Monday, January 19, 2009

Zapped! (1982)

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PLOT:

Patrick Stewart: Well, uh - how best to explain it; you've seen me in "X-Men" ...
Andy Millman: Yeah.
Patrick Stewart: The character I am, Professor Charles Xavier, if you remember, he can control things with the power of his mind - can make people do things and see things, so I thought, what if you could do that for real? I mean, not in a comic book world, but in the real world.
Andy Millman: Oh, all right.
Patrick Stewart: So in my film, I play a man who controls the world with his mind.
Andy Millman: Right. Oh, that's interesting.
Patrick Stewart: Yeah. For instance, I'm walking along, and I see this beautiful girl, and I think I'd like to see her naked, and so all her clothes fall off.
Andy Millman: All her - clothes fall off?
Patrick Stewart: Yes, and she's scrabbling around to get them back on again, but even before she can get her knickers on, I've seen everything. Yeah. I've seen it all.
Andy Millman: [pause] Okay. It's a comedy, is it?
Patrick Stewart: No. It's about what would happen, you know, if these things were possible.
Andy Millman: What's the story, though, what's the ...
Patrick Stewart: Well, I do other stuff; like I'm riding my bike in the park, and this policewoman says "Oi! You can't ride your bike on the grass!" and I go "Oh no?" And her uniform falls off, and she goes "Ahh!" and she's trying to cover up, but I've seen everything anyway. And I get on my bike and I ride off. On the grass.
Andy Millman: [increasingly uncomfortable] So it's mainly you sort of go around seeing ladies' tits?
Patrick Stewart: Mainly.
- Patrick Stewart & Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) in Season 1, Episode 6 of Extras

Except it is a comedy, and instead of Patrick Stewart we have Scott Baio as Barney Springboro, a geeky high school student, Willie Aames as his best friend Peyton, and Felice Schachter as Bernadette the love interest.

But he does have telekinesis, and he does get to see everything. Well, tits at least.

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REVIEW:


Half teen sex romp and half 70s live action Disney film, Zapped! was a staple of 80s cable television, and even spawned a sequel eight years later. Pairing marketable television stars with fantasy wish fulfillment and T&A proved to be box-office boffo, though the lowbrow comedy betrays what is generally an amusing feature with a surprising amount of heart at its smutty core.

It's main flaw is a series of subplots which serve to pad the run-time, but just take focus away from the main characters. While the romantic exploits of the school principal, or the reaction of Barney's parents to his odd behavior (think Carrie/The Exorcist), feature a few amusing moments, they serve no real purpose. Even odder are two fantasy sequences, one featuring the U.S.S. Enterprise getting eaten by a dog (don't ask), and the other a pot fueled dream about Albert Einstein and salami (really don't ask) that definitely feel out of place.

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As a whole, the cast do an acceptable job. Willie Aames was nominated for a Razzie award for his performance here, but he doesn't really stand out as particularly bad (Check out Bibleman if you really want to see Aames at his worst). He basically reprised the role along Scott Baio in the sitcom Charles in Charge a few years later. Felice Schachter (Nancy on The Facts Of Life) as the geeky school president fairs a lot better and brings a sincere sweetness to the role. Heather Thomas (The Fall Guy) is appropriately busty and bitchy as the head cheerleader and object of Peyton's "affection", and it's always nice to see the late Scatman Crothers get some screen time as Dexter Jones, the boy's baseball coach.

But this is the Scott Baio show, and the one time teen idol usually manages to hit the right note between sensitive and dorky. Barney shares a lot in common with the Kurt Russell roles from late 60s/early 70s Disney flicks with his gee-whiz reactions to his new powers. My favorite thing about his performance, however, is the far off glassy look he gets whenever he uses his ZAPPING ability. Very goofy, but despite looking like a dozy mental patient during these scenes Baio is perfectly capable in the role.

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The special effects in the film are certainly not-so-special, usually accomplished by having not-quite-invisible wires float objects around the room. In one particularly egregious scene, Barney is mooned by two teens and proceeds to float them across a park (after pulling down their girlfriend's tops). The effect is so poor that the whole sequence becomes surreal and a tad disturbing. Barney's display of power at his baseball game shows some enjoyable echoes of a similar sequence in The Absent Minded Professor, but in general the fx have aged badly.

What really works in the film is the romance between Barney and Bernadette, which manages to develop almost naturally despite all expectations to the contrary. The film doesn't hide from nudity or sex (though it has a junior-high attitude towards woman, and is almost tame compared to other sex comedies of the time), but director Robert J. Rosenthal shows surprising restraint in showing the progress of the relationship. It's a small thing in the grand scheme of the film, but the small amount of heart on display really rises parts of the film above the teen-schlock of the time.

The MGM DVD of the film is a flipper featuring both the widescreen and fullscreen versions. Image quality is fine, though awfully bright, and suffers greatly during some of the special effects sequences. The soundtrack features some painfully 80s music (sometimes playing behind a montage. Depending on your preference this may be a plus or a minus.

The release features no special features. Not even a trailer. No Scott Baio commentary? Bah!

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Slightly above average teen sex comedy is actually sweeter than one might expect, though some excruciating subplots, sub-par special effects and dumb comedy keep it from reaching the rather modest heights of the genre. Best watched for a combination of nostalgia and boobies.

1 comment:

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