Patrick Swayze has terminal cancer, you say? I will take a moment to remember the man before he leaves. For a while, I was a student of his personal catalogue, and what a time it was.
My friend Ron French and I had a ritual in the late ’80s and early ’90s: We’d choose the worst movie in town, pick an off-peak screening and go to throw popcorn and trade snark from the audience. We tried to sit in a place where we wouldn’t disturb others, but we weren’t always successful; to the couple at the Holiday 6 whose enjoyment of “Point Break” we more or less ruined, I’m sorry. We had to see that one on opening night. The prospect of Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent and Swayze as a bank-robbin’ surfer was simply irresistible. (Talking in movies was a big pet peeve of mine at the time, too. I am a hypocrite.)
Swayze was to bad movies of the ’80s what Jack Nicholson was to good ones of the ’70s. “Dirty Dancing,” “Road House,” “Red Dawn,” “Ghost,” “North and South” (bad TV) and my personal favorite, “Next of Kin” — most of these were delightful to watch, so happily did they wallow in badness. What made them good-bad instead of bad-bad was, the people in them had a sense of humor about themselves. They knew it was bad, but they brought their A game, or at least their attention and energy. (The exception to the list was “Ghost,” which was bad-bad; Demi Moore’s personality is a black hole of dumb seriousness that sucks everything into its vortex.) “Red Dawn” was just plain hilarious, but was made funnier by its cultural impact; I remember seeing the program for an anti-communist function of some sort held in Fort Wayne, and “Red Dawn” was the afternoon’s entertainment. The thought of all those people coming off a morning of seminars and panel discussions about gulags and Stalinism, and into an afternoon of “Wolverines!” and Harry Dean Stanton bellowing, “Avenge me!” from behind the wire at the drive-in/re-education camp just kills.
“Next of Kin,” about a backwoods Appalachian clan taking revenge on the Chicago mob was a classic of the good-bad genre, combining elements of standard vengeance, gangster and fish-out-of-water plots. Ron pointed out the camera’s suspicious interest in an early family-picnic scene in which the elders of the clan practice their hatchet-throwin’ skills, and sure enough — I hope I’m not spoiling this for anyone — someone gets a hatchet in the brainpan in the big fight climax. It was so awesome.
One of the joys of bad-movie fandom is, you get to see them on cable years later and squeal, “How the hell did I miss Liam Neeson in this the first time around?!” Check out some of the players in the IMDb listing, beside Neeson: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Ben Stiller, Michael J. Pollard, Ted Levine and that necessity for all bad ’80s cinema — a Baldwin brother (Adam). The character names are nearly as good, with a Patsy-Ruth, Aunt Peg, Old Hillbilly and, of course, Grandpa. (He may be the hatchet-thrower; can’t remember.)
But back to Swayze. What made him a pleasure to watch was his grace. He seemed to know he’d never be doing Mamet off Broadway, but he could dance the shoes off anyone, and didn’t mind wearing tight pants while doing so. It’s hard to dislike a man so masculine, and still so happy in a body built for hip-swivelin’ rather than football. Relax, I’m not going to compare him to Gene Kelly, but they shared a distant ancestor, maybe.
The TV commercial for “Next of Kin” featured Swayze, in an eastern-Kentucky accent, warning, “You ain’t seen bad yet…but it’s a-comin’,” a line I treasure to this day. If only we’d had some more of that kind of bad.
What’s your favorite good-bad movie? Discuss in comments.
P.S. As good as Swayze’s bad was, it really couldn’t match the all-time worst movie we saw together: “On Deadly Ground,” in which Steven Seagal saves the Alaskan wilderness by blowing up an oil refinery in the middle of it. (Sample dialogue, via IMDb: My guy in D.C. tells me that we are not dealing with a student here, we’re dealing with the Professor. Any time the military has an operation that can’t fail, they call this guy in to train the troops, OK? He’s the kind of guy that would drink a gallon of gasoline so he could piss in your campfire! You could drop this guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear, without his toothbrush, and tomorrow afternoon he’s going to show up at your pool side with a million dollar smile and fist full of pesos. This guy’s a professional, you got me? If he reaches this rig, we’re all gonna be nothing but a big goddamned hole right in the middle of Alaska. So let’s go find him and kill him and get rid of the son of a bitch!
Also: Drunken Eskimo: You are about to go on a sacred journey.
Do we have a little bloggage? We might:
Via Jeff, in comments above, How Hillary won Ohio.
Dahlia Lithwick explains Charlotte Allen to you. Well, someone had to.
Off to the gym. Guess what we have to look forward to this weekend? Yes, that.