Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stewardess School (1986)

Directed by Ken Blancato
Starring Judy Landers, Wendie Jo Sperber, Brett Cullen, Donny Most
Rated R
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"You got any Twisted Sister?"
"No, but my cousin Lenore is kinda strange."

Police Academy was released in 1984. It was a low-budget goon-show in the age of 'relevant' teen flicks like Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club, a movie made for and aimed at the underachievers in the audience, the short-bus mouth-breathers and drop-outs. The fact that it was such a runaway success speaks volumes about the American public in the 1980's, but that's a discussion for another time. What Police Academy did, besides spawn a fistful of sequels and make smirky Steve Guttenberg a household name, is kick-start an unholy wave of nearly identical films that all followed the same misfits-banding-together formula. It worked for just about anything, from volunteer firemen to fast food workers, from mortuary science students to...whatever the fuck they were doing at Screwball Academy. Stewardess School was yet another variation on the theme. In this case, the group of losers, buffoons, and freaks...well, they went to stewardess school, didn't they?

There are so many characters crammed into this film that it's impossible to follow them all from one scene to the next. There's Philo (Steve Cullen, now an in-demand television actor) and George (Donny Most, AKA Ralph Malph from Happy Days, currently on the nostalgia convention circuit), two wannabe-pilots that have flunked aviation school so many times, this is close as they can get to a job at the airport. There's Sugar Dubois (gorgeous Judy Landers), a prostitute on parole, Cindy Adams (Corinne Bohrer, last seen as Veronica Mars' mom, or possibly the chick in the paper towels commercial), a rich girl gone punk, Jolean Winters (adorable Wendie Jo Sperber), a chubby chick who...takes the brunt of the fat jokes, pretty much and...well, half a dozen more, at least. The first half-hour of the film is all set-up, as we watch these abject failures limp away from their normal lives and take on this noble task of sky-service.

The second half-hour is, of course, the stewardess training hijinks. These can be broken down into these easy to digest nuggets:
One: Philo's glasses are very thick. He can't see a thing without them. Oh boy, if he loses them, he's gonna be in trouble!
Two: Man, that George. Wow, is he horny!
Three: Man, that Sugar Dubois. Boy, is she sexy!
Four: Man, that Larry (Rob Paulson). Boy, is he gay!
Five: Man, that Jolean. She sure is fat!

Standard slapstick stuff, but the latter item consistently rings a sour note. Not sure if writer/director Ken Blancato had some sort of issue with a heavy ex-wife or something, but he appears to go out of his way to humiliate Wendie Jo Sperber in nearly every scene. At one point, she opens up a fridge, stares at a cake, and actually snorts like a pig. In another, she's jumps on a life raft, and it explodes.The film is otherwise good-natured, so Ms. Sperber's near-constant abuse just seems vindictive. Makes you want to hug her. Hug her and eat cake, just to spite this Blancato fucker.

There's a party where rich folks and bikers clash, a foul-mouthed kid ("How'd you like your tits shot off?), kinky professors, and the expected romance (glasses guy and the spazzy girl, naturally). It all leads up to the final act, when the crooked dean of the school (you just knew he'd be crooked, didn't you?) makes a dirty deal with a discount airline to graduate the class early and send them off to man the guy's rickety plane. And then the plane gets hijacked by bomb-toting terrorists. Will these fuckin' dummies pull it together in time to save the passengers? Will Goggles McGee figure out how to land the plane?

Probably, yeah.

Besides a brief shower scene, Stewardess School is extremely light on skin, so you'll have to have a strong affection from lame gags to truly appreciate its charms. It is full of familiar faces though, and the acting is consistently solid, even with a script this broad. It's biggest draw, however, is helium-voiced Judy Landers, one of the first actresses to really exploit the benefits of an aerobic workout. She looks amazing here, which is probably what keeps this otherwise tepid Police Academy rip-off in heavy cable TV rotation, even today.

Most of the cast went on to do more work, mostly in television. Interestingly, Ken Blancato, the visionary genius behind it all, never made another film. That's a bit of a mystery, when you consider Stewardess School's considerable production values. In a genre that often resembles no-budget porn, Blancato managed to make a very nice looking film, with sharp camerawork, seamless editing, and solid performances. Certainly, with halfway-decent scripts - perhaps written by anyone other than Ken Blancato - he could've made some great films.

And then again, maybe this was all he had in him. After all, you gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em, right?

PS: Dear Wendie Jo Sperber: Our hearts always swelled with gladness whenever you graced these dumb movies with your presence. Your smile could melt glaciers and your easy laugh was like Aloe Vera for the soul. And we didn't even think you were fat.

Availability: Stewardess School is available on VHS.
Buy Stewardess School at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre

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