Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Meatballs — a very loosely associated series of stories centering on summer camps and the ribald and troublemaking antics of the camps’ young counselors. The franchise spans four theatrical films from 1979 to 1992.
The Installment: Meatballs III: Summer Job (1987)
We return to the Meatballs continuity – sort of – as Rudy (now played by Patrick Dempsey) embarks on a summer job. The job has nothing to do with Camp North Star, or any summer camp for that matter. Rudy accepts a gig working for Tripper (now played by no one) at Tripper’s marina/hang-out, only to discover when he arrives that Tripper sold the place to Mean Gene (George Buza). As Mean Gene’s name may imply, he is mean. He also keeps his main squeeze, the “Love Goddess” (Shannon Tweed), locked up in his apartment above the marina. Anyone who tries to touch her, gets beaten. Rudy really wants to touch her. Though he wants to touch any girl. For Rudy is determined to lose his virginity this summer. Not determined enough to just boink Wendy (Isabelle Mejias) who constantly throws herself at Rudy, but, you know, still pretty desperate. So desperate is Rudy’s situation that when pornstar Roxy Dujour (Sally Kellerman) dies, she decides to take on getting Rudy laid as the ‘good deed’ needed to earn her angel wings. But it turns out that even with angel powers, getting Rudy laid is hard work.
Meatballs 3‘s biggest mistake is actually trying to connect itself with Meatballs, which it fails to do quite spectacularly. But, on the bright side, so spectacular is this failure that the movie comes off as yet another stand-alone film in what has quickly turned into the Meatballs anthology. As a doofy and childish 80’s sex comedy, Meatballs 3 delivers at least enough on its premise to appeal to 12-year-old boys, who likely had to wait to catch the film on cable or VHS (which is probably why the franchise effectively died after this film). Sex is an ever-present topic – all-consuming one might say – and unlike the censored Meatballs 2, this film offers up the ‘boobies,’ if I’m getting that technical term correct. The film’s concept is a lot of fun too, as far as sex comedy premises are concerned.
This film has an oddly appealing cast. Patrick Dempsey’s Rudy is absolutely nothing like Chris Makepeace’s Rudy, but he is appealing for this sort of archetypical horny-dork. Dempsey was a lucky acquisition for the filmmakers, as his amiable and endearing qualities are mostly what prevents the film from derailing into worrisome perviness. The character of Rudy actually isn’t very likable, but Dempsey is. He smooths over a lot of the questionable aspects of his character and story. Ditto for Sally Kellerman, who gives Roxy Dujour all the juice she’s got, waltzing though her scenes as though this were a much more respectable film. Whether this was no-job-is-too-small professionalism or simply her misjudgment of the film’s quality, who knows, but Kellerman elevates the film whenever she shows up. Her scene at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter (a wonderful little turn by Al Waxman) is probably the best written/acted scene in the film, with the funny idea that because Roxy works in the ‘movies,’ she sees heaven as a movie studio — her good deed required in order for God to cast her in his ‘project.’ And I liked the reversal at the end of the film that Roxy – who had previously been visible only to Rudy – has shifted from helping Rudy bone some random chick to helping Wendy bone Rudy, and is now visible only to Wendy.
In fact, though the teen cast is stocked full forgettable nobodies, the adult cast is oddly good for a film like this. George Buza is fun as Mean Gene, a character so aggressive he routinely takes pleasure cruises around the lake destroying his own customers’ boats/enjoyment. The late-great Maury Chaykin is cast wildly, but delightfully, against type at the tough-guy leader of a surly jet ski gang. And Shannon Tweed is probably the smartest choice of them all, considering the demographic this movie is meant to appeal to. Aside from being impossibly gorgeous, Tweed is surprisingly charming and natural (for an ex-Playboy Playmate). I think the movie would have been substantially better if Tweed had more screen time.
Really, the best thing about Meatballs 3 is the classic Drew Struzan artwork for the film’s poster.
What Doesn’t Work:
While Meatballs 3 may satisfy as a harmless and boyishly naughty late-night TV option (especially for sex-starved adolescents), it isn’t a great film. And it most certainly has no business in the Meatballs franchise. Watching this film begs a fairly relevant question at this point in the series…
What exactly is the Meatballs franchise?
I would imagine anyone who sat through the first two films may, with good reason, say — summer camp. Meatballs 3 has no summer camp. Or anything like a summer camp. We’re still on a lake, but water activities played a pretty miniscule role in the previous two films. Point being, doing a sequel involving a lake-less summer camp would be far less of a conceptual shift than doing a sequel involving a summer-camp-less lake. Without campers and CITs, none of the conventions established by the first two films are possible here. I think it is safe to say that Meatballs 3 did not start its life titled Meatballs 3. But without a summer camp there was really no way to pass this off as a Meatballs sequel. Which is undoubtedly why the filmmakers renamed Dempsey’s character Rudy. Now we can take the film anywhere, because we’re expanding upon the mythology of the Meatballs world! The further adventures of Rudy!
The problem here is that absolutely no attempts were made to connect this script with Meatballs aside from naming the lead role “Rudy” and cruelly teasing the audience with memories of Bill Murray. Obviously Murray was not going to appear in this film. But neither did Chris Makepeace. So why follow a new actor playing Rudy and not a new actor playing Tripper too? That is a rhetorical question. It didn’t happen because there wasn’t already a character in the script anything like Tripper, I’m sure. Herein lies my problem. The lack of franchise effort here is almost offensive. How lazy was the Meatballs-ing rewrite on this script? We have two important female characters once again named Roxanne and Wendy, neither of which are meant to be the same characters from the first film, nor are they even references or homages. I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers didn’t even realize they had repeated two names. Rudy also doesn’t seem as old as Chris Makepeace would be in 1987. And it’s odd that the scene with his mother at the beginning of the film isn’t instead a scene with his father, meant to echo what we remember about the character from Meatballs. Hell, I had sort of assumed Rudy’s mother may have passed away based on the somber tone of the father/son scene that originally introduced Rudy.
None of those examples have any bearing on the film itself, as a stand-alone story, but this isn’t a stand-alone story. It is the further adventures of Rudy and to a lesser extent, Tripper. When Rudy arrives he discovers a note from Tripper informing him that, apparently, between the time that Tripper told Rudy to come work for him, Tripper sold the place and moved, without trying to touch base with Rudy. This is some of the laziest writing I’ve ever seen trying to accomplish necessary exposition about the absence of a relevant character. I don’t believe that Tripper would do such a thing to Rudy, or sell his property to a man like Mean Gene. And why did Tripper bail on Rudy? To go chase his “dream” in the world of female mud wrestling. In Toledo. Lame.
Whereas Meatballs was a movie very much still rooted in the naturalistic style and waning counter-culture attitude of the 70’s, Meatballs 3 is a post-Porky’s 80’s party film. All franchises change to reflect the times in which they were made, so this humor evolution isn’t a critique itself (it’s not like Meatballs was a classy comedy or anything), but in conjunction with the film’s story it only further draws a distinct line separating this film from the existing franchise. The first film gave you what seemed like a very plausible representation of summer camp — it was full of small details and humor that grew from these details and reality. Meatballs 3 is not concerned with establishing a lived-in world for Mean Gene’s marina. Our location could have been an arcade or bowling alley just as easily, and no aspect of the story would have been affected. Because the setting is irrelevant now, where once it was everything. Meatballs had no story. Now that’s all we have. To put it simply, what I had liked about the first film, and even still liked about the inferior second film, is now gone.
This is a silly movie, so taking it to task for story elements is a little pointless, but Meatballs 3 started to drive me nuts with how it treated Rudy’s attempts to get laid and Roxy’s attempts to help him. First off: rom-coms have a long history of protagonists over-looking a supposedly platonic friend who secretly has a crush on them. It is a staple. But the convention really only works when our protagonist’s goal is a relationship. In Meatballs 3 Rudy’s entire goal is to get laid. Wendy is literally throwing herself at him the entire movie. They even watch a porno and drink beer together, and Rudy still rebuffs her. The only way Wendy even successfully lures Rudy into her house is with food. Now, it would have been totally implausible for Rudy to not realize Wendy wants to fuck him, but hey, this is a silly comedy and silly comedies are generally based on unnaturally clueless characters. But Rudy is fully aware of Wendy’s desires. He tells her, “Maybe if you played with your hair a bit, fixed up your make-up.” So poor Wendy spends the whole film trying to get Rudy’s attention, while he desperately tries to fuck anyone other than her. Then, to add insult to injury on Wendy’s part, she doesn’t even get the standard pay-off to this rom-com convention — which is Rudy realizing he’s loved Wendy all along. Remember how in Teen Wolf Michael J. Fox turns down the hot bitchy blonde he had been vying for the whole movie in order to get with his old friend Boof? That’s the pay-off! Rudy fails to get laid. He doesn’t realize anything about Wendy, so much as he is broken down by his countless failures and left with nothing else. He settles for her. Then we don’t even get a sex scene!
But whatever. I could have easily tolerated that – I might not even have mentioned it – if Rudy’s quest for poon weren’t so terribly constructed. Meatballs 3 has a simple story that should unfold simply as well. But instead of using natural moments or clever farce, the writers utilize what I like to call “The Batman Toughness Irregularity.” In comics/cartoons, Batman can take out entire rooms of thugs and thrown-down with super-powered villains, but every now and then, when the plot requires it, some random idiot can incapacitate Batman with incredible ease. But the BTI is really referring to a lax plot device where circumstances suddenly change for a brief moment because the writers couldn’t think of another way to get what they wanted. In Meatballs 3, at the end of Act I, Rudy’s goal and Roxy’s goal are cleanly established. Rudy wants to have sex. Roxy wants to help Rudy have sex. Gotcha. I remember being a virgin. I’m on board. Cute set up. Then when Roxy, using her powers to make it seem like Rudy can fist-fight, orchestrates a sure-thing sex opportunity between Rudy and the hot blonde he had initially been pining for — he blows it! And not farcically either. He doesn’t prematurely ejaculate, get nervous, or bungle it some other humorous way, or even get foiled by outside forces. He just turns her down. Why? “I want someone who likes me for me.” “She practically raped me!” So… wait… um, bullshit? Since when did Rudy care about that? He never said that before? And that was the exact chick he wanted! And now the existence of Wendy becomes a real problem, if Rudy suddenly wants feelings involved.
Further more, Roxy’s own objective fluctuates. Ignoring the wince-inducingly dated nature of Roxy’s courting catchphrase “no means yes,” we initially sympathize with her when Rudy blows it with the aforementioned blonde. What’s Rudy’s fucking problem? But Rudy doesn’t actually have a problem. It was just a BTI. Rudy immediately goes back to wanting to fuck anyone. But then, for no reason, Roxy foils Rudy’s next sexy-times moment. Is this cause she realized, even if Rudy doesn’t anymore, that Rudy should care about feelings? Nope, because the girl she foils is a very nice-seeming virgin. Just like Rudy! It actually seemed like the ideal situation. And then scenes later, Roxy is right back where she was before, attempting to help Rudy fuck a super stacked bimbo in another scene. The filmmakers wanted all these moments, and didn’t want Rudy to succeed, but didn’t want to figure out how to accomplish what they wanted organically. So our characters just keep flip-flopping their attitudes.
I think the character of Wendy was a miscalculation. Her presence just makes Rudy seem shallow and, worse, pathetic and mean. All he does is fuck up with girls the whole movie, but rarely because of bad luck. I didn’t really feel like he deserved to get laid, which I guess at least gave me some satisfaction when he is forced to settle on Wendy. But I also just felt bad for Wendy.
Breasts Exposed: 6 (or rather 12) plus 2 wet T-shirt contestants.
Most Shameless T&A: The four girls who simultaneously get their tops pulled off.
Best Line: Rudy and Wendy watching TV.
TV Newscaster: The 11 O’Clock News has just learned that porn film star, Roxanne Dujour, died today on the set of her recent film, E.A.T. Me 2. According to reliable sources, her last words were, Oh God! Oh My! Oh Yes! Oh Yes, Yes! Oh My God, Yes Yes! Oh, Oh, Oh! Yes!
Best Prank: Not applicable.
Best Stickin’ It To The Man/Jerks Moment: I guess when Roxy uses her powers one last time to destroy Mean Gene’s marina sign.
Most Awkward Moment of Sexuality: The scene in which Roxy, having turned herself invisible, tries to have a conversation with Rudy in the boys bathroom — and the other men in the bathroom start to think they’re all talking about each others’ dicks and get into a homophobic brawl.
Should There Be a Sequel: No, please stop. Clearly no one is steering this ship.
Up Next: Meatballs 4.