Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hollywood Zap (1986)

Directed by David Cohen
Starring Ivan Roth, Ben Frank, De Waldron
Rated R

"Your sweet taters are of no interest to this firm."

I had high hopes for Hollywood Zap, because it had "Hollywood" in the title, which usually means that raunchy fun is on the menu: see Hollywood Hot Tubs or the Hollywood Squares for two prime examples of that theory. "Zap" is another code word for teenage kicks, as in the sound laser guns make, or an underground comic book by R Crumb, or even Zapped!, starring Scott Baio and Willie Ames. So you can see my excitement.

Alas, as with many things in the 80's, the flashy exterior revealed a loathsome emptiness inside. There are two quotes on the VHS cover, and neither of them are attributed to any actual writers. On the top, it says: "Absolutely, Unbelievable..."
The comma in between is disturbing to me. Try saying it out loud. It makes no sense. Only a maniac would write that. On the bottom of the box, under the credits ("co-starring Chuck "Porky" Mitchell!), it says "Not since Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, or Martin and Lewis has any comedy team been so hilarious!!" That's how it's written, with the underline and the two exclamation points. The quote is right next to the Troma logo, so maybe they mean Herz and Kaufman, because they certainly can't be talking about our cringe-worthy leads, can they?

The cover art features a pigtailed blonde in a bikini, a punk-rocker shooting a hand-gun, a car busting through some barricades, and a fat man eating chicken. Only the fat man makes an appearance in the actual film. The back cover blurb promises a "riotous, action-packed comedy" about "the misadventures of a mismatched pair of buddies" and "an incredibly sexy punk rocker", but it is actually a lame, gag-heavy family drama with bizarre homoerotic overtones and moments of confusing absurdity. And the "incredibly sexy punk rocker" is actually sorta stubby and moon-faced.

As the movie opens, we are introduced to "Downer" (Ivan Roth), a gangly kid with thick glasses who works at some horrible lingerie store for plus size women. Even if Roth is southern, his hick accent sounds atrociously phony, and he is immediately annoying. He seems to have been patterned after Kevin, the "7 Up" kid from Repo Man. In fact, the whole movie seems to be ripping off Repo Man, only without an ounce of wit, or talent, or sense. Downer's father ran out on his family when he was a baby, and his one desire since then was to find him. He's finally made enough scratch selling bloomers to drive to LA - his father's last known address - to find the old man. And off he goes. Along the way, he picks up an obnoxious middle-aged hitchhiker named Nash (Ben Frank) who immediately shits in his front seat. This becomes a bonding moment for the two men.

Nash explains that he's a former stock broker who cracked under the pressure of his go-go-go existence and ended up in an asylum, where they just happened to have video games as therapy. He got extraordinarily good at Zaxxon (a game that sucks, by the way), and once he was released, he became a video arcade hustler. So that's why he's hitching to Hollywood, to meet Kong, the ultimate Zaxxon champ of all, and resoundingly defeat him. The two part ways once they get into the city. Downer attempts to hire a chicken-eating private detective to help him find his father, but can only pay him in "Sweet taters". The detective declines. He also visits his weird uncle Lucas (Claude Earl Jones), who owns a motel and offers him a place to stay, but then starts slobbering on Downer's ear. Ick!

Meanwhile, Nash and his new girl, the mute, half-pint punker Tee-Tee (De Waldron) are doing the Zaxxon hustle. When threatened, Nash goes after his aggressor with this absurd modified stapler, and they run in fear. And life goes on.

Ultimately, Downer and Nash meet up again. Nash helps his nerdy buddy break into the detective's office to find the info on his dad. He finds his father's new address, but when he gets there, he is understandably shocked to find out that his long-lost pa has become a transsexual nun! He responds to this information with uncharacteristic aggression: he beats the screaming, crying man into submission and storms away in a huff. Seems sorta hate crime-y to me.

Nash meets his elusive prey as well, but Kong turns out to be a panicky dwarf (Bad Santa's Tony Cox) who runs in fear as soon as Nash shows up. So, nobody's satisfied. Downer decides to go back home, and in a surprising move, Tee Tee jumps into the car with him and they zoom off. Nash doesn't seem to disappointed. She was sorta pudgy anyway.

For a supposed teen sex comedy, there is zero sex in Hollywood Zap and only one flash of nudity, care of "sex staved California beach bunny" Debbie (Annie Gaybis, who later went on to marry TV comedian John Byner).

The only teen-com tradition that Hollywood Zap adheres to is the inclusion of a really awful synth-driven dance song ("Video Queen" by Shawn O'Brien- listen to it HERE). Ben Frank (who also served as producer of this mess) went on to a few bit parts in sitcoms like Head of the Class and Who's the Boss before dropping dead of a heart attack in 1990. Ivan Roth was a zombie in Night of the Creeps, a mummy in an episode of Tales from the Crypt, and the creature in the loony Blue Monkey, but hasn't acted since 1994. De Waldron also worked that Mohawk in Suburbia, and then disappeared. Director David Cohen also wrote the screenplay for Friday the 13th part 5 and then split Hollywood to find gainful employment elsewhere.

Honestly, you have better things to do than watch this foolishness. Even a game of fuckin' Zaxxon would be more entertaining.

Availability: Hollywood Zap is available on VHS.
Buy Hollywood Zap at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre

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