Nelsonville, Ohio, 1956. Teenage misfit Jonathan Bellah (Doug McKeon) has the hots for local sexpot Marilyn McCauley (Kelly Preston, hey why wouldn't he?) but can't score a date. That is until Jonathan befriends new kid in town, Gene Harbrough (Chris Nash), a Brylcreamed biker rebel with a surprisingly sensitive side. While cool kid Gene teaches Jonathan how to get laid he also falls for sweet-natured Bunny Miller (Catherine Mary Stewart, hey why wouldn't he?). Since Bunny worries her dad won't like her dating a bad boy, Jonathan helps his friend out by pretending to date her instead. Unfortunately this sets both Jonathan and Gene on a collision course with Bunny's nasty ex-boyfriend, Kenny (D.W. Brown).
Mischief scores its funniest gag before the opening credits roll. After the 20th Century Fox fanfare a familiar looking title card reads: "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Ohio, 1956." What follows is mildly amusing rather than gut-busting funny though fairly nuanced compared to other teen sex comedies and even touching at times. That is to say, touching in a way unrelated to Kelly Preston's nude scenes. Boom-tish! American Graffiti (1973) begat the raunchier National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) that in turn spawned a sub-genre of retro-Fifties teen sex comedies, most (in)famously Porky's (1982). Like Porky's, Mischief reflects an American mid-life crisis in the Eighties, waxing nostalgic for a more innocent era before Watergate, before Vietnam when drag racing, sneaking liquor and yes, getting laid along with the 'live fast, die young' ethos of James Dean (whom Gene quotes directly at one point) enshrined the mythic American teen experience. An emphasis on friendship and romance elevates the film far above the crass likes of Lemon Popsicle or the Porky's series. Yet beneath the cloak of nostalgia (the soundtrack is a jukebox of baby boomer favourites) mixed with a more permissive Eighties attitude to nudity and sex, Mischief upholds archaic sexual politics that sour an otherwise amiable farce.
The film was scripted by Noel Black, director of the excellent satirical black comedy Pretty Poison (1968). Black claimed the story was autobiographical but handed directing duties to Mel Damski whose output includes episodes of numerous television shows along with Graham Chapman's pirate comedy flop Yellowbeard (1983). However, Damski's Native American biopic The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1982) remains a career high point for Raquel Welch. In some ways what the two men accomplished with Mischief is little more than a raunchier version of Happy Days with Jonathan as shy nice guy Richie Cunningham and chick-savvy, leather-jacketed Gene as the Fonz. It is a quirky character comedy with a leisurely, even aimless plot that nonetheless captures the eternal teen frustration of having what Chuck Berry aptly describes in song as "no particular place to go." Black injects some complexity with Gene's strained relationship with his widowed father (Terry O'Quinn), but while Jonathan gets him to open up about his feelings and take his future seriously discussions don't get any more profound than "Ever feel like shit when you try to help somebody?"
The undeniably stimulating presence of Catherine Mary Stewart and sex-on-legs Kelly Preston, two of the era's most adored teen film starlets, ensured a cult following on the strength of Preston's steamy sex scenes alone (although in the midst of the AIDs crisis, contemporary audiences must have winced at the scene where Jonathan refuses to wear a condom). Even so, for all the talk of chicks and what car would guarantee you would get laid, the film is dominated by the undeniable homoerotic obsession between Jonathan and Gene. At one point Jonathan asks why Gene is so interested in his sex life and the answer is none too convincing. In an interesting twist Jonathan attracts Marilyn by proving more 'dangerous' than he initially seemed while Gene's sensitivity draws Bunny. However, after Jonathan finally beds Marilyn the plot springs a hypocritical twist that underlines its mixed messages . After emphasizing the hero's urge to get laid at all costs, the film balks at the revelation his lust object is no virgin and conveniently paints her a whore so the hero can move on to a 'nice' girl in the form of her geeky bespectacled sister (Jami Gertz, another familiar face in Eighties teen flicks). It is a typically reactionary Eighties teen movie trope masquerading as a moral. Other than that the remaining romances and relationships are resolved in satisfactory fashion.