March 4, 2013 by billysparrow
Released March 4, 1988
Starring Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Henry Gibson, Ned Beatty, and George Newbern
Looking back, it appears that I had slightly odd tastes in celebrity women as I was moving into young adulthood. In addition to the more understandable, age-appropriate crushes I had on Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders and Sarah Jessica Parker, I really had a thing for both Kirstie Alley and Kathleen Turner. I had pictures of both of them on my bedroom door (the Kirstie Alley one was a particularly sultry shot from that noted skin mag TV Guide). I’m not sure how this happened (I guess I liked older women with raspy voices, but that doesn’t explain why I wasn’t deeply in love with Joan Rivers), but I suspect the Kathleen Turner thing may have been more of a crush on Jessica Rabbit (more thoughts on that coming soon!) than anything else. Or at least that’s what I’m choosing to believe.
In any case, I probably rented “Switching Channels” in the midst of my burgeoning crush on Ms. Turner, because I’m not sure what else would have drawn me to it. Yes, it was a comedy, thus making it a more likely choice than “Action Jackson,” but I was no big fan of Burt Reynolds (this, in fact, might be the only movie of his I’ve ever seen all the way through, unless you count the rampant fast-forwarding–for far different reasons–that accompanied my viewing of “Striptease” and “Deliverance”), and I doubt I had any interest in seeing Christopher Reeve in anything where he wasn’t wearing a cape (and even some where he was…”Superman III” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” passed me by). Then again, I was and continue to be drawn to things focused on the world of journalism, which may or may not have led me to pursue a career in the world of journalism until I realized that I liked watching fictional portrayals of the field much more than I liked actually being in it.
Whatever the reason, I remember liking the movie when I saw it, so much so that I even bought a used copy of it at some point. Unfortunately, I got rid of that copy several years ago, foolishly not realizing that I would eventually be devoting far too much time to a series of blog posts about movies released in 1988. So, last week, I bought another used copy of “Switching Channels” on eBay. A used VHS copy. Because I still have a functional VCR, which I just used to watch “Switching Channels” on a Saturday night. Ladies, please line up in size order at the door and try to remain calm and orderly. I’ll get to all of you, I promise.
If you want to see a movie where you can feel the chemistry between the leads, this one’s not for you. Reynolds (TV news chief) and Turner (TV news reporter) are ex-spouses trying to coexist at the Satellite News Network, which, of course, means that they will get together at the end (and because the movie was widely advertised as a remake of “The Front Page,” the ending was even more of a foregone conclusion, if, in fact, something can me “more foregone”…let’s pretend it can). My crack research team (which looks like me, but a lot more dead-eyed from staring at a computer and looking for any usable clips or information about a movie that no one thinks about) discovered that there was actual hatred between Reynolds and Turner on the set, which does not come as much of a surprise. It’s a little more surprising to find out that Christopher Reeve, who has a few funny moments as the dashing gent taking Turner’s character out of the hard-news biz, regretted doing the movie and originally agreed to do it only because Michael Caine was originally cast in Reynolds’ role. If Caine had wound up in the movie, though it might’ve been better and more likely to please Mr. Reeve, I doubt I would have even bothered renting the movie, as I was a few years away from thinking anyone British would be in a movie I wanted to see (though in 1988 or 1989 I did rent “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which, aside from one good scene, was just so-so).
Of course, as an 11-year-old, I could’ve given less than a hoot about romantic chemistry and Christopher Reeve’s feelings. I just wanted to see a funny movie. And, to be honest, this movie is not all that funny (though there is some sharp rat-a-tat dialogue in the newsroom scenes). In fact, the best laugh is when one of the secondary characters leaps off a railing and smacks hard into a lighting fixture, but I’m not sure that everyone involved was hoping that’d be the big laugh-getter.
But it’s not a bad movie either. The movie gets most of its juice from two old reliables, Ned Beatty (a much more pleasant pairing with Reynolds this time around) and Henry Gibson (in his best film work since “The Blues Brothers”). Beatty (back with Reeve, too, though they don’t have any scenes together) does oily really well, and he proves as much here as Roy Ridnitz, who’s running for governor and trying to get alleged cop killer (well, he killed a cop, but the cop was a drug dealer) Ike Roscoe (played by Gibson) electrocuted before the governor can get him pardoned and thus swing the election in his favor. Turner’s character, Christy Colleran, gets a last-minute interview with Roscoe (one last report before she retires from the hard-news biz), and Gibson shines. I’m not sure I can get behind the “Bad Movies” part of this YouTube clip titled “Great Performances/Bad Movies,” but I’ll go along with the first part.
And I would be remiss (and who doesn’t hate being remiss?) if I didn’t note the appearance of George Newbern as Seigenthaler, a young whippersnapper looking to get his big break in the news business and getting pushed around and doing menial tasks in the meantime.
What’s that? Who’s George Newbern? Really? C’mon! OK, I guess you forgot. Or maybe you’re one of those jerks who doesn’t know every actor’s name in “Adventures in Babysitting.” Yeah, now you’ve got it, right? What? Not yet? OK, fine, I’ll tell you. He’s the guy at the frat party who winds up kissing Elisabeth Shue at the end of the movie (lucky bastard). According to IMDB, this was his first movie after “Adventures in Babysitting.” Keep that trivia fact in your back pocket, jerk.
So, again, I am faced with a movie that I’m pretty sure I like, though for reasons that are sketchy at best (does the fact that it’s ostensibly set in Chicago, and I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a movie ostensibly set in Chicago, help any?). Such is my movie-watching dilemma. And now my VHS tape-owning dilemma.
Now settle back and watch as I try to explain why I like Richard Pryor’s “Moving.” I actually think I’m up to the challenge.
Released March 4, 1988
Starring Richard Pryor, Beverly Todd, Randy Quaid, Stacey Dash, Ishmael Harris, and Raphael Harris
When I happened upon an airing of “Moving” on TV a few months ago and saw one lonely star in the listing, I was dismayed. It’s not that I care about star ratings that much (I would not be surprised if the sum of all the star ratings for the six “Police Academy” movies I’ve seen didn’t add up to five stars, yet I’ve seen them all probably dozens of times) or that I think “Moving,” the story of one family’s relocation from New Jersey to Idaho, is a comedic masterpiece. I even begrudgingly accept that when one discusses the legacy of Richard Pryor, you would likely have to be several hours into the discussion before “Moving” is even mentioned. And even then that part of the discussion probably wouldn’t extend past a sentence.
But, dammit, I like “Moving.” Why? Oh, thank God, you asked. I was afraid you weren’t going to care and go someplace else on the Internet. Or, even worse, I’d have to abandon this post and go spend my time doing something meaningful. What a relief.
OK, here goes.
First, Randy Quaid appears on screen within the first few minutes of the film. If there is any surefire indication that I will like a movie, this is it. It is not his finest work (see “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) or even his finest work playing a lunatic in a 1988 movie that is almost universally loathed (see “Caddyshack II,” which I cannot wait to talk about in a few months), but it is just Quaidian enough to endear. And he does technically play two parts (I won’t ruin the fun for you, though I would like to point out that one of his characters wears a Bocephus t-shirt, so keep your eye out for that), and thus you’re kind of getting twice the Quaid for the price of the one. Plus, there is an exchange with Pryor that still makes me laugh and should be included in the highlight reel once Mr. Quaid is allowed back in the country to receive his inevitable Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy.
Second, King Kong Bundy is in this movie. I don’t know how a movie with King Kong Bundy in it could possibly only get one star. In fact, I’m pretty sure my main motivation for seeing this movie (I only knew Pryor from “The Toy,” which might be the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, and I may have seen “Brewster’s Millions” by this point but I’m not entirely sure) was a story on Mr. Bundy’s appearance in the film in the pages of WWF Magazine. In those pre-Rock and even pre-“No Holds Barred” (and slightly pre-“They Live,” which we’ll get to) days, an appearance by a wrestler in a movie was truly momentous news to an 11-year-old boy (though not momentous enough, I think, to convince my parents, or anyone’s parents, to take me to see this R-rated movie in the theaters). Not since Captain Lou Albano’s star turn as Frankie the Fixer in “Wise Guys” was a movie so anticipated. Even if a year earlier the despised Bundy had dropped an elbow on a little person at Wrestlemania III. Sure, I wish there was more Bundy, but you take what you can get.
Third, two of the great eye bulgers of all time are in this film. Not only do you get Rodney Dangerfield in one scene, being, as usual, Rodney Dangerfield (oh, how I wish “Ladybugs” was released in 1988 so I could ramble on about that movie for 2500 words), but, and I had forgotten this before rewatching the film, the film also features the triumphant return to the silver screen–after a four-year absence–of Mr. Morris Day! Sadly, I cannot find this clip on the Internet. So let’s just take a break and do the Oak Tree instead.
I should also point out that in addition to these master eye bulgers, another great face actor, Gordon Jump, aka The Master of the Mouth Twitch, also appears in a scene. I mention this as part of my continued campaign to recognize the excellent career of Mr. Jump after years of being too scarred by the King Neptune episode of “Diff’rent Strokes” to give him much consideration. We’re good now. Anyway, check out the standard great Big Guyness of Jump in the last of the scenes in this clip. Also, marvel at another of the fine features of the film: Richard Pryor’s transfixing beard-with-no-sideburns look. Once you look at it, you will not be able to stop looking at it.
Another funny dude, Dave Thomas, is in that same scene, which is yet another mark in the plus column. You can also put an early Dana Carvey appearance (second big movie role, after “Tough Guys”…not counting his brief but exceptional mime work in “This is Spinal Tap”) in that column (though if you believe this TV ad for an ABC airing of “Moving,” you might believe Carvey was a star of the film, which he isn’t). And you get to see Stacey Dash on the rise, which is exciting, too. Plus, she’s tied up and duct-taped in one scene, so if that’s your thing, there’s another reason to watch. Perv.
My final and, I think, best case for why I like “Moving” is, alas, like 95 percent of “Switching Channels,” not on the Internet. It is when Arlo Pear (Pryor, and let me take a moment to express how much I love the name Arlo Pear–a high entry on my Great Movie Names list) has reached complete bottom and is letting off steam in an Idaho bar. After talking back to a news report on the bar TV, Arlo responds to the bartender’s question “What is life just one big joke to you?” thusly:
“Life is not a big joke. It’s a series of 8 or 9,000 little jokes. You know, all lined up in a row. There they are. And they slap you down. Slap. Slap. Slap. And the only way you can survive that is keep your head down. Make the mustard! Huh? You stay in New Jersey and you make the goddamn mustard. If you’re happy where you are, don’t move! Stay where you are! Keep your head down and don’t move and you won’t get hurt.”
And then a guy smashes a bottle over Arlo’s head because he’s just walked into the bar and thinks Arlo’s holding the place up.
It’s a great scene. Worth at least a star all by itself.
So I proudly say I still enjoy “Moving.” It doesn’t drag, there are enough funny moments (I haven’t even mentioned the “We’re taking it with us” scene) to make up for the bad and/or implausible ones (is it really possible that no one has caught on to the fact that the identical twins have been posing as one kid for the entire length of their schooling?), and the whole thing’s wrapped up in less than 90 minutes. Richard Pryor, Randy Quaid, King Kong Bundy, Dana Carvey, Rodney Dangerfield, Morris Day, Dave Thomas, and Stacey Dash, all for the price of a $3 rental (which is maybe only a dollar more than I, or more correctly, my parents paid in 1988)? I’ll take that deal.
Now, will you take my VHS “Switching Channels” from me for a reasonable price? I’m gonna need that money to buy “Short Circuit 2” in a few months.