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  Free Ride The Eighties loved a douchebag
Year: 1986
Director: Tom Trbovich
Stars: Gary Hershberger, Reed Rudy, Dawn Schneider, Peter DeLuise, Brian MacGregor, Warren Berlinger, Mamie Van Doren, Renee Props, Chick Vennera, Anthony Charnota, Mario Marcelino, Joe Tornatore, Ken Olafson, Liam Sullivan, Frank Campanella
Genre: Comedy, Sex, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  1 (from 1 vote)
Review: At a party smarmy college kid Dan Garten (Gary Hershberger) tries to impress an attractive woman by stealing a flashy sports-car. Only to find stashed under the seat: $250,000. Money that belongs to the Garbagio Brothers, mobsters so ruthless they just sawed off their own father's hand for stealing. Back on campus, Dan and his equally obnoxiously preppy pal Greg Novak (Reed Rudy) take time off from pranking stuffy Stockwell (Warren Berlinger) the college dean and spying on the shower room at the girls' finishing school next door to make good use of their newfound loot. While Dan bribes a teacher to give him good grades, Greg hires a hooker to pimp out to his horny friends. When the Garbagios (Anthony Charnota, Mario Marcelino, Joe Tornatore) circle the college campus, Dan hides his money in the butt crack of a nude statue at the girls' school. There Dan meets his next romantic conquest, Jill Munroe (Dawn Schneider) whose father happens to chair the college board. On discovering them in bed, Stockwell goes out of his way to mess up Dan's plans just as the Garbagios close in.

Few genres have dated as poorly as Eighties teen sex comedies. To discern why one need only examine our protagonist in the odious Free Ride. No doubt back in 1986 a wisecracking, self-entitled preppy misogynist douchebags like Dan and Greg (who at one point refer to themselves as 'the classiest duo since Redford and Newman') were ideal identification figures for future Supreme Court Justice nominees across Ronald Reagan's America. To modern eyes however they come across as not only relics of a bygone era but likely the root of everything wrong with society today. Which renders their charmless antics throughout Free Ride's rambling, painfully episodic plot, a decidedly painful viewing experience.

Clearly the film wants us to find Dan a lovable rascal whose fast-talking ingenuity gets him in and out of various scrapes. And yet it imbues him with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even taking into account the unpalatable nature of the protagonist the film needed a lead as inherently likable and charismatic as the young Michael J. Fox to sell us on his scam. Gary Hershberger, a perfectly serviceable actor elsewhere including his reoccurring role in Twin Peaks, is simply not up to the task. In his defense neither veterans like Frank Campanella (as Papa Garbagio who replaces his severed limb with a gadget-laden prosthetic) and Ken Olafson nor future 21 Jump Street star and Disney Channel staple Peter DeLuise (as token dumb jock Carl, forever undone by Dan and Greg despite being twice their size) struggle just us hard to elevate the sort of tired slapstick routines that went out with vaudeville. Look out for horror and exploitation director Joe Tornatore (The Zebra Force (1976), Grotesque (1988)) and sitcom and animation regular Chick Vennera (a lot funnier on Animaniacs) among the eclectic cast. Especially embarrassing is the spectacle of Fifties B-movie bombshell Mamie Van Doren (High School Confidential (1958), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960)), past her prime but still vamping it up as Stockwell's wife: a frisky nurse who (in the the kind of scene found only in Eighties teen sex comedies) gives the students a very intimate physical ("Pull 'em up and tuck 'em in").

From tricking DeLuise's dimwitted Carl into mistaking a tube of glue for 'penis enlargement cream' to sneaking into the shower to cop an accidental eyeful of Kathy (Renee Props) (the inexplicable lone-girl-at-an-all-boys'-college, whose subplot goes nowhere, Free Ride's dubious attempts at humour veer from hopelessly dumb to just plain crass. Eventually things reach a crescendo of awfulness when the boys mistake 'nice girl' Jill for the hooker Greg hired and, in a scene that plays deeply uncomfortable today, come within a hair's breadth of gang rape. Mercifully Jill escapes but then tries to share her experience with Dan who just says "stop!" and manhandles her into bed. Jill evidently suffers from very low self-esteem judging from how often she falls for Dan's horrendous lines and eventually forgives his liaison with the prostitute. It ends with an absurd showdown tied into the omnipresent Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) posters adorning Dan and Greg's dorm room walls as the gang don camo gear and improvise homemade weapons to take on the mob. Witless and really quite nasty in spots, Free Ride stands as yet another oddity in the eccentric filmography of Syrian-born Moustapha Akaad, best known for producing the original Halloween series and directing The Message (1977): a biopic of the Prophet Muhammed. One imagines Free Ride was aimed at a very different audience.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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