Sunday, June 13, 2010

[Film Review] Get Crazy

A human-sized, sentient marijuana joint. A villain who names a mouse after his enemies and then feeds it to his pet snake. A talking penis. Lou Reed playing the role of Bob Dylan. An alien drug dealer whose wares have supernatural properties. A Henry Rollins/Iggy Pop analogue who's impervious to bullets. A men's bathroom so flooded that a shark patrols its waters. What do all these have to do with the attempts of the plucky backstage crew of the Saturn Theater to put on the best damn New Year's Eve show that the venue has ever seen, and at the same time save it from a grasping industrialist who wants to tear it down to make way for office space? I can't come up with a coherent answer to that, but the sting of admitting my lack of insight is salved by the fact that the people who made Get Crazy probably can't, either.

I'm not sure when "spunky kids need to raise money to save their favorite place from corporate evil" first became codified in the Hollywood storytelling book, though I recall first seeing it in the mid-80s. But from the easygoing way that the cast of Get Crazy launches themselves into it, as if they only need to semaphore its high points for the audience to understand where the story is going to go, I can't help but suspect that this particular plot had already been institutionalized by 1983, the year it was released. This bare nod towards narrative structure works entirely in the movie's favor, since this is a pure species of rock and roll film, in which plot exists only as a vehicle for hijinks. And the hijinks here come thick and fast.

The scriptwriting and production process for this movie were obviously loads of fun. The amount of positivity in the room at any given time couldn't have been any less than stratospheric, since it's pretty clear that every time someone came up with an idea, any idea at all, the rest of the room didn't just agree to it but instead high-fived each other, did a little dance, and chopped off another line of blow on the mirror. The results of this unrestrained enthusiasm are as hit-and-miss as you'd expect. There are some genuinely funny lines of dialogue, but these are invariably followed up by clumsy attempts at slapstick which, even if they might've been funny way back when, haven't aged well in the post-America's Funniest Home Videos era.

The rules of the world here are straight out of Chuck Jones, so that characters who get blown up, run over by motorcycles, or pushed out of airplanes suffer no more than wardrobe damage and liberal applications of makeup. This fits in well with the general tone of the movie, which embraces its wacky surreality so ardently that it's impossible not to get carried along, even when that same bigger-louder-goofier aesthetic reaches groan-inducing levels of camp. It's obvious that the exuberance of the producers was shared completely by the cast, who are fearless here in their pursuit of Real Ultimate Kooky.

Nowhere is that more pronounced than in the long-striding, codpieced figure of Malcolm McDowell, who triumphantly steals every second of every scene that he's in. He plays Reggie Wanker, a kind of Platonic ideal of rock stardom. Weirdly, he's the only character who really goes through any kind of personal arc, moving from jaded to despondent to re-invested in his craft. There isn't much of any reason given for the first change, as once again the audience is supposed to be familiar enough with this kind of story that Get Crazy assumes that everyone will be able to fill in the blanks, but the last leg of Wanker's personal journey comes courtesy of the magical drugs of Electric Larry, an alien who looks like he's just stepped into the Saturn Theater while on a break from doing some intergalactic bounty hunting in any number of nameless '80s horror movies. Contrary to his appearance, he turns out to be one of the good guys, whose amazing extraterrestrial substances are capable of solving any difficulty.

Get Crazy sports a refreshingly pro-drug message of the kind that's very rare in film. Usually films deploy drug use as a shorthand way of letting its audience know that a given character is at least somewhat of a scumbag, even if the movie isn't an anti-drug platform along the lines of Requiem For a Dream. Here, in contrast, virtually every major obstacle that arises in the path of the Saturn's crew is solved by the timely application of one chemical or another, be that super-speed to get the sets for the show designed in record time, super-LSD to get the villain's spy to chill out enough that he switches teams to side with the good guys, or super-cocaine to get the many many members of the band Nada to keep themselves from self-destructing in boredom.

I caught a screening of Get Crazy at our local Sub Rosa Drive-In, where one of the organizers explained that the movie is out of print due to its sound masters being lost. As a result, it may take a bit of effort to track down a copy for viewing, given that it's never been released on DVD. Whether or not it's worth it for you to embark on such an endeavor should be obvious from what you've read here - there aren't a lot of surprises in Get Crazy, but on the upside it completely fulfills its own mission and certainly does what it says on the tin.


  1. I love this movie. I even like it a little more than Rock N Roll High School. Also, it's funny how Lou Reed is so himself in this movie that he becomes a passive caricuture of sorts. He seems to be just sitting in front of the camera being himself, but it comes across (to me anyway) as a funny parody of Lou Reed. Maybe he's just an actor of great subtlety.

  2. I was having a hard time coming up with a way to parse this movie for the review, so I did a bit of research. When I read that McDowell would only agree to do the movie if he was allowed to sing all his own songs, it clicked for me somehow...

    It's a shame that this movie can't have a DVD release, as I think it would have a pretty strong cult following if it were more easily accessible.

    And I thought that Reed was doing a parody of Dylan, myself.