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Teen Movies

     It's three weeks in Boston of a cosmic 80s Teen Movie Explosion: 3 O'Clock High (1987), Weird Science (1985), and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).

     I must admit trouble relating to 3 O'Clock High's scaredey-cat twirp, Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemasko), tied up in a pretzel because he's challenged to an after-hours fight by the towering school bully, Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson). Relax, Jerry! I too was a pint-sized dweeb but I sport a Marciano-like 2-0 schoolyard scuffle record. The first time, bursting with pretestosterone, I leapt on a fellow 4th grade runt and pinned his skinny arms to the ground. Victory! The second battle was cold, calculatedly Darwinian. In my fifth grade, one fifty-pound kid was the runt of the litter. Who was second weakest? Third? This academic debate was answered when, encircled by classmates, I wrangled this pale ninny (Charles was his effete name!) until he muttered a grudging, "Uncle!" Hooray! I was third weakest!

     Pardon my manly bragging! Back to 3 O'Clock High, where Jerry, assigned to interview bad Buddy for the high school rag, accidentally touches his touchy subject. "You can take your newspaper and wipe your dick with it," says Buddy, before the shivery challenge for three o'clock fisticuffs: "If you tell a teacher, it will be even worse! You sneak home, I'll be under your bed!" 3 O'Clock High plays out, effectively, as a spoof of western classic, High Noon (1952), in which ticking-away clocks pointed to marshal Gary Cooper's reluctant duel in the midday sun. Here too, clocks move toward that frightful end-of-the-school day. In 3 O'Clock High's funniest scene, a banal 16mm film projected in Jerry's science class, The Wonderful World of Insects, proves as ominous as the clocks, showing a scorpion in the path of a "small, nonagressive cricket," turning that cricket into mush.

     The fight is a pretty good one, a nice payoff for a forgotten teen movie. Maybe we'd remember it if the lead, Casey Siemasko, wasn't so darned square. But this is the Reagan years, remember,and that's why Siemasko, who looks like the Treasurer of the Republican Club, is the hero, the James Dean-like Outsider, Buddy, is the villain. And all hail the suburbanite protagonists of John Hughes's written-and-directed Weird Science and Ferris Bueller, set in caucasian enclaves (Wilmette? Evanston?) of Chicago.

     Except for Anthony Michael Hall's lively performance. Weird Science makes me chuck up. Is there any 80s film which more offensively rebuffs 1970s feminism than this tale of two losers who create, to be their sex slave, a simulated, Barbarella-thing on their computer (Kelly LeBrock, whom only a Hugh Hefner-type could think erotic). With a girl in tow, the nerd boys become popular with their future-frat peers. In an amazing moment of woman-as-exchange, Gary (Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) swap their simulacrum gal, whom they've labeled Lisa, for two flesh-and-blood ones. They agree to this pimp offer from another high schooler: "You let us have a crack at Lisa and we'll give you Deb and Gilly."

     Is that enough? What about Lisa, 23, wildly kissing 15-year-old Wyatt and grabbing his buns? Does John Ashcroft know about Weird Science, available on tape at Blockbusters, with this scene of underaged sex?

     How about Weird Science's rubbing against racism? There's that troubling scene in which Gary and Wyatt enter a nightclub of territorial African-Americans, and tame them by talking jive: "I was insane for this little 8th grade bitch," says Gary, with a slurry, coonish intonation. Shouldn't these little muthahs be decked for condescendingly parodying black talk? Not in the lily white world view of John Hughes, which reaches an apotheosis in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

     I know, this one's loads of fun, and Matthew Broderick is a charmer as the oft-fibbing kid who, everyone's wet dream, substitutes a stultefying day at school with a rousing hooky day at a Cubs game, an art museum, smooching time with his girlfriend, a parade, and dancing in the streets of Chicago. But what of his 80s Wall Street philosophy? "Isms are not good. You shouldn't believe in isms... Only the meek get pinched, the bold survive." Note he's a privileged rich kid, residing in a presidential home with pillars and a circular driveway, a regular junior Reagan. "He's very popular," says his jealous principal (Jeffrey Jones), as frustrated catching Ferris being duplicitous as Mondale-Dukakis foiling the Contra-era Republicans.

GERALD PEARY
(June, 2002)

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