Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Even relatively early into his career, Sylvester Stallone was willing to experiment and stretch. By 1984, he had made three “Rocky” films and the first “Rambo” movie. He was well established as a guy who hit people on camera. For his follow up, what projects did he choose? A strictly behind the camera gig on “Staying Alive,” the camp-tastic sequel to “Saturday Night Fever,” and “Rhinestone,” a country and western musical co-starring Dolly Parton. “Rhinestone” is one of the movies that even Stallone is ashamed of doing. The Razzies named it one of the worst films of all time. But the Razzies guys are idiots. Though “Rhinestone” is frequently a surreal experience, it’s not nearly as bad as you’ve heard.

The misleading named Jake Farris is a beautiful country and western starlet. Unfortunately for her, she’s stuck in a New York rhinestone club after signing a contrast with the club’s incredibly sleazy owner. After an especially disastrous night, she strikes a deal with the guy: If she can turn anyone into a successful country act, he’ll let her out of the contract. If she can’t, not only will she have to re-up the contrast, she’ll also have to sleep with him. That “anyone” turns out to be Nick, an eccentric New York cab driver who lives with his parents in a funeral home. Nick agrees to the deal on a whim, travels with Nick to her Tennessee home town, and is taught the ways of country singing. Shockingly, he starts to like the music. Soon enough, he starts to like Jake too.

So let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Sylvester Stallone sings in this movie. He wears cowboy hats and boots. He gyrates around in ridiculous, rhinestone-covered jumpsuits. He even rides a horse at one point! Yes, Stallone occasionally punches some people too. But the singing… How bad is it exactly? It’s not good, to put it gingerly. Stallone begins the movie incoherently yelling through songs. Later, he groans and grunts through a terrible number called “Drinkenstein,” a sequence that has to be seen to be believed. Later, his mumbling, spoke-sung vocals are drowned out by Dolly Parton’s considerably stronger pipes. The most unbelievable thing about “Rhinestone,” which is frequently preposterous, is that anyone would ever be satisfied with Stallone’s singing. Sly has said he regrets doing the film. The visible agony on his face during several sequences makes it clear that he’s telling the truth.

By the same accord, “Rhinestone” is not exactly terrible either. Stallone is only the co-star of the film. Large portions of the film rests on Dolly Parton’s shoulder. Parton is an incredibly charming presence and her abilities as an actress have always been underrated. She’s funny in the film. Moreover, she actually has some decent romantic chemistry with Sly. The love story is fairly absurd. The film wills it into existence, as the characters truly have nothing in common. Based solely on Parton’s twinkling charm, you begin to believe. An encounter between the two in a hallway, which nearly escalates to something heavier and hotter, is the best example of this. Not to mention Parton looks absolutely stunning in the film. No wonder Russ Meyer wanted to make a movie with her.

Don’t get me wrong. The plot of “Rhinestone” is goofy and broad. Ron Leibman’s entire character, the greasy club owner Freddie, is entirely ridiculous, especially once you see the inside of his home. The middle portion of the film is a fish-out-of-water story of Nick surviving in Jake’s southern home town. The expected beats here, of him learning to walk like a cowboy or screaming through his first live performance, will make the audience roll their eyes. It’s not all bad though. Tim Thomerson, he of “Trancers” and “Dollman” fame, plays Dolly’s unhinged ex-boyfriend. It’s amusing seeing Thomerson as a hard-drinking, shit-kicking good ol’ boy. The rivalry between him and Sly is strictly formula but Tim seems to be having a good time. Richard Farnsworth plays Dolly’s father and exudes a folksy humor and genuine warmth. When he tries to get Nick to take his gussy-uped cowboy suit, “Rhinestone” actually becomes funny and heartfelt.

Don’t get me wrong. Stallone’s singing is terrible. The break up Nick and Jake have to go through mid-way through the film is protracted and obvious. The movie, at nearly two hours, is far too long. The film was another odd entry in the incredibly diverse career of Bob Clark, the same man who made “Black Christmas,” “Porky’s,” “A Christmas Story,” and “Baby Geniuses.” Clark’s direction, such as when he cuts to animal reaction shots, is frequently mawkish. The script is silly and overdone. Yet this isn’t even Stallone’s worst movie. Its has its saving grace, most of them from Parton and the supporting cast. The film is too good-natured in its goofiness to be offensive, even if it did gift the world with “Drinkenstein.” [5/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music*
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Weirdo Cab Driver]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling**

*Does Dolly Parton count as “Frank Stallone-esque?”
**Sly’s yell-singing is awfully sweaty

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