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Slam Dance
1987 - R - 100 Mins.
Director: Wayne Wang
Producer: Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper, Don Opper
Written By: Don Opper
Starring: Tom Hulce, Virginia Madsen, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Harry Dean Stanton
Review by: Jake Cremins
   

Remember at the end of 'Candyman,' when Virginia Madsen's scalp was all scarred and bumpy? That's because the 80's happened to it.
This movie frustrated the hell out of me. 'Slam Dance' aspires, as best I can tell, to be the 1980's answer to 'Blow Up,' but it keeps forgetting how unimportant the plot was in that movie. In 'Blow Up,' a photographer stumbled upon a mystery, learned exactly enough to keep things intriguing (which wasn't much), and by the end of the movie knew even less than when he started. In 'Slam Dance' a cartoonist is framed for a murder; by the end he's learned just about all there is to learn about it, only to find that everybody's pretty bored by the whole thing, including him.

There are a few things this movie gets absolutely right, and none of them have anything to do with the plot. Front and center is Tom Hulce's engaging performance as C.C. Drood, the cartoonist. He's one of those cheerfully incompetent guys who always has a five o'clock shadow, a messy apartment and an estranged wife waiting somewhere for him to pick up their daughter. After he's framed for the murder of his mistress and finds himself in various thriller-type situations, there are moments that seem to come out of thin air, in which he suddenly looks exactly like a cartoonist who's realized how absurd it is that he's the main character in this movie.

Then there's the wife, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, whose relationship with Drood is so funny and interesting that every time they end up in the same room we lean forward, waiting to see what they're going to argue about now. Virginia Madsen plays the murdered girl in a role that lasts, incredibly, about thirty seconds, but once again effortlessly draws all attention through the cunning technique of standing where the camera can get a good look at her. The cinematography has an intriguing glossy L.A.-ness to it, and the editing isn't afraid to experiment; in this movie they're just pretty, but with the right material they could have been atmospheric.

I may be making this sound better than it is. Truth be told, these things make up a pretty small percentage of 'Slam Dance,' most of which involves a mystery so worthless that the filmmakers don't even seem to have been interested it. It could have been a decent mystery, we reflect, if it had been carefully constructed...but it isn't. It could have been easily ignored, then, if it hadn't taken such an ungodly amount of time to sort out...but it does. It's really bizarre, the way this movie doesn't seem to care about what happens in it, and yet wastes so many endless minutes telling us. The plot is presented so sloppily, and yet at such great length, that we finally just lose patience: either the murder is going to be what the movie's about, or the last thing it's about. You can't choose both.

I've been thinking about the way Drood stumbles upon most of the clues during the course of the story. I won't describe them in detail, but suffice to say that he finds out information in the most ridiculous, unlikely ways possible, especially in that scene with the red leather jacket. It's finally occurred to me that most of this is because of a hitman with a guilty conscience who was nudging him towards the answers, but the hitman is so murky a character, offscreen for such long periods, that it's impossible to recognize the guilty-conscience-nudging thing while the movie is actually still playing. The hitman is played by Don Opper, who wrote the screenplay and no doubt understood his character's motivations better than we do. That reminds me of that joke about the bit player who comes home and tells his wife that he's going to be acting in 'Hamlet.' "What's it about?" she asks. "It's about a gravedigger who meets a prince," he says. If you think this paragraph is leading nowhere, you should see the movie.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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