January 25, 2013

RETRO ACTIVE: Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

by Nick Schager

Amazon Women on the Moon [This week's "Retro Active" pick was inspired by the large-ensemble sketch comedy Movie 43.]

If ever a movie was made for the small screen, it was Amazon Women on the Moon. A sketch-comedy compilation spearheaded by John Landis and directed by not only him but also Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton and Robert K. Weiss, the 1987 film is a loving ode to the cinema's main rival, television, which it mocks with ribald affection. As a parody, it's a scattershot effort, lurching between its 21 skits, and yet courtesy of its connective tissue—a spoof of a 1950s sci-fi movie—it manages to capture an overarching sense of the silliness of so much late-night television. Be it infomercials, true-life reality TV shows, romantic dramas, or soft-core porn, no subject is safe, though it's a late sketch directed by Weiss dubbed "Video Pirates" that truly encapsulates the anarchic spirit of the endeavor. Focused on a band of buccaneers who overtake a ship so as to confiscate its booty of VHS and Betamax tapes, laser discs, and illegally copied movies—which appear as gold cassettes, and whose FBI warnings are laughed at by the scalawags—it's a loving tribute to the burgeoning phenomenon of home video as a veritable cinematic bounty, one to be reveled in with wild, gleeful abandon.

Amazon Women on the Moon

The notion of television as inextricably intertwined with reality is most directly suggested by a running gag in which an older gentleman (Lou Jacobi) in his underwear winds up accidentally transported into his TV, and is forced to wander through the various programs presented by Amazon Women, crying out to his wife for help. That sort of intimate connection with television runs through many of the film's sketches, largely via the various ways in which they play off of viewers' knowledge of late-night TV viewing experiences. Thus, the main joke of "Bullshit or Not?", an Unsolved Mysteries/Ripley's Believe It Or Not hybrid hosted by Henry Silva in which it's posited that Jack the Ripper's true identity might have been the Loch Ness Monster (replete with dramatic recreation), is numskull absurdity that riffs on the overly dramatic make-believe mystery suggestions made by programs of its ilk. And a clip from the black-and-white horror drama "Son of the Invisible Man," in which Ed Begley Jr. believes himself to be invisible when he's not, and thus gallivants around a bar in the nude while patrons glumly humor his cluelessness, is a sweet and stupid ode to the types of old-school Universal monster movies that populated post-midnight TV.

Amazon Women on the Moon

Porn also gets its comeuppance via two unrelated sketches. In the first, Monique Gabrielle delivers bimbo narration about her daily life as she's seen wandering about her California neighborhood naked, with absolutely no one paying her lack of clothes any attention—goofiness that also allows Amazon Women to provide the very sort of gratuitous nudity at which it's poking fun. The second digs even deeper into the relationship between TV and spectator via the story of Ray (Marc McClure), a lonely guy who rents a personalized video tape that turns out to be POV smut in which the actress moans and screams his name while in the throes of passion. Pressing his excited face almost clear against the TV tube, Ray finds himself in bliss until the woman's boyfriend (Andrew Dice Clay) barges in, screams at the woman for her infidelity, and then shoots her and himself, though not before blaming Ray for the whole catastrophe. As the police arrive on the TV and then, also, in his living room to arrest him, the boundaries between real and fiction—as in another sketch in which a Siskel and Ebert-style film critic duo brutally critique a viewer's life—fall away in ridiculous fashion.

Amazon Women on the Moon

As with Landis' prior sketch-comedy effort Kentucky Fried Movie, Amazon Women has its lulls, including the central sci-fi film, which is a cornball dud, and also an early sequence in which Michelle Pfeiffer and Peter Horton attempt to retrieve their newborn baby from Griffin Dunne's hospital doctor, who—having lost the infant—instead brings them a Mr. Potato Head. Fortunately, however, the pace is so fleet that the proceedings rarely find themselves in a rut. And occasionally, they so perfectly nail a bit of parodic insanity that the low moments are easily forgotten, as with recurring commercials involving singer Don Simmons (David Alan Grier), a cheesy, crazily smiling square whom B.B. King presents in a public service sketch as an example of that sorry condition known as "Blacks Without Soul." Enthusiastically singing tunes like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" and "Close to You"—in not only that initial sketch but also a later one for his own "non-offensive and unthreatening" albums—Grier, exhibiting less coolness with each successive number, embodies the dim-bulb charm of Amazon Women, a film that loves TV for its awesomeness and idiocy in equal measure.

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Posted by ahillis at January 25, 2013 8:47 AM