I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Robert Zemeckis)
In CdC #7 I reviewed Steven Spielberg’s 1941 and concluded that, instead of aging like a fine wine, the film had vinegared over the last two decades. However, before Spielberg directed the Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis-penned "comedy" he produced another Gale/Zemeckis collaboration, smaller and funnier I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
The film is, like 1941, an ensemble story. Set on the day that the Beatles played "The Ed Sullivan Show," the narrative centers on a group of six New Jersey teens that travel to The Big Apple. Nearly all of them some with their own agenda; be it Beatlemania (Wendi Jo Sperber), photo opportunity (Susan Kendall Newman), to protest the Beatles (Theresa Saldana), or to get laid (Bobby DiCicco). Meanwhile Marc McClure does so because he’s p-whipped and Nancy Allen just goes along for the ride. If that cast sounds kind of familiar it’s that along with Dick Miller (as a Police Sergeant) and the incomparable Eddie Deezen (as Richard "Ringo" Klaus, a deranged Beatle fanatic); the cast is remarkably similar to the core characters of 1941.
Wackiness abounds in this film and there isn’t any shortage of madcap lunacy. Once the group makes it to New York courtesy of McClure’s father’s limousine (his dad is a mortician), they divide and switch until all but Allen are coupled.
McClure tries his best to help Newman get photos of the Beatles. Sperber meets her Beatlemanical match in Deezen as the two match trivia wits while on their quest to meet the Fab Four. Saldana and DiCicco speak out about the new brand of rockSaldana in favor of opening people’s minds to folk music while DiCicco begrudges the Beatles’ ability to bed American girls.
The most dynamic of the group is Allen who plays Pam Mitchell, the frantic fiancé of Eddie (James Houghton). She’s being forced to grow up too fast and be overly responsible. Cutting loose and enjoying a Beatles song or two isn’t an option in her little world. Ironically, despite the scheming of Sperber and Newman, Allen’s character lucks into a trip into the Beatles’ hotel room where her world and her legs open up at the sight of Paul McCartney’s bass.
Witnessing a character’s sexual awakening while moaning and licking the long, hard neck of a guitar is not standard fare in light-hearted teen romps. Without a doubt, Allen’s character’s transformation is remarkable. The once-uptight teen sheds the chains of her pre-matrimonial oppression, announcing her triumph with screams of orgasmic delight at the sight of the group of crooning British youths.
Be sure to look for Kristine DeBell as "Cindy The Hooker." Perhaps I should make a point to watch all of DeBell’s film’s since she seems to have managed to make it into the pages of CdC more often lately than Quentin Tarantino (see CdC #5 for a review of Alice in Wonderland and CdC #6 for The Big Brawl).
The shooting of the Ed Sullivan performance is stunning. We see "the group" out of focus in the background while the real Beatles, courtesy of the actual footage, are shown on the camera monitors. It seems that even in his early days that Zemeckis was playing with the mixing of real footage in his films as he would do in Contact and Forrest Gump. However, here it was done with much more finesse and no cheesy bluescreen effects.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand moves with a pace as steady as a Pete Best drumbeat. We stay with characters long enough to get to know them but they never overstay their welcome. For everything that 1941 did wrong, this film had it right: brevity, likable characters, and genuine humor!
Not only is I Wanna Hold Your Hand a better film than 1941 but it’s also destined to be the superior predecessor to Detroit Rock City, another tale of teens attempting to get into their generation’s ultimate concert experience; KISS tearing it up at their Detroit Cobo Hall show.
I realize that Carl DuPre’s 6/28/98 draft of the script is bound to change because, despite the title page’s boasting "KISS in Detroit Rock City," the supergroup is nowhere to be seen. Yet, I know that they are appearing in the Adam Rifkin film; they’ll be shown interacting with the movie’s protagonists, no doubt.
Detroit Rock City is the ultra-cheesy tale of four burnouts from Rocky River, Ohio that make it their life’s work to attend the tour that would be recorded and released as the album "Kiss Alive II." Of course, all manner of obstacles face the protagonists from an overzealous school security guard to the main character’s self-righteous mother.
I’d go into more about the main characters but they, along with the rest of the script, are severely under-developed and not overly likeable. There’s Hawk (Eddie Furlong), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews), Trip (James De Bello), and Jam (Sam Huntington). The characters are completely interchangeable and Jam is a barely noteworthy hero.
The script is insulting, not just because it includes a scene where the aforementioned school security guard, Elvis, is stopped in his tracks with a barrage of ketchup from stomped upon packets and a priest is doped up with shrooms, but because it appears that DuPre knows diddly-squat about KISS. Sure, he tries to be clever by naming two of the female characters Christine and Beth (what, no Shandi?) but, otherwise, he doesn’t relate either a sense of knowledge or respect for the self-proclaimed "Greatest Band In The Land."
The story is one wacky misadventure after another. I never felt compelled to care about any of it. The crumb bum characters are not at all sympathetic and come off as a bunch of snot-nosed stoners. In contrast to Zemeckis’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Detroit Rock City is packed to the gills with kids even more unlikable than Bobby DiCicco’s hyper-libidinous grease ball. DuPre’s script lacks any irony in portraying these aspiring rock stars. Their band, Mystery, is supposed to be taken seriously but I’m sure they’re worse than Bill Preston and Ted Logan’s group Wyld Stallions.
I can only hope that subsequent rewrites will save this film because I know that KISS" lack of integrity will not. It’s a sad day when KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park’s kitschy tale of a mad scientist creating androids at an amusement part can be considered "high art" when comparing it to another KISS film.
If anything I would have made a sequel to KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. I can see it now...
The evil Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe) escaped Magic Mountain and set up shop at the now defunct Boblo Island amusement park, located just a few miles south of Detroit. As KISS gear up for their big ’97 reunion tour they have to reclaim the talismans which give them special powers before opening at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. They lost the talismans when they took off their make-up around the time of the "Creatures of the Night" album. In the twenty years since his defeat, Devereaux managed to collect the talismans from the Four Corners of the earth and has unlocked the secrets to their power, using them to build an army of new, ultra-powerful androids. KISS must journey to Boblo, fighting mechanical sharks before making it to shore where they discover that a few diehard fans have stowed away with them (thus giving the film an opportunity for scenes of KISS rescuing these normal folks as well as a chance for these characters to change and understand one anotherin fact, they might as well all be the leads from The Faculty or The Breakfast Club who, this time, have the common bond of being KISS fans).
After lots of karate and cheap special effects (KISS’ powers begin to return to them the closer they come to the talismans, no matter who possesses them), they square off against bulked-up replicas of Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent in a battle royale. This struggle takes them all the way from Boblo to downtown Detroit where, the spectacular destruction of these evil androids is thought to be the initial pyrotechnics display for the start of the concert.
Meanwhile, as KISS takes the stage right on time at Tiger Stadium, our young heroes confront Devereaux and have a third act fight with his android Barbershop quartet before capturing the mad genius and being helicoptered over to the show where they wait in the wings and watch the rock & roll festivities. Between encores KISS have their final words with Devereaux who is lead away in cuffs by a squad of Detroit’s finest, "I would have gotten away with it too, KISS, if it hadn’t been for those meddling legions of fans you have... that KISS Army."
Gene, Paul, Ace, and Pete retake the stage and begin a rousing rendition of "Detroit Rock City." The End. Now, that would have been a much better film. Heck, maybe Peter Criss would even provide his own voice for that one!