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The Nostalgic Attic: Spring Break (1983)

1 May 2014

Spring Break (1983)


"Beer is like... fucking great, you know?"


Sean S. Cunningham was never highly regarded as a director, despite having a few hits under his belt. Maybe it was the 'follow the money' approach he took to projects that put people off, what with following up his producer duties on Last House on the Left with a string of cash in hits on bigger, and in many ways, better films. Here Come the Tigers was his Bad News Bears. Friday the 13th was his Halloween. And the thing is, the man made no bones about it; he was in it to make hits. And what's wrong with that? Spring Break was his cash grab at the teen sex comedy, which had become a huge money maker for studios in the wake of Animal House and Porkys.


Arriving in Fort Lauderdale for spring break, nerdy buddies Nelson (David Knell; Splash, Turner & Hooch) and Adam (Perry Lang; Alligator, Jocks) find the streets jammed with hot bodies in bikinis and the beer flowing freely all around them. Unfortunately, their hotel room has been double booked with two rowdy studs from Brooklyn; Stu (Paul Land; Wild Orchid) and OT (Steve Bassett). Reluctantly, Nelson and Adam agree to let the wild chaps stay in their room, and the partying begins.


The guys hit the town, with Stu and OT showing their shy new friends how to live it up and catch the ladies. In between all the partyingNelson's step father shows up in Florida, on his political campaign tour. He has plans to shut down the hotel the four new friends are staying in, and when he discovers Nelson is in town partying, he threatens to cut him off financially. His friends decide to distract him with beer and wet t-shirt competitions, to great success. He meets Susie (Jayne Modean; House II) and falls in love instantly. Unlucky for him, he's too drunk when he goes out to get a coke from her hotel, and can't find her again. Will the guys stop the hotel from being shut down? Will Nelson find the girl of his dreams again among all the partying teens? Whatever happens, it's going to be a wild weekend on Spring Break...

Like many films in this genre, the plot really does come second to the scenes of partying, girls and loosely connected gags. It rarely takes itself seriously, and if it does, it's only briefly. The running time consists of Belly flop contests, beer guzzling, cruising the strip, beer swilling, wet t-shirt contests, beer spilling, trying to bed ladies... and much of it is in the music/montage style. The guys get hangovers, discuss boners, get into fights, bag the lead singers in bands, get it on with two wet t-shirt winners and soak a villainous stepfather in beer. And you know what? The film is great fun. The jokes are funny for the most part, ("Nelson, those are ''Playboy'' tits. I haven't seen ''Playboy'' tits anywhere except ''Playboy''and the biggest surprise of all; the characters are actually likable. I thought the plot was going to go along the lines of Stu and OT being jerk rivals to the two nerds, but it goes in the opposite direction, which was refreshing. You actually get the feeling that these guys are having a blast together, and even if the performances aren't stellar, they do the job and everyone feels natural.


The four leads do just fine for the most part, even if none of them are particularly strong. The many ladies who appear seem to have been cast for their bodies/nudity, but it's all a bit of fun and it never gets particularly sleazy. You almost feel that the film might go beyond the genre constraints in the same way the likes of The Last American Virgin does, especially in the latter half with Nelson and Susie's romance, but things never get too heavy. Instead we get a more typical 'anarchy versus the establishment' fist pumping ending, which is fine, but fairly obvious. I guess Cunningham didn't want to break from the 'tried and tested' formula, which is a pity, as I think the film would have been able to stand to it.

Cunningham does a fine job directing here and manages to keep the wild cast in control, getting reasonable performances from even the smaller cast members. The jokes and one-liners are well timed, and the pacing is fine. The soundtrack helps with keeping things ticking along, and includes some memorable tracks from the likes of Cheap Trick (who did the title track), Hot Date and Dave Edmunds. Fans of 80's arcade games will enjoy the plentiful shots of a Galaga cabinet (it's how Nelson and Susie meet), complete with game play footage. It's apparent that the filmmakers never played the game before ("Use your shield!") but I can't remember too many films from that decade where they ever really got it right.


If you don't like teen/college comedies, then Spring Break isn't going to change your mind. But if you fancy a fun slice of mid-80's nonsense, then you really can't go wrong here. It has plenty of charm, music, laughs and boobs, and sometimes, that's all you need for a Friday night video rental. It also has an iconic VHS cover that screams, 'rent me'. Recommended.


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4 Comments:

At 1 May 2014 at 15:34 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I've been working on commenting chronologically but I have to jump ahead to this post. I love this movie! Along with Friday the 13th, it's my favorite Sean Cunningham movie. I saw it in the theater with a pal and we both had a great time. The scene where Nelson forgets the hotel room number is an unheralded gem, so real and devastatingly sad - the sure thing lost. Excellent post!

 
At 2 May 2014 at 00:45 , Blogger Wes M said...

Excellent stuff John. I was never a fan of these movies when I was a kid, the idea of going to parties with girls was like going into space. I think that’s why I liked Black Flag, cos I used to love Henry Rollins railing against jocks getting stupidly drunk and stuff. But 20 years later, I’m finally starting to dig these movies, and this is one I’d like to see, from the review it sounds like a laugh… By the way, have you seen Harmony Korine’s 2013 film Spring Breakers ? It’s starts out like a typical high school movie, and for the first 40mins or so you feel like you’re watching a Vodafone ad but then James Franco comes into the film and it shoots off on its own weird trajectory, as if Faster Pussycat Kill Kill was spliced with Enter the Void.

 
At 2 May 2014 at 01:28 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks! This is easily neck-in-neck with Friday the 13th for me, it's such good fun. Forgetting the hotel room is a great moment, it was around this point I thought it might move into a much more thoughtful realm, but they played it well without making it mawkish. The two characters were quite lovable, and you really wanted to see them get together.

 
At 2 May 2014 at 01:31 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Yeah, I think I was the same, Wes, the jock stuff was something I personally detested, and still do, I guess. What makes this one work so well is that the characters are essentially nice guys, havng their first exploration of the opposite sex. You are always on their side, and none of the teen characters are portrayed as anything but youngsters having fun. Sure, it isn't very honest, but they weren't making a statement with this one. Check it out if you can.

Incidentally, I only marked Spring Breakers on SKY last night, so will get to it over the weekend! Been hearing great things about it for a while, some of my friends really never shut up about it...Will let you know my thoughts on it.

 

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