Monday, April 5, 2010

Starhops (1978)

Directed by Barbara Peters
Starring Jillian Kesner, Sterling Frazier, Dorothy Burhman
Rated R

"Don't you have any regular pies?"

Director Barbara Peters and screenwriter Stephanie Rothman - the creative team behind Starhops - were both responsible for an astonishing amount of girl-centric drive-in trash throughout the 1970's.  Between the two of them, their resume reads like a grindhouse marathon: It's a Bikini World (1967),  The Student Nurses (1970), Velvet Vampire (1971), Bury Me an Angel (1972), Terminal Island (1973),  Working Girls (1974 - AKA the movie-where-you-can-see-Elvira-naked), Summer School Teachers (1974), Humanoids from the Deep (1980).  Both were adept at making films fast and dirty, packing them with as many cheap thrills as their paltry budgets would allow. And so it was with Starhops.

A minor career blip for both women, Starhops borrowed liberally the then-popular nurse and cheerleader films, wrapping the age-old underdogs VS. creaky old corporate asshole plotline around a girl-powered cast of Karate-chopping, bikini-clad world-beaters, and then liberally shoe-horning then-relevant pop culture references on top.

Roger Corman's main-man Dick Miller is Jerry. He runs a drive-in burger joint called, sensibly enough, Jerry's. Problem is, business has nose-dived thanks to the rise of fast-food chains, and Jerry owes the bank so much dough that he's going to have to close down.

Naturally, he has to fire his waitresses, Angel (gorgeous Jillian Kesner, The Student Body) and Cupcake (spunky one-time actress Sterling Frazier). The enterprising carhops have a different idea, though - they want to buy the place.

The girls manages to charm the loan officer into giving them enough dough to buy the joint, and they commence to fixin' the place up. They even hire a nutty French chick, Danielle (Dorothy Burhman) as a chef.

Here's the problem, though. A sleazy oil baron, Carter Axe (Al Hopson, RIP) wants to build a gas station on Jerrys property. He saunters by to threaten the girls with some vague legal action, but they scoff at him. Then they head out to the disco.

The next morning, they start their new business. They call it Starhops, dress in space girl bikinis, and deliver the food on rollerskates, which is difficult, since none of them actually know how to skate.

Carter convinces his idiot son Norman (Paul Ryan) to get a job at Starhops so that he can spy on the girls and dig up dirt on them. Unfortunately for him, the girls are squeaky clean, although he does eavesdrop on a very suspicious, Three's Company-esque conversation. The old "Can you help me with my plumbing problem?" routine. Classic stuff.

Norman informs dad that the girls are running a legit operation. Determined to get that restaurant, Carter calls in an anonymous report about deplorable working conditions at Starhops, so the public health inspector shows up to investigate. Naturally, Norman attempts to sabotage the girls by sticking a live frog in the salad and tossing a dead rat in the soup. The health inspector gives them thirty days to clean up their act. The girls finally figure out that Norm's behind their troubles. To get him on their side, Cupcake seduces him, and he becomes part of their team. Undaunted, Carter calls in the big guns: Mad Dog.

Mad Dog figures the best way to fix the problem is by blowing the joint up. So that's what he does, with everybody in it. Blood, brains and burgers everywhere. The end.

 No. Not really. It was 1978. 1978 was all about happy endings.

For a film that's got gratuitous everything else - gratuitous Star Wars reference, gratuitous roller boogie, gratuitous Dick Miller - it's a surprisingly chaste affair. In fact, upon completion, the producers reportedly had to toss in some stunt-ass just to bump the film's rating up to an R, correctly assume that their intended audience - horny teens and drunkards - would scoff at a nudity-free 70's jiggle-com. So don't explain a sleaze-fest. Do, however, expect everything else - comic book-y bad guys, comic book-y bikers, bad French accents, a fixin' stuff up montage, groan-worthy sex gags, a heart-warming, friends-first message, a pseudo-feminist slant, and, naturally, a little kung-fu. While hardly a lost classic, Starhops nonetheless floats effortlessly on its fizzy 70's pop-culture bubble. If you like rollerskates, hotpants, and cheeseburgers - and who doesn't? - you may want to dig through the bottom of the VHS pile to find this one.

- Ken McIntyre

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