Once again it’s time to dust off the Time Machine, wake Takashi from his hangover and strap ourselves in as we make popcorn, open a beer and hurl back in time to the magical land of cocaine and hideous fashion (leg warmers? Oh, wait, they’re back. AHHHHHHH! See what tampering with the cosmos gets you?) – THE EIGHTIES and…
………. Ta Da……………
REAL MEN, written and directed by Dennis Feldman, descended upon humanity in the cold and bleak 1980s. I first saw it around that time, maybe a year or two later when it hit video, putting me somewhere around a whopping 12 or so years old and for some strange reason it made a pretty good impression on me. Maybe it was the fact that, although I was too young and inexperienced to know it yet, James Belushi was essentially doing his version of Bill Murray, whom I’ve always loved. Or maybe it was the humorous associations I still had with John Ritter after a childhood spent watching Three’s Company. Whatever the reasons, what definitely did help is that distance created warm memories of the flick, although my pursuit to rewatch it was pushed away by all the other cinematic goodies I’ve found over the years: the daisy-chaining of this actor’s projects and that director’s films. Additionally, the two leads in Real Men never really did too much more after the end of the 80s. Sure, Belushi did K-9 (but let’s not talk about judy, eh?), and Ritter did, well, I’m not really all that sure what he did in the 90s (except for a bit as a robot date in Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but the point is – this pairing for a budget like this (they blow up everything they possibly can in order to appeal to the 80s action market*) was a one-time fluke. However, all that aside, the result is 80s movie gold.
Real Men is not laugh-out-loud hysterical. Shit, maybe it’s simply nostalgia combined with waiting 20+ years to see it again that have built it up in my mind. But I’m sure we all know how that goes – remember the first time you went back and saw the old He-Man cartoon? Doesn’t live up to your memories, does it? What about Fright Night? Not quite as scary now that you’ve grown up, is it**? However, after ordering this flick off eBay recently and finally rewatching it I must say, it lived up.
Sure, no doubt some of you will say, “Okay, ya rip on Tropic Thunder and Zohan, but you liked this?”
Yeah, I did.
Even bad comedies in the 80s, at least for the most part, from my experience, still have something amusing about them. Part of this I believe is because as jaded a time as the 80s was, there was still a kind of innocence in society in a broad and entertainment-only way. This meant that the scene in Real Men in which James Belushi is strapped to a torture rack in a dominatrix’s dungeon was funny even if it wasn’t hilarious simply because S&M hadn’t been pulled into the colloquial and accepted yet – it was still outside the norm. Now, a scene like this wouldn’t even stand out from the pack.
Torture rack- schmorture rack.
There’s a reason why movies like this worked on slightly bloated and banal attempts at being funny, getting eyebrow-raising laughs they certainly wouldn’t get if they were painted with that new movie sheen of modernity. I don’t really know what those reasons are, I’m not the wizard, but it seems certain that it has to do with the fake and street-level general good nature still slightly rampant in the Reagan years – not good nature really, more like not everyone’s skeletons were out of the closet yet. Although fake, this “I’m okay, you’re okay” attitude acted as a cultural seal to keep out the stresses of the era – money woes, nuclear tension and an overzealous media that made every street seem like it harbored a switchblade-wielding Satanist crackhead looking to make off with your wallet, your children and your Buick.
Whatever, I’m rambling. So Real Men follows Ritter, who is a meek suburban family man who can’t stand up to the bullies that pick on his son or tell the milk man to leave his wife alone. It just so happens he is a dead ringer for a secret government agent who died while attempting to make a bargain with intergalactic aliens who have agreed to give Earth either ‘The good package’ or ‘The Big Gun’ in exchange for, yep you guessed it, a glass of water. Belushi is the best agent the Feds have got to go in and pluck Ritter from his sheltered suburban life and get him cross country by the end of the week to play stand-in for said dead agent. All of this against a secret faction of the agency who really want ‘The Big Gun’. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Ha!
This is a sloppy summary, but all one really needs to know about the set-up of a good 80s comedy is that nothing ever works quite as it should and every manner of oddity will arise (clown agents, S&M librarians, intergalactic pens, etc.).
Maybe I am nuts, or maybe I’m just biased because I’ve waited so long to see this one again. I don’t know, but I feel justified in recommending this flick to others, if maybe only others who grew up during the 80s. It’s definitely true that the dated quality of a lot of films from this time make them inpenetrable to anyone whose first movie experience correlates approximately to around the time Affleck came on the scene, so with that as a warning, I say try it for yourself.
Anyone else have a cheer or jeer for this one?
* that was all you needed to appeal to a large percentage of the 80’s moviegoer – explosions galore! Oh, and tits.
** obviously my examples here are steeped in my own experience. Yet I don’t want my point to become mired in my examples. If you came of age in the 80s, you will no doubt relate directly to this. However, the logic behind the examples holds true across the board. Teenagers I work with now tell me how they look back at those evenings sneaking out to watch Final Destination and laugh or how American Pie only seemed funny when it was viewed through the lens of a pre-pubescent naivete.