Ever since U.S. film-makers decided the American Dream had four wheels and a rearview mirror, Hollywood has been making movies in which young lovers drive to happy endings, leaving behind a trail of wrecked cars. Grandview, U.S.A.—about a teenage crush that develops at a demolition derby in a small midwestern town—interprets that formula literally. Its director, Randal Kleiser ( Grease and The Blue Lagoon), tries hard to please everyone with a story that is meant to be a bittersweet comedy. He combines Hollywood’s hottest trends —pubescent male lead, androgynous female lead, gratuitous use of rock video—with its most faded sentimental themes. The film opens with a shot of rippling cornfields and closes with a shot of rippling U.S. flags. In between, a syrupy title song fills in the emotional blanks with lines including, “This is the kind of world that I’m so glad to be in.”
The movie centres on a smart, nononsense woman named Michelle (Mike) Cody (Jamie Lee Curtis). She drives a battered blue tow truck and owns a demolition derby track which the local politicians are trying to shut down. Mike wears plaid shirts with den-
im jackets and stands around exuding a latent, earthy sexuality. Demolition driver Ernie (Slam) Webster (Patrick Swayze), owner of a battered red pickup truck, spends his workdays behind the wheel of a bulldozer. Slam and Mike, who flirted with each other as teenagers, are just good pals as adults because Slam is married. But Slam’s wife, Candy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a platinum-blond tramp with a heart of tin, is having an affair. Her lover is a goldenhaired washing machine salesman, Donny (Troy Donahue), who drives a Camaro and enjoys being tied to the bedposts. Candy casually puts on a flimsy camisole and slips off in her Volkswagen to see Donny on the pretext of visiting the supermarket.
But the real derby gets under way as a shy, cuddly 18-year-old, Tim Pearson (C. Thomas Howell), enters his libido in the race. Unlike Slam and Mike, Tim has no nickname and no car. But he borrows a white Cadillac from his corrupt real estate agent father, only to back it into a bog while parking with his prom date. Looking for a tow truck, the mud-splattered youth stumbles into the Grandview Speedrome and meets Mike, the older woman of his dreams. The filmmakers provide Tim with rock video fantasies that transform the denimshirted Mike into a stern temptress
sheathed in leopard skin and chains. Those sequences give Howell, a teen idol, the opportunity to wear black satin pants and pose with a guitar and a lipsynced pout. Curtis is a smouldering presence in both her guises, but Howell remains unconvincing either as a rock star or as a leading man. Their climactic sex scene is so lacking in steam that the viewer wonders if Tim is afraid that his parents are watching.
Last year Risky Business was one of the hits of the summer—a coming-ofage movie for late adolescent males. While Risky Business was consistently sexy, funny and irreverent, Grandview fails by trying to touch all those bases and still remain basically wholesome. But a summer youth film is on dangerous ground when its teenaged hero’s father turns out to be the only character who really comes of age.
Two of the film’s three stars, Curtis and Swayze, give strong performances. But their talent is stranded in the wrong script. In Grandview no one gets hurt; everybody wins. There is no emotional damage, only property damage. Although the demolition derby serves as the central symbol for passion and conflict, in a film as innocuous as Grandview, U.S.A. a midway ride of kiddie bumper cars would have been more appropriate. -BRIAN D. JOHNSON
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