Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hot Splash (1988)

Directed by James Ingrassia
Starring Richard Steele, Andrea Thompson, Jeremy Whalen
Rated R
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The first five minutes of Hot Splash manages to ape the average teen sex comedy so accurately that it takes a couple scenes before you realize there's anything wrong.
Our hero, Matt (Richard Steele), is a surfer dude living in Miami. He sleeps with a blow-up fuck doll. His friends are all loudmouth, bleached-blonde, beach-bum assholes. His first stop of the day is to a surf shop, where he gets to feel up a chick in the dressing room. Ok, so the film-stock looks like it came from K Mart, but so far, it all seems normal enough. We are next introduced to half-shirt wearing blonde Jennifer (Andrea Thompson), an aspiring singer with a rat-fink boyfriend. She's in a recording studio, laying down some backing tracks on a ballad the sounds like a new wave band with Downs Syndrome covering Sister Christian. That's the first inkling that something's awry. Inkling number two pops up when, a minute or two later, a synchronized aerobics routine breaks out at the beach.

Right. We are obviously dealing with a few first-time, last-time, and non-actors here. Nobody can deliver a realistic line. It's like folk art, this movie. And the script so very rarely delivers any jokes that you forget it's supposed to be a comedy. It almost seems like anti-comedy, like something Neil Hamburger would direct, just to make you suffer. But let us hold our opinions for the moment and travel a little further down this twisted path.

Jennifer gets her big break one night when she gets to sing with Lenny Macaluso's band at a cheeseball dance club called Jubilations. Lenny's a real guy (lord knows, you can't fake a guy who's willing to walk around with a two-tone white-fro), a successful songwriter who composed songs for bands like Rare Earth and movies like Thrashin'. Whatever talents he has are not evident in the bass-rumbling, headache-making live rendition of Gimme Some Lovin' you hear here. That's the consistently alarming thing about this film: why not just a dub a studio track in, like every single other movie ever made? Why use the actual live track, when it so obviously sounds like a train crashing into another train? Twenty minutes into the film, and I am convinced that director Ingrassia shot this entire film in one pill-fueled twenty-four hour frenzy. It's got that one-take, no overdubs, we'll-fix-it-in-editing vibe, like Harry Novak with Alzheimer's. I imagine most people would find this aggro-amateurism excruciating, but I actually found it sort of exciting, like absolutely anything could happen next.

Jennifer's friend says, "When are you gonna find a guy that will treat you right?"
"Don't you understand?" Jennifer replies. "That's what I like about Jimbo."
The camera cuts to Jimbo pouring a Budweiser on his head. And then it cuts to some girl with a bad perm and an even worse dress doing some sort of herky-jerky dance. And then Jennifer gets back up to help Lenny mangle Spirit's 'I Got a Line on You'. Halfway through, some kid on the dance floor gets grabby with her, so Jimbo pops him in the face, and they brawl. There is no humor whatsoever to any of this. Neither is there any dramatic tension. It's just two beer-powered assholes wailing on each other, like some grainy backyard wrestling clip from Youtube. They get tossed out, and Jennifer starts slapping Jimbo and calling him a cheating asshole. And then he pulls out her tit and starts making out with her on the hood of a car.

They take off, she gets completely nude, and they fuck in a hot tub. And suddenly, it hits you: Florida. Florida is a motherfucker on the soul. I was there two years ago - twenty years after this film was shot - and its still exactly like this. Florida is fucking demented. That must be the message of this movie. It may be a very expensive cry for help from the director.

A bizarre subplot emerges involving a low-level Mafia type named TJ (Jeremy Whalen) and the two fat idiots he employs as his stooges. Some old dude with a black panther for a pet tells him to "get the money or else" and the fat guys say, "Can we go to the pizzeria now?"
Matt and his buddy Woody (Richard Steinmetz) get a catering job, which happens to be at TJ's house. They blunder their way into his graces when they accidentally save his life, and suddenly, they become his new stooges. Later that night, Jennifer flirts with a liquor store clerk while "the gang" robs the place. Then they enjoy the fruits of their labor at a berserk house party. Again, this is supposed to look like kooky teenage fun, but it mostly looks like a bunch of angry alcoholics on a crime spree.

Does it really matter what happens next? Matt starts dating TJ's niece Kim (Kim is not listed anywhere in the credits, by the way). He and Woody get an assignment to deliver a package but, when they discover said package contains cocaine, they freak out and decide to hide out at the Dollhouse II strip club. Because no one will see them in a packed strip club. It is fairly obvious that this scene came to pass because the director knew some dude who worked there, since the club's neon sign is prominently displayed in a static shot that lasts nearly a minute. It's a cheap way to crowbar some extra tits in the film, at any rate. I mean, they were whipping 'em out anyway, right?

Around this point in the film, they start inserting music cues from what sounds like 1950's science fiction films. Invasion of the Saucermen, shit like that. It makes an already surreal cinematic experience even weirder. There's also a scene in Matt's bedroom where you can clearly see a poster for the 1984 military comedy Tank, starring James Garner. Even James Garner wouldn't have that poster on his wall. Anyway, the fat guys kidnap Jimbo because he's supposed to win a surfing contest that TJ is betting on. I'm not sure how that works, but whatever. So at one point, Woody runs up to Jennifer and says this:
"Listen, I found out where they hid him. He's at the Mystery Funhouse. I got the gang together, and we're supposed to meet them over there."
All I can say is, Zoinks.

A good half an hour of Hot Splash's running time is just shots of whatever the fuck was going on at Miami Beach at the time. The rest, however, is pure madness, a jumble of bad ideas sutured together with all the finesse of a battlefield surgeon. Ingrassia's kitchen-sink approach is just so mind-fryingly random that it nearly approaches genius in places. I mean, Matt and Kim escape the mobster's clutches in a goddamn hot air balloon. And then Uncle TJ ends up in jail, wearing a housedress.

I could not guess where James Ingrassia is now, but wherever he roams, I feel safe in assuming that he is quite proud of his handiwork here. He should be. Hot Splash is by no means a good film, but it is a spectacularly bad film, and that's almost better. Any half-wit with a decent crew can cobble together a watchable teen-sex flick, but it takes a certain breed of rugged individual to create a vision as singular as this one, where strippers and mafia goons and surfers and local drunks and bikini models and terrible actresses all get together and make one seriously hot mess.

Against all odds, several members of the Hot Splash cast have gone on to successful acting careers. Most prominently, Andrea "Jennifer" Thompson has done two decades' worth of high profile television, most recently on 24 and Heroes. Richard "Woody" Steinmetz has also enjoyed steady work on television, from whacked-out soap Passions to ratings juggernaut CSI. Paul Parducci, who played Sancho, the less-fat stooge, wrote, produced, and directed his own TV series, Nightmare Boss, in 2006. No idea where the rest of "the gang" is, but from their behavior in the film, I'd say their time is probably divided equally betwixt jail, rehab, and the Dollhouse II.

Availability: Although a chopped-to-bits version of Hot Splash (gross name, by the way) played a few times on basic-cable badfilm Valhalla USA Up All Night in the late 80's and early 90's, it doesn't appear that the film ever received a proper US video release. PAL versions exist, however, as Hot Splash did manage to surf it's way into the UK. Intrepid US garbage-heads will have to rely on either their weird cousin, the one who obsessively taped Up All Night for 13 years, or just, you know, search around your hipper torrent sites.

Links: Andrea Thompson official.
Lenny Macaluso sells soup now.

-Ken McIntyre

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