Mannequin (1987)

Is relentless, “normalized” sexual harassment ever funny?  The creators of the irredeemable Mannequin surely think so.

In the film, there’s an annoying supporting character named Armand (Christopher Maher).  He works with Roxie (Carole Davis), an ambitious brunette, at a high-scale metropolitan department store in Philadelphia.  In scene after scene after scene, he won’t stop hitting on her.  No matter how many times she says no or insists on keeping their relationship strictly professional, he insists and persists to an agonizing degree.  Even after she shoves him down the stairs one night (don’t ask), he still won’t give up his undesired pursuit.

Realizing to her eternal horror that he’ll never drop it, she finally gives in and says she’ll go to bed with him.  The fact that she is more resigned than enthusiastic about her decision speaks volumes.  Fortunately, Armand is all talk and no action.

(Near the end of the film, she finds herself having to fend off another lonely co-worker who starts kissing her without asking and keeps going despite her repeated protestations.  Played for non-existent laughs it’s easily the most uncomfortable moment, which is saying something.)

Meanwhile, Roxie’s boyfriend, Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy), has his own problems.  He’s a little too fond of this mannequin he’s created.  Because it took him weeks rather than hours to complete, his boss cans him for his meticulousness.  An aspiring sculptor (which we never actually see him do), he goes from one crappy, dead-end job to the next before catching a break at another high-scale metropolitan department store run by Claire Timkin (a wasted Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls).  She’s a third-generation owner worried about the future.  Despite her family business turning 100, it’s on the verge of bankruptcy.  They’re not getting a whole lot of customers these days.

Their only hope appears to be that rival store where Roxie works.  Her slimy boss, B.J. Wert (Steve Vinovich), wants to buy it out and thanks to his inside mole (an uncharacteristically nerdy James Spader), he’s very close to getting it.

Unfortunately for them, there’s an incident that leads Claire to hire Jonathan as a stock boy.  He’s very happy to get the gig because his treasured mannequin is here.  (He spotted her one fateful rainy night in the store’s display window.)

About 20 minutes into the picture, the mannequin (the always lovely Kim Cattrall) suddenly, inexplicably comes to life.  An understandably freaked out Jonathan learns the ageless beauty is really an Egyptian princess, more than 4500 years old, who successfully managed to avoid being betrothed to a camel dung salesman (I wish I were kidding) by summoning a desperate plea to the gods who then allowed her to escape somehow.  I say “somehow” because I have no idea, beyond making her disappear in the film’s opening scene, what they actually did beyond that welcome gesture.

We learn she encountered famous figures like the revered painter Michelangelo who was too obsessed with his famed David to pay any attention to her.  And that’s about all we learn because she soon becomes Jonathan’s muse which trumps all other considerations.  After they screw around late at night when the store is closed (one sequence where they wear various outfits is choreographed like a lame 80s music video), Jonathan helps the store’s window dresser, Hollywood (a supremely overwrought Meshach Taylor from Designing Women), put together displays in a desperate effort to attract much needed walk-in traffic.  (Emmy, the said mannequin who curiously can only be human around the stock boy, becomes a focal point in that window.)

Amazingly, Jonathan has the magic touch.  (Rather quickly, he gets promoted and ultimately becomes a vice president.)  His window displays attract large crowds (come on, they’re not that spectacular) and the store’s once pitiful future is suddenly much brighter (even though the store is selling the exact same merchandise as before).  This doesn’t escape the attention of B.J. who erupts during a business meeting about the rather preposterously instant reversal of fortunes for his own store.  (Sales are down 89%.)  Shortly thereafter, his mole & his rival’s inept security guard (Police Academy’s permanently militarized G.W. Bailey) break into the store to steal the source of their misery.

Mannequin was released the day before Valentine’s Day in 1987 and in the almost 30 years since its modestly successful theatrical run that year, it has aged rather poorly.  Try as you may, you’d be very hard pressed to laugh very often.  (The overly generous Roger Ebert did so only once.  I didn’t laugh at all.)  As for the romantic pairing of Cattrall & McCarthy, what a mismatch.  Their relationship feels more obligatory than natural.

Furthermore, Emmy the mannequin is a peculiar, inconsistent character.  When we first meet her as a terrified runaway bride in ancient Egypt, she sounds like a feminist, eager to invent, explore her independence & refreshingly disinterested in settling down, especially with a stranger she barely knows.  But once she encounters Jonathan, it’s all about him & what he wants.  (You’d think she want to get the hell out of that goddamn store on her own.  But no.)  As they inevitably fall for each other (even though he’s also dating the hot-and-cold Roxie), there’s a ridiculous scene where he’s bursting with so much confidence, he tells her he can become a city planner!  (Oh, for fuck sakes.)

Inconsistency is a recurring theme.  When the security guard makes some anti-gay remarks about Hollywood, the overly flamboyant window dresser, Jonathan rightly calls him a bigot.  But Jonathan rarely looks comfortable around Hollywood himself.  (“Good grief,” he mutters to himself at one point.)  At least the dopey security guard (and one other employee) aren’t pretending to be tolerant.

And then there’s the business of Emmy’s parlour trick.  She’s not always a mannequin when others are around, especially during the film’s gross, completely bewildering ending.  Since it’s never quite clear how she could become a mannequin in the first place when it was build from scratch (and she had already been in existence for thousands of years) the film could care less about establishing a simple, firm & logical rule about this.  Instead, it’s far more interested in making Jonathan look like an idiotic pervert which no one at his store really cares about (beyond being secretly nosy about what he does with Emmy behind closed doors) because business is booming.  (Even Roxie’s boss wants to hire him, albeit through cheesy blackmail.)

Mannequin is so remarkably out-of-date that feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian would have a field day carving it up if she hasn’t already done so.  God knows it deserves it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 26, 2014
6:41 p.m.

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Published in: on October 26, 2014 at 6:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Self-Righteous Fury

Self-righteous fury is all well and good
But not when it prevents you from being understood
Emotion can’t shatter concrete reason
Suggesting otherwise leads to false claims of treason

You’re entitled to your views, as dumb as they are
You just won’t listen, you only want to spar
I’m not at all interested in hearing you scream
Find some healthier way to blow off some steam

It’s not at all about defending obscene material
Or even misrepresenting it as something ethereal
It’s about unfair sentences given to those
Who access the kinds of images you quite rightly oppose

Contrary to what you might honestly think
These kinds of fools don’t belong in the klink
They keep to themselves, they don’t cause pain
Your paranoid worrying is completely in vain

Stuffing them in cages for years at a time
Is taking the focus off an actual crime
We lock many of them up to alleviate our fears
While actual predators cause so many tears

Accusing me of supporting what they enjoy
Is a dastardly tactic you choose to employ
Deep down you know you’re telling a lie
Is it any wonder I’m eager to say good-bye?

It’s blatantly obvious we’re never going to agree
So please let go of your misguided hostility
Take off your blinders and open your eyes
Or the number of victims will continue to rise

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 19, 2014
10:27 p.m.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm  Comments (2)  

Nightflyers

The strange things you find in your Dad’s old tape collection.  Four years before he would begin the series of novels that would provide the source material for HBO’s Game Of Thrones, George R.R. Martin was struggling to make it big in Hollywood.  After contributing scripts to shows like Max Headroom and Beauty & The Beast, he caught a bigger break.  A studio was interested in adapting one of his science fiction novellas into a feature film.  Hooray!

Unfortunately, his excitement was short-lived.  When Nightflyers was released a week before Halloween 1987, it was hammered by critics & ignored by audiences.  Having finally seen it on a dubbed VHS cassette nearly 30 years later, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.  (Apparently, according to Martin, there were numerous changes made to his original story.  You don’t say!)

The Last Starfighter’s Catherine Mary Stewart, the film’s emotionless narrator, tags along with a group of scientific archetypes on an inevitably doomed expedition to try to decipher & connect with some unknown entity that may or may not be able to create stars in the galaxy.  Right off the bat, Stewart describes this whole endeavour as “questionable” but is up for it nonetheless because “I love a good mystery”.  Yes, she has excellent judgment.

As the group arrives at a bilingual spaceport (English & Mandarin) via subway train track in what looks like a giant snail shell, upon observing the large, unspectacular-looking spacecraft that will serve as their proper mode of transportation for the expedition, Stewart makes the unintentionally self-aware comment that the only reason they were given this “nightflyer” was because of their “limited budget”.  Do tell.

The second she says it you become very distracted by how cheap, dull and uninspired the sets look.  Instantly forgettable is as kind a phrase as I can muster.  And the special effects evoke giggles far more than awe.  Dig those poor space travelling transition scenes.  Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have a field day with this.

It probably goes without saying that if you were expecting some kind of magical pay-off regarding this communicate-with-a-unconfirmed-mythological-starmaker dealy, you are adorably naïve and need to get out more.  The real focus of the story involves a hologram captain named Royd (Michael Praed rocking the old school Billy Ray Cyrus mullet) who says he can’t be there in person because he needs to be in 2 places at once.  This irritates most of the scientists who also wonder why there’s no crew running the ship.  (They should’ve wondered what their agents were thinking signing them up for this shit.)

The truth is Royd is being held captive by the ship itself.  He’s also a clone.  As the wonderfully hammy & at times unintentionally amusing telepath Michael Des Barres helpfully informs us, Royd was created by a lonely albeit powerful woman who hated her fellow humans because they treated her like a Salem witch.  They attempted to remove her powers because they thought she was cursed.  Somehow, she was able to retain them in repressed form despite all those mettlesome surgical procedures.  In fact, her spirit lives on in the nightflyer’s badly outdated computer system.  (Paging tech support!)

And she’s none too pleased with Catherine Mary Stewart making bedroom eyes at her infatuated “son” who actually isn’t her son.  In fact, in a truly weird scene, Royd says he was created to be her lover but she died before he was born.  Or did I remember this incorrectly?  It is all so very confusing.  (As an aside, what’s the deal with Stewart’s gymnastics routine on those makeshift uneven bars?  Talk about random.)

As the demon computer spirit’s jealousy rises, at one point she somehow infiltrates Des Barres’ body.  (Just say no, Michael.)  He makes an early, failed attempt to eliminate Stewart.  The special effect that concludes this scene is about as obvious as the screenplay.

Meanwhile, Royd tries to do a number on his mommy-or-lover-that-wasn’t so the surviving scientists can take over the ship.  However, there’s a security breach and one of the female computer wizards gets sucked into the oxygenless ethers of outer space.  (Hate when that happens.)  As our uninteresting heroes climb into their cheapo flying R2D2-style exploratory pods with fishbowls on their heads to venture outside to try to repair three holes in this enormous pile of space junk, the incredibly dopey lead scientist is somehow tricked into thinking a sudden ring of fire is the scientific breakthrough he’s been waiting 12 years for.  I can’t tell if the filmmakers love Johnny Cash or visual metaphors for hemorrhoids.

It’s bad enough Nightflyers shamelessly rips off 2001, Star Wars and Alien.  It’s even worse that it does it so poorly.  (Hey scientists, watch out for that headless special effect.  Stop laughing.  It’s going to kill you all!  I’m serious!)  My God, the film is less than 90 minutes but its sluggish, glacial pace makes it feel twice as long.  (Or maybe that was because I kept pausing and rewinding so much.  And taking so many pee breaks.  Nah.  It’s definitely the pacing.)

Of all the actors trapped in this Space Titanic, I feel most sorry for the late James Avery.  Just a few years before his starmaking performance as the lovably gruff Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, he’s shackled here with a appalling double stereotype:  a fey black chef.  Despite having some kind of scientific credentials, we learn he was actually hired to cook for everybody.

Oh, for fuck sakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 5, 2014
2:20 p.m.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm  Comments (2)