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  Wild Life, The Teen Dreams
Year: 1984
Director: Art Linson
Stars: Chris Penn, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Eric Stoltz, Jenny Wright, Lea Thompson, Brin Berliner, Rick Moranis, Hart Bochner, Susan Rinell, Cari Anne Warder, Robert Ridgely, Jack Kehoe, Simone White, Beth McKinley, Michael Bowen, Randy Quaid, Sherilyn Fenn
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jim Conrad (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) fancies himself as a bit of a rebel, and to that end ventures into his school after dark, one week before classes are due to go back, and settles down in the corridor outside his class to smoke cigarettes and drink beer, or he does until the janitor arrives and moves him on. Emboldened, he places a homemade pipe bomb in the fist of the school mascot, a statue outside the premises, and blows its head and hand off, but he is not the only teen making mischief that night, as will always be the case when Tom Drake (Chris Penn) is around, because he's the biggest slob in town - so how does he get a girlfriend and his well-behaved pal Bill (Eric Stoltz) doesn’t?

The Wild Life was one of a billion teen comedies released in the eighties as the newly-moneyed younger generation, albeit spending their parents' money quite often, were targeted by pop culture as never before seeing as how they had the disposable income to spend going to see nothing-y movies like this. They bought the soundtrack album too, and Eddie Van Halen (credited as "Edward" here) was the most prominent of those as he was the man responsible for writing and performing the soundtrack, though for one thing, there was not much recognisable as a song to be heard, merely instrumentals, and for another, Bananarama performed the title track and not Eddie.

Not only that, but the tune heard over the opening credits was neither, it was Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf. Now, you need to have a very good reason to lift a song most famous for its use in another film to apply to your own, especially if it's the first one played – imagine an action flick using Eye of the Tiger after Rocky III, except that really happened, and nobody particularly remembers it, much like nobody particularly recalls this. One explanation for that was Van Halen's reluctance to allow it to be re-released on home entertainment format thanks to rights issues over his music, which resulted in a belated distribution so far after the fact that only dedicated aficionados knew what it was.

Another interesting name behind the scenes was Cameron Crowe, not yet to make his directorial debut but writing the script for this in a manner suggesting a spiritual, if not actual, successor to his cult classic script for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Not many of the same cast were used, and none of the characters, but Chris Penn was the brother of one of Fast Times' breakout stars Sean Penn, so there was that connection, though it had to be said Sean was a whole lot more likeable in his movie than Chris was here, perhaps surprising in light of their subsequent public personas. In truth, the Tom character was plainly intended to be a loveable, good time guy, but something went wrong in the concept and Penn was forced to play him as nothing less than a total asshole, who would now be described as entitled.

He was difficult to ignore when he was in so many scenes, but the rest of the cast had interest, from Stoltz as Jim's brother moving out of the family home to a poolside apartment he can barely afford, a nice guy in contrast to Tom's boorishness, but fatally wishy-washy in comparison. Lea Thompson was Bill's ex, now dating a cop (Hart Bochner) despite her being of high school age, and Jenny Wright had the thankless task of playing her best friend who is the romantic partner of Tom and suffering mightily for it. All the charm and perception of Crowe's other high school movie, up to that time, was completely missing as he relied on bad behaviour to raise the laughs which for most would not be forthcoming. Only Randy Quaid as a Vietnam vet burnout who Jim has befriended hinted at depth, and he was barely in this, which left a bunch of "hey, it's that guy/gal" moments (rock stars included) and some "whatever happened to?" ponderings. It did have a neat eighties atmosphere to it, but that was about all it had in its favour at this remove.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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