Times Square (Alan Moyle, 1980)
Times Square was Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood’s attempt to cash in on the seventies punk scene. Reportedly a very troubled production with rewrites and re-cuts all the way down the line, it was a critical and commercial bust. Yet, it has a surprising amount of heart beneath its cynical, pimply exterior.
The movie is set, fittingly enough, in New York City, where Pammy (Trini Alvarado), the daughter of a local politician, jots down her ultra-dramatic teen angst musings and sends them to late-night disc jockey Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), who reads them on the air. Pammy suffers from off-screen seizures, diagnosed by her father as “mysterious teenage stress syndrome,” and is sent to the hospital for tests. There she falls under the spell of her roommate, street kid Nikki Barada (Robin Johnson) an irrepressible free spirit (or obnoxious freak, depending on how you look at it). Nikki swears at the doctors, and plays “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones over and over again on her boom box!
Suitably inspired, the pair steals an ambulance, move into an abandoned seaside warehouse, and, with LaGuardia’s encouragement, start their own punk band/performance art project/terrorist group called The Sleaze Sisters. Their big projects include dropping TVs off skyscrapers and performing tunes like “Damn Dog” and “Your Daughter is One.” A media firestorm whips up around them, even as the authorities (led by Pammy’s dad) try to track them down. Can Nikki hang onto her sanity long enough for the big concert in the streets of Times Square?
As he proved with his later movies Pump Up The Volume and Empire Records, director Alan Moyle treats teen angst as a matter of life or death, just as teens do. The posturing gets a little irritating at times, but before you hold that against Times Square, try to remember how self-absorbed and self-righteous you were at fifteen. Though Moyle can nail the ugly truth about teens, it’s his depiction of the movie’s central location that comes off as the perverse lie. Two teenage girls struggling to live on the streets of Times Square sounds like a grim proposition for a movie, but this one takes place in a Times Square that never existed, neither before nor after Rudy Guliani’s “clean-up.” There are lots of big empty warehouses to crash in, cool stuff in the dumpsters, and the streets are violence free. Worst of all is a truly sick subplot where the barely teenage Pammy applies for a job dancing in a strip club. One catch though: she refuses to dance topless. When she lets the owner know this, he thinks it over and then says, “I like that! Class. Respect. Good for the club. Good for business.” So Pammy goes to work, staying fully clothed and winning over the drunken patrons with that irrepressible free spirit that Times Square oozes from every frame.
That aside, the movie works thanks to Moyle’s empathy for the main characters and the performances of Trini Alvarado and Robin Johnson. You really care about these kids by the end, and considering how grating Nikki was early on, that’s saying something. After the first couple of scenes with her, I was hoping the doctor would prescribe shock treatments…painful ones.
Cruel Intentions 2 (Roger Kumble, 2000)
The next time you create a TV show that’s cancelled before it even airs, do what Roger Kumble did: go back and shoot some nude scenes and release it as a straight-to-cable sex flick.
Kumble’s TV show “Manchester Prep” was a spin-off of his directorial debut, Cruel Intentions, a teenybopper version of Dangerous Liaisons that’s one of the better movies of the late-nineties teen boom. The show, intended for Fox, ran into the usual creative differences with the brass, and it didn’t help Kumble’s cause when “Entertainment Tonight” ran a clip from the upcoming show with a cute blonde teen on a horse, grinding into the saddle until she climaxes (the girl, not the horse). I wasn’t too surprised to hear that “Manchester Prep” was never going to air, but I was surprised to check the TV listings late one night and see that something called Cruel Intentions 2 was coming on Cinemax in twenty minutes.
A prequel to Cruel Intentions (from which it borrows lots of scenes and lines of dialogue), Cruel Intentions 2 traces the twisted relationship between rich teenage troublemaker Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe in the original, Robin Dunne here) and his sexy, evil stepsister Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar last time, now it’s Amy Adams, the horny cheerleader from Drop Dead Gorgeous) at the ritzy Manchester Preparatory School, where Kathryn rules with her secret tribunal. Sebastian’s basically a good kid, playing poker with the servants and shit like that, and he tries to fight off Kathryn’s attempts to “seduce and destroy” him while he woos the headmaster’s pretty daughter, Danielle (Sarah Thompson). Kathryn’s school project is to destroy the reputation of the virginal “teletubbie” Cherie, who accidentally spit bubble gum into Kathryn’s hair during a school assembly. Keri Lynn Pratt plays the hilariously stupid Cherie, and it’s a fearless performance (How fearless? She was the girl on the horse). Other subplots detail Sebastian’s father’s infidelity and Kathryn’s attempt to blackmail a nerdy teacher with whom she just had an affair.
Kumble’s efforts to get his repackaged TV show an R-rating are pretty funny, consisting mostly of dubbed-in cursing from off-screen characters, but there is one lengthy sequence where, as part of her seduction campaign, Kathryn surprises Sebastian in the shower with a pair of naked twin seductresses. These two come on to Sebastian for several minutes… without ever appearing in the same shot with him! The footage of Sebastian was obviously shot for the tamer TV version with the twins spliced in for the racier cut.
Since this was intended as an ongoing teen soap in the Dawson’s Creek tradition (a lot of scenes play like a campy parody of that whole genre), Cruel Intentions 2 feels like the set-up for a bunch of storylines that were intended to play out over several episodes. Fine for a series, but how do you tie things up at the end to make this a stand-alone film? Call Cruel Intentions 2’s wrap-up nonsensical or arbitrary, but it’s still amazing to watch Kumble hit the self-destruct button in the final two scenes and wipe out the entire project in one shocking, mean-spirited blast.