Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Director Report Card: Ralph Bakshi (1994)

10. Cool and the Crazy

I suppose it was inevitable, considering the many live action bits that have featured throughout his entire career, that Bakshi would eventually commit to making a full-on live action film. “Cool and the Crazy” was originally shown on Showtime as a part of a series of films, each one made in the spirit of the AIP teenage rock n’ roll exploitation flicks of the 1950s and early 1960s. (The most famous of the series is probably Robert Rodriquez' "Roadracers.") It would be Bakshi's last feature film.

Despite his experience working with real actors, Bakshi’s direction is a mixed bag. Some scenes are quite stylish. Shadows are used well, especially those cast by a blazing oil fire. A few Dutch angles or tight corners are nicely tossed in. However, other scenes’ direction are totally generic. There are far too many uninspired shots of people driving around in their car. An explicit sex scene midway through, despite being legitimately erotic, also feels like something out of a late night Skinemax flick.

Bakshi wrote the script back in the early seventies as his first screenplay. It remained unchanged for twenty years. It isn’t a surprise then that the execution is choppy. Scenes happen with no lead-in. The passage of time isn’t clear. Character’s relationship progress extremely quickly. At first I thought stuff got cut out, considering the brief run-time, but, nope, this is just an example of an undeveloped writer.

Bakshi loves the 1950s and has visited it before. A few scenes, such as the trio of thugs posturing in a mirror, are directly reminiscent of “Hey Good Lookin’.” Despite the setting, this doesn’t feel like the fifties. The small budget is probably to blame for the lack of period details.

The story, about young married couples becoming dissatisfied with their lives with lots of infidelity and gang violence thrown in for good measure, is decent enough. Roslyn, played blandly by Alicia Silverstone, isn’t happy with her marriage to boring, occasionally explosive Michael, played with a weird wide-eye confusion by Jared Leto. Her best friend Joannie, Jennifer Blanc who gives the best performance in the film, encourages her to go out and interact with the local thugs. Eventually, Roslyn falls for Joey, a violent sociopathic greaser.

The story never exactly surprises you, but it’s not wholly predictable and keeps you watching. The best sequence in the movie, in which Joey seduces Roslyn on an open beach, is both erotic and creepily uncomfortable. There are Beats and cocaine too. The abbreviated story eventually climaxes with car chases and pulled guns. A subplot is introduced early on just to solve a dangling plot line at the very end. The final scene is an odd, quiet conclusion.

The smooth jazz score has its moment but also feels a bit too elevator-music-y. After “Cool and the Crazy,” Bakshi returned to animation with “Spicy City,” which beat "South Park" to the title of first adult animated series by a few weeks. A few transgressive shorts, that unbelievably played on Cartoon Network, followed after that. It was for the best. The surreal asides that made his work great are naturally harder to pull off in live action. It’s an interesting experiment and not a waste of time but “Cool and the Crazy” is far from essential. [Grade: C]

Since then, Bakshi has mostly focused on painting. There's been a number of false starts. The Wu-Tang Clan wanted to produce a sequel to "Coonskin," but nothing happened. Ralph himself has talked up a sequel to "Wizards" but, thus far, nada. Even Robert Rodriquez' live-action remake of "Fire & Ice" seems to have stalled. The most tantalizing of these unrealized projects was "Last Days of Coney Island," a self-produced, hand-drawn return to the director's seventies style. Sadly, a lack of funding has caused production to stall. For a fan, this is a bummer. Perhaps some day one of the above will actually get made. Perhaps.

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