Thursday, February 26, 2009

Campus Man (1987)

Directed by Ron Casden
Starring Jim Dye, Kim Delaney, Morgan Fairchild

"If I see 30 dwarves coming out of a Volkswagon, you're dead meat."

In Campus Man, an opportunistic huckster named Todd (John Dye) finds himself in a proverbial pickle when his scholarship at Arizona State falls through, and he's left with a $10,000 tuition bill. He's given a 30-day grace period to scrape up the dough, or he'll be expelled. His previous get-rich-quick scheme, a Girls of ASU calendar, didn't quite pay the bills, so he decides to go the other way completely, and produce a beefcake calendar based on the hunky good looks of his best friend/roommate, swim-team star Brett (Steve Lyon, Valet Girls).

I know what you're thinking: sounds sorta gay porn-y. Well, just wait until the shower scene.

First, however, we meet Cactus Jack. Mr. Jack (Miles O'Keefe, the vine-swinger himself from 1981 howler Tarzan, the Ape Man) is some sort of mysterious loan-shark who advertises on bright yellow flyers. Todd finds one after being tossed out of every bank in Phoenix and meets the glowering man-in-black in the desert. Jack (Or 'CJ', as Todd likes to call him) wears tight jeans and hair-gel and carries around a briefcase full of cash and a gun.

Todd explains his idea for an all-male pin-up calendar to CJ, and at first, he is not so into it. "You got the wrong guy for that kinda shit," he growls. But Todd eventually wears him down and he hands him $12,000 in cash, which our bright-eyed entrepreneur must pay back in 30 days with 30% interest. If not, "We'll meet back here," hisses CJ. "Only we won't have as much fun."
I'm not sure what that means. Sorta felt like sodomy would be involved.

Money secured, Todd needs to find a willing crew to produce his calendar, so he begs his frienemy Molly (the Molly Ringwald-esque Kathleen Wilhoite, instantly recognizable from her role as the screwy punk rock medium Zarabeth in Witchboard (1986), editor of the school paper, to help him. She agrees, and from there, it's a man-hunt. Todd finds a bunch of willing calendar boys from the school's various sports teams, but has yet to convince Brett. So he barges in on the dude while he's taking a shower with the rest of the swim team.

This is not the first time a teen comedy has had a men's shower scene - there's one in genre classic The Cheerleaders (1970). But in that, the dudes were lathering up Stephanie Fondue. And she's nowhere to be found in this one.

Brett agrees (there's an uncomfortable on-his-knees moment there, when Todd feigns an injury) and they get to work. The next several minutes are taken up with the calendar shoot, shot 80's montage style, while Timbuk 3's "My Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" plays on the soundtrack. It was at that moment when I remembered that, besides the Replacements and a decent hairline, I really kinda hated the 80's. The calendar-release party Todd throws afterward, where people drink Perrier and dance to Corey Hart and chubby girls with seriously bad hair primp in the bathroom mirror, certainly does not help.

At this point, you may be wondering if there are girls in this at all. Well, there's one. Future primetime TV star Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue, CSI, Law and Order, etc) is Dayna, Brett's love interest. But we only get a couple glimpses of her, and even then...where'd that bathing suit come from, 1956?

Meanwhile, over in New York City, Katherine Van Buren (Morgan Fairchild!) is holding court at Image Magazine. "We need a new image at Image," she says. She explains her new concept to her staff: she wants to find a "Man of the 80s" to splatter all over their January 1988 issue and then exploit on shows like 'Letterman and Donahue.' I don't know what she's talking about, but somehow, she got a copy of Todd's Calendar and decides to use Brett as her Man of the 80's. This comes at a good time, because after he paid his tuition, Todd had no money left to pay Cactus Jack, and now has to give him double the dough or it's sodomy-in-the-desert time. Van Buren takes them out drinking and does her best to talk Brett into it.

Despite the profit potential, Brett doesn't want to do it, because it would upset his precious diving team, but when he finds a threatening letter from Cactus Jack, he decides to help his insistent friend out. He signs the contract and then competes in a diving competition. The way they shot it, it seemed like there was at least a 10% chance that he'd smack his head on the diving board and die, bringing a merciful end to Campus Man, but alas, he scored "9 Bingo".

So, Brett finds out that because he signed the Image contract, he's off the team. Some bullshit about his amateur status. He gets so mad at Todd that he moves out.
"Our friendship was really special," he sniffs. "It didn't need anything from the outside."
With a tear in his eye, he picks up his bag, says, "I think we should just avoid each other for now. I just need some time to think."
This is a conversation between two dudes, mind you.

Luckily, he runs into Dayna and makes out with her, and then Todd goes to a biker bar and gets his stupid face mashed, which alleviated a bit of the homoeroticism gently wafting through this film. But then Cactus Jack saves him, and we're back to man-on-man awkwardness.
"You know, Todd," Molly says, as she slaps a cold steak on his swollen eye, "Everything about you is undesirable."
Yeah, exactly.

A bunch of stuff happens, and there's a surprise ending. Cactus Jack takes the gel out his hair to reveal some kind of Eastern European mullet. That's not the surprise, but it was sorta surprising.

Oh, and there's one of those giant 80's mobile phones. Those are always interesting.

Devoid of nudity, laughs, or fun of any kind, Campus Man has nonetheless maintained a cult following over the years. I can only assume that this cult is comprised of gay adolescent males and Morgan Fairchild fetishists. And there's probably a lot of overlap between those two groups.

Director Ron Casden did not make another film, but he did direct The Eyes Have It, a make-up application how-to video by Donna Mills. Which explains everything, really.

Availability: Campus Man is available on DVD.

-Ken McIntyre

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