Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Wild Life (1984)

Directed by Art Linson
Starring Eric Stolz, Chris Penn, Lea Thompson, Jenny Wright
Rated R
Buy poster

"Fuckin' muscle heads. They grow up to be cops."

Although largely forgotten today (and mostly ignored during it's theatrical release, as well), The Wild Life boasts perhaps the most accomplished cast and crew of the teen sex comedy genre. Written by Cameron Crowe on the heels of his runaway success, 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and directed by that film's producer, The Wild Life was top-heavy with up and coming talent, including the brother of Fast Times' star Sean Penn, and packed with comedy-vet cameos by Rick Moranis, Randy Quaid, Kitten Natividad, and more. It is, for all intents and purposes, a Fast Times redux, minus the dramatic teenage issues. Fast Times had a message. The Wild Life just wants to party, dude.

Less plot-driven than it's predecessor, The Wild Life is more of a quirky character study. During the course of an apparently endless afternoon/night, we meet the principal players: Chris Penn (RIP) plays high school senior Tommy Drake, a short-haired Jeff Spicolli doppelganger who carries his weed in his jock strap and has his very own obnoxious catchphrase: "It's casual." With his bottle-blonde 'do, rolled-up sleeves, and popped-collar strut, Tommy is a greaser-throwback, an innately cool cat at odds with the dayglo 80's. He even has a retro-fitted job - he works at a bowling alley with his uptight best bud Bill Conrad (Eric Stolz), a flame-haired, nit-picking nerd.

Anita (Lea Thompson, looking impossibly cute) works at an all-night donut shop. Not surprisingly, she dates a sleazy mustache cop. She used to go out with our man Bill, but dumped him for being a drag.

Her best friend Eileen (Jenny Wright, Near Dark), is a new wave fashionista who works at the mall. Rick Moranis plays her leering, mealy-mouth boss, Harry.

Also roaming around is Bill's slightly psychotic younger brother Jim (Llan Mitchell Smith, instantly recognizable from his role as Wyatt in Weird Science), a Vietnam-obsessed loner who spends most of his time chain-smoking and blasting heavy metal on his boombox.

Those are our heroes and zeroes. Bill, being the conservative type, has scrimped and saved enough for his first apartment. Tommy, being reckless and wild, sneaks into Eileen's bedroom window while she's changing (boob-flash, yes; but since you can't see Jenny Wright's face, it may be a body double), and after a decisive verbal drubbing, decides he wants to marry her.
"Absolutely not," she tells him, with ice-water running through her veins.

Bloodied but unbowed, Tommy convinces Bill to let him move in to his new apartment. He brings a hookah and a conga drum and promises that they'll 'party every night', starting with his non-engagement party at a local strip club, Les Girls.

At Les Girls, we are treated to a suitably erotic striptease from Ashley St Jon (Takin' It Off, Weekend Pass), and a rather hysterical boob-walloping from Kitten Natividad ("Holy shit, they're bigger than my apartment!" says Tommy's wrestling team pal) that ends in a club-wide punch-up. Later on, Tommy invites Fear frontman Lee Ving over to watch wrestling and eat all of Bill's food. So that's not going too well.

And so on. Bill finds out that Anita's donut shop cop is married, and so he goes to war with the adulterous lawman. Jim takes his buddy to visit shell-shocked 'Nam vet Randy Quaid, who smokes dope, offers the 15 year olds beer, and then goes into the bathroom to shoot up. As they leave, Jim's friend says, "Everything about that guy is cool."

Anita agrees to give Bill another try after he convinces her about the bitchin' properties of his new apartment, and he takes her home so that they can 'be alone'. Of course when he gets there, a gonzo, Tommy-induced party, complete with stewardesses, strippers, punk rockers, Rod Stewart type dudes (including Ron Wood), and a Michael Jackson impersonator (or possibly Michael himself, dunno) is underway. One of the doofuses on the wrestling team puts a poodle in a microwave, while Tommy attempts, unsuccessfully, to seduce a young Sherilyn Fenn.

Later on, when the guests complain they don't have enough room to dance, Tommy and his wrestling team buddies knock down the wall to the apartment next door, obviously startling the track-suited squares that live there. It all ends the only way it can, really, with pizza and a blow-up fuck doll floating in the pool. The landlord drops in, says one word - "Lawsuit" - and then splits.

Seems sorta bleak, but what the fuck, really. They're young. And they just threw a legendary party.

Aimless and pointless, The Wild Life never really gets where it's ostensibly going, and that's probably why it's been lost in the shuffle over the years. But despite a fuzzy script, almost no nudity, and Jenny Wright's horrific hair and outfits, the film does manage to zing along at a rapid-fire pace and stay consistently entertaining.

It's also got a memorably pounding soundtrack (most of the film was scored by Eddie Van Halen), a host of cool cameos (Ben Stein, Nancy Wilson, Repo Man's Dick Rude, Cramps drummer Nicky Beat, etc), and two very appealing leads. Penn, in particular, owns the character of Tommy Drake, and although it's obviously derivative of his brother's immortal surf-punk, Drake is a more forceful, willfully destructive character, a classic rock n' roll asshole. Not an essential title in the teen sex comedy by any stretch, but worth it to see so many well-known actors in the caterpillar stage of their careers.

The Mild Life?
Art Linson's been busy ever since, mostly producing. He's had his fingers in all sorts of interesting stuff over the years, from grunge-com Singles (1992) to recent cable biker-drama Sons of Anarchy. At the time of this writing, he's mid-production on The Runaways bio-pic. Cameron Crowe directed Almost Famous. Lea Thompson was in Howard the Duck and had a sitcom. Although she showed no skin whatsoever here, she was naked in All the Right Moves (1983), which is some bullshit sports movie with Tom Cruise. Since it's got Tom Cruise and is about sports, I have never seen it. Anyway, we love Lea Thompson and support her in all her endeavors, be they nude or otherwise.

Jenny Wright had a world-class pout and was amazing in Near Dark (1987). She hasn't acted in ten years, but hope springs eternal for a comeback.

Stolz is all over the place. You can't miss that guy. Chris Penn was Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs (1992). He died of an enlarged heart in 2006. He had charisma, that dude. We miss him.

Availability: The Wild Life is available on VHS.

-Ken McIntyre

1 comment:

  1. I saw that you can get it on DVD-R at


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