A high-camp romp to find the good in bad movies

August 22, 1993|By Dail Willis

BAD MOVIES WE LOVE

Edward Margulies

and Stephen Rebello

Plume

330 pages. $12 (paperback)

Bad movies, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, are not all the same. That is the premise of Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello in "Bad Movies We Love."

This high-camp tour of film's lowest echelons promises "Big Stars! Big Budgets! Big Hair! Big Mistakes!" and it delivers, essay-style, with a short synopsis of more than 200 bad classics. Some of the material first appeared in Movieline in the "Bad Movies We Love" monthly column.

To make the cut, the authors say, movies have to be so bad they're fun -- the ones that go "way, way out there, to dementedly inspired places that few movies ever go."

The book is divided into 21 chapters that arrange the films by topic. It begins with "The Breaking Point," a listing of bad suspense movies that the authors say leave you wondering: "How did these people think they'd get away with this?"

In some cases they did, at least at the box office. "Fatal Attraction" was a hit with ticket buyers but is excoriated here for a multitude of sins, most notably bad casting. Glenn Close is a "casting implausibility" who "stays home listening to Puccini while switching a table lamp on and off."

Much of this book is pretty predictable, but the authors do manage to leave a mark on some interesting targets.

Mickey Rourke, for instance, gets his own chapter, "Slip Us a Mickey." The authors recall that when Mr. Rourke began his career, he was sized up by some as "a latter-day James Dean or Marlon Brando." But he is taken to task here for mumbling, poses and mannerisms (and for not washing his hair after getting famous). To him goes another award: "the crown of most enjoyably hammy actor of his generation."

As you might expect, Joan Crawford appears often on these pages, along with Ann-Margret, Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis. So does Sharon Stone, who also wrote the foreword to the book.

This is a book readable in small slices, and part of what makes it work as well as it does is the authors' sharp eye for Hollywood excess paired with some interesting, relevant trivia about the industry. (It can be used as a reference, since the authors have provided an index by actor and by movie title.)

They have a great deal of fun, in words and pictures, with bad movie sex. Other recurrent themes here: big, bad hair; unintentionally funny dialogue; improbable plots and the unspecified terminal diseases cherished by bad screenwriters.

One of their best dissections is reserved for box-office cash cow Tom Cruise:

"We're truly awed by Tom Cruise. Is there anything he can't do? We gasped when he showed he could dance in his underwear in 'Risky Business'; then he mastered sitting inside a jet for 'Top Gun'; then he learned to ride around in a wheelchair for 'Born on the Fourth of July.' These triumphs, however, pale next to 'Cocktail'; Cruise singlehandedly breathes life back into that long-dead genre, Elvis Presley movies." And they offer the details to prove it, elevating "Cocktail" to the status of a bad movie worth loving.

Their highest honors go to that camp classic that's a two-fer screamfest: Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest."

This book will entertain movie buffs who want to enrich their film-trivia knowledge, and it could be useful also as a guide to how to find something amusing at the video store when all the good stuff is already rented. Certainly, there's something to be said for two movie junkies dedicated enough to watch all this shlock and still have energy left to write about it.

And yes, there's the specter of a sequel. So if your favorite bad movie isn't here, it might be included next time.

Ms. Willis is a copy editor in the Features Department at The Sun.

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