Saturday, February 25, 2006

I'm head of the geek patrol.

Breasts make their first appearance about thirty seconds into Hardbodies (a title Patrick Bateman would approve of), and the first sex scene occurs immediately after the opening credits. More than Risky Business or even The Last American Virgin, Hardbodies is the quintessential 80's teen sex comedy. The filmmakers are so blatant in their goal to cram as much leering soft-core porn into eighty minutes that they forget the "comedy" aspect completely and unconsciously steer the narrative into very dark places.

Scotty (Grant Cramer) is a vapid slut who has just been evicted from his apartment. After a few nights of sleeping on the beach, Scotty is hired by Hunter (Gary Wood), Ashley (Sorrels Pickard) and Rounder (Michael Rapport), three middle-aged men who have just moved into a lavish beach house. The men offer to pay Scotty and let him live in the house; in exchange, Scotty shows them the tricks apparently required to pick up - you guessed it - hardbodies. The three men are horrifying for different reasons; Hunter represents Reagan-era oiliness, Rounder is a standard-issue horny fat guy, and Ashley, the scariest of all, is a quiet, pot-smoking doofus in a stetson. Because ladies love stoned cowboys, right?

The first hint of subtextual ugliness occurs early in Hardbodies, when Scotty's girlfriend Kristi (Teal Roberts) opens his refridgerator only to find a rotting mess reminiscent Christian Bale's fridge in The Machninist. Kristi's face registers genuine horror and disgust; Scotty unconvincingly laughs off his filthy life, and then the moment is forgotten, Harrison Bergeron-style. In Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing, a squalid apartment is similarly used to represent a character's messed-up soul; the difference is that here, Scotty's filthiness is held up as a virtue. We learn that Scotty hasn't paid his rent for three months, and yet when he is evicted, he acts as though it's his landlord's fault. Scotty spends most of the film manipulating and deceiving women, yet there is no moment when the filmmakers indicate anything but complete enthusiasm for this horrible beach bum.

Scotty's best friend Rag (Courtney Gains) has perhaps the most off-putting introduction I've ever seen in a film, swaying stupidly while he puckers a cigarette between his lips like a duck. It's disgusting. Later, Rag jokingly offers to keep a female character company, and she responds that she isn't lonely. Rag adds, "But I am," and a genuine look of emptiness washes over Gains' face. Most of the characters in Hardbodies - the middle-aged men, the "geeks" that prowl the beach, and of course most of the women - are motivated by genuine sadness and desperation. Perhaps this explains why Scotty is being celebrated; his brainlessness leaves him too pure to be sad.

The thorniest sequence occurs when Hunter attempts to rape Candy (Crystal Shaw) on the beach. Scotty interrupts and stops Hunter, making it clear that he's going too far. What disturbs me is that the filmmakers even needed to have their main character articulate the difference between himself and a rapist. Because actually, Scotty's not all that different - he goes on to quietly chastise Candy for flirting with men in the first place. She agrees, which is no surprise as the women in this film wander around vacantly as though they're waiting to be violated. No matter how sleazy the men in this film are, they are only gently chastised by the female characters and described as "sweet" and "funny." The result is a film with a philosophy of male/female relationships that is slightly more insightful than Leisure Suit Larry.

I'd like to point out at this point that Hardbodies grossed about eight million dollars in 1984 (equivalent to fifteen today), enough to generate a sequel two years later. Not a huge hit, but it did have an audience. If it were just about breasts, than I could shrug it off, but there's something unusually mean-spirited about this one - I prefer gentler 80's sex comedies like Revenge of the Nerds. A film like this shouldn't leave you feeling vaguely depressed; to paraphrase Cybill Shepard in Taxi Driver, Hardbodies is about as exciting as saying "Let's fuck."

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