Monday, December 29, 2008

Pinball Summer (1980)

AKA Pickup Summer
Directed by George Mihalka
Starring Michael Zelniker, Carl Marotte, Karen Stephen, Helen Udy
Rated R
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"I've got a date tonight."
"With what, a hamburger?"

Just imagine it, if you would. Imagine a world where you are young and skinny, a world where you own an awesome customized van and date a bosomy, baby-faced giggle-girl with an equally hot younger sister, where your arch-rival is a growly-but-harmless biker goon and your favorite hangout is a drive-in hamburger joint staffed by stacked redheads in tiny shorts. Imagine a summer where your only real and tangible goal is winning the pinball competition and then, naturally, banging the Pinball Queen.

How great would that world be? Such is the never-was fantasy-land of Pinball Summer, perhaps the greatest Canadian pinballsploitation flick ever made. The plot? Well, I've already explained it: Greg (Michael Zelniker) and Steve (Carl Marotte) are two uncomfortably close best buds (seriously, they touch each other constantly; there's one scene early on where they are so close to one another during a conversation that you half-expect them to start French-kissing) who date two gangly, hot-pants sporting sisters (Karen Stephen and Helen Udy) and spend all their time either playing pinball or tormenting a stuffy rich kid named Rod (Matthew Stevens). Into this conflict-free world roars Bert (Tom Kovacs, looking like either a shaved werewolf or James Franco after a car accident), leader of a four-man motorcycle gang who operate out of a cardboard hideout and spend most of their time cheating on pinball or mercilessly teasing a fat stooge named Whimpy (Joey McNamara), a clearly disturbed young man who repairs and maintains the pinball machines at the arcade.

While all the main characters are cartoony, they are, at least, grounded in some sort of reality. Whimpy, on the other hand, is pure comic strip confection, an off-putting oddball stuffed into goony, too-tight clothes, topped off by a sailor's cap (with oversized Farrah Fawcett and King Crimson buttons...Farrah I can see the retarded kid liking, but King Crimson?), a bowl haircut, and eyeliner. He is pure id, alternately grabby and groveling, a pathetic lump of need that exists only for ridicule. Whimpy is hopelessly in lust with Bert's girl Sally (Joy Boushel), a stacked, freckle-faced beauty who speaks in a helium-sucking baby-voice and walks with all the va-voom of a wasted-on-pills Jayne Mansfield. I mean, you can certainly see his point.

Pete's Arcade is sponsoring a pinball competition. Bert and Greg are the top contenders to win the trophy, but Bert, being the villainous type, wants to hedge his bets. Using Whimpy's affection for Sally as leverage, he convinces him to fix the machine so that it tilts while Greg is playing. And so it does. But will this treachery stand, or will justice prevail?

Hey man, anything goes in a pinball summer.

Despite being Canadian, Pinball Summer is one of the most quintessentially American films in the teensploitation genre, one of the very few that authentically captures what American teenagers were really into in the late 70's: pinball, disco, drive-ins, customized vans, and hassling nerds. The 50's greaser throwbacks are a bit of an anomaly, but that one you can probably blame on the Fonz, who was still rabidly popular when Pinball Summer hit the screens.

Otherwise, it's a unique and deeply nostalgic wish-fulfillment fantasy that hits every major note along the way and provides ample fodder for both one-handed heroes and cult-comedy fans alike. Although there is not an abundance of bared-skin, the few instances of boob-flash we get are well-worth the effort. Joy Boushel not only plays pinball topless, she runs around during a backyard party gone-amuck with her gloriously freckled, melon-sized sandbags furiously flapping in the warm summer breeze.

It is honestly one of the greatest sights I've ever seen. Helen Udy, the busty sister, also flashes her painfully ripe rib cushions for a brief but wonderful moment at one point, as well.

But Pinball Summer is not really about tits at all, it's about ass. Virtually every girl (and, disturbingly, most of the guys) in this film wear the shortest-shorts allowable by law, and the camera constantly lingers around the closest denim-clad booty it can find. It is almost fetishistic in it's unabashed love and concern for teenage ass, so if this is at all an interest of yours, you will adore Pinball Summer. And, as mentioned, that goes for whatever side of the hetero-fence you're on, as Zelniker and Marotte flash just as much cheek as their girlfriends do.

Pinball Summer did not light up the box office in it's initial run - Hollywood apparently overestimated the public's love for pinball - but it has remained a cult favorite ever since. In 2007, Quentin Tarantino revived it at the New Beverley Cinema in Los Angeles during his month-long Grindhouse film festival, exposing a whole new generation to Canadian homo-eroticism and freckled tits. As far as it's cast and crew goes, director Mihalka followed this gem up with audacious slasher flick My Bloody Valentine (1981), and two decades' worth of low-budget flicks and cable TV shows. Zelniker, Marotte, and Udy are all still busy working, mostly on Canadian television. Joy Boushel, clearly the standout in this film, had a good ten-year run, appearing in genre favorites Terror Train (also 1980), Humongous (1982), and The Fly (1986), but bowed out of the acting racket in 1990. She is missed, as is her heartbreaking rack.

Availability: Pinball Summer is available in it's less provocative title, Pickup Summer, on DVD from Platinum Disc.
Buy Pick-up Summer at Amazon.

-Ken McIntyre

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the bustier sister was played by Karen Stephen.

    Otherwise, I enjoyed your review of this likeably crappy movie.


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