.  Murray somehow made it through school despite not recognizing his own last name on his diploma.  Then again, the town they reside in appears to be named Generic, so they graduated from Generic High School, which I’m going to guess is probably as bad of an educational institution as anything we have nowadays. 

Cusack is invited by Murray to summer with his family on Nantucket.  On the way there, they inadvertently pick up Demi Moore.  In the moment Cusack first encounters her, she has just failed to steal a large amount of money from a biker gang.  And yet Cusack immediately takes a liking to her because she’s a young Demi Moore.

Among the first people we meet on the island are brothers played by Bobcat Goldthwait and Tom Villard.  Although Goldthwait has since become a respected director, I have always found his comedy shtick wearing.  So I was surprised by how funny he is in most of this.  I assume he was given broad range to improvise and some of the biggest laughs come from him doing things like interacting with the various props in the truck being used for filming a Jaws rip-off there. 

Goldthwait will end up stuck in a Godzilla suit inexplicably found in that truck, and this results in the single funniest moment in the film.  What is great about this gag is how several different pieces are put into place in advance and yet I didn’t see how these various elements were eventually going to converge.

The other characters are largely stereotypes: rich young bully, his equally bullying father, young bully’s blond girlfriend.  These and many other characters are mostly played very straight, as if they are making the kind of slobs vs snobs movie this largely seems to be parodying. 

And if I had one complaint against the picture, it is that seems to both want to push the humor into farce while also being typical teen summer fare.  I was in no way surprised the final third is a sailing regatta which Cusack and his motley crew of friends races in.  No bets will be taken on the outcome of the race.  Yet, at the same time, it has a joke where two young girls get slapped on the back while pulling faces, so they end up permanently looking like something out of the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder”.

I don’t know who I would recommend One Crazy Summer to, even among the people I know best.  Humor is so subjective, and I can’t explain why I laughed at any of the things I did.  At the same, nearly half of the material fell flat for me, and I wouldn’t be able to say that didn’t work.  Though nowhere near as good as Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure or Cabin Boy, it has the same sort of manic energy and let’s-try-everything-and-see-what-works spirit as those features. 

Dir: Savage Steve Holland

Starring John Cusack, Demi Moore, Joel Murray, Bobcat Goldthwait

Watched on Warner Archive blu-ray