Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Once Over Twice: One Crazy Summer

(1986) Written and directed by Savage Steve Holland; Starring: John Cusack, Demi Moore, Joel Murray, Bobcat Goldthwait, Tom Villard, Curtis Armstrong and Joe Flaherty; Available on DVD

Rating: ***½

“I was there a couple of summers ago, and they had movies to rent about Nantucket, and there was this and Moby Dick.” – Savage Steve Holland

“We can’t let those people walk away with everything. I mean, if we give into those people, we’re giving into all the cute and fuzzy bunnies in the world.” – Hoops McCann (John Cusack)

Yes, it’s true; I’ve wanted to review One Crazy Summer since my blog’s inception. Sure, there are loftier titles from some film historian’s snooty bucket list, but I wager you’ll never hear the words “dog from Mars” uttered in any of those films. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that Better Off Dead deserves its cult status, but John Cusack’s second collaboration with writer/director Savage Steve Holland has never gotten its due. While one film has garnered a throng of rabid followers who can probably spout every bit of dialogue and re-enact every scene, I humbly opine that One Crazy Summer has the better lines and gags.  

One Crazy Summer belongs to that venerable staple of ‘80s cinema, the summer getaway movie, but manages to take a (mostly) unique spin on the formula. Cusack stars as Hoops McCann (playing the same sort of hapless schmoe he perfected in Better Off Dead), an aspiring animator who’s unlucky at life and love. After graduating from Generic High School, he decides to spend the summer with his pal George Calamari (Joel Murray – Yep, Bill’s younger brother) on Nantucket Island. On the way to the island, he meets a bohemian-type singer, Cassandra (Demi Moore). Since Nantucket is within spitting distance from Martha’s Vineyard (in relative terms), the setting provides ample opportunity for numerous Jaws references.

Written over the course of a weekend, One Crazy Summer is a slap-dash effort that somehow works, chock-full of gags, ranging from slapstick to sublime. I’ll try not to reveal too many, since they’re best discovered rather than described, but watch for a clever homage to the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder,” and a drive-in marquee featuring a double bill of Chainsaw Date and Hemorrhoids from Hell.* The story is bracketed by Holland’s clever animated sequences,** featuring cute fuzzy bunnies that are anything but benign, depicts McCann as a bipedal rhino, and serves as a window into his anxieties about love and acceptance.

* Fun Fact #1: In the DVD commentary, Holland revealed that the drive-in films within the film were written and shot by Bobcat Goldthwait, who became an acclaimed director in his own right.

** Fun Fact #2: In the final animated sequence, watch for two bunnies that suspiciously resemble a pair of popular movie critics. Holland explained this was his way of retaliating after they gave his previous film negative reviews.

Cusack is almost eclipsed by a terrific supporting cast, including SCTV alumnus Joe Flaherty as the gun-obsessed General Raymond and Curtis Armstrong as his peace-loving son, Ack Ack Raymond.  The bumbling Stork brothers, Egg and Clay (played by Bobcat Goldthwait and Tom Villard, respectively) provide some amusing scenes. I suppose I could understand how some might find Goldthwait’s manic, shrieking persona grating, but it fits the character, and it’s used to great effect in one key scene (the payoff just wouldn’t have been the same without him). Bruce Wagner has a small but amusing role as George’s deranged Uncle Frank, who’s obsessed with winning a $1 million prize from a radio contest.

One major plot point involves an obnoxious blue blood teen Teddy (Matt Mulhern) and his ruthless real estate developer father’s (Mark Metcalf) plot to build a Lobster Log restaurant on the spot of Cassandra’s grandfather’s house. After Cassandra fails to raise enough funds to save the home from demolition, her friends hatch a plan to take on Teddy in the annual winner-take-all regatta. It’s here that the film falters a bit, starting with an obligatory ‘80s montage, as Hoops and his rough and tumble crew bring a rickety sailboat up to snuff.  The mildly amusing nautical hijinks that follow take precedence over real laughs, leading to a predictable climax. It doesn’t take a student of cinema to figure out who will emerge victorious.

I imagine Mr. Cusack and Ms. Moore are less than eager to answer questions about One Crazy summer, but there’s no shame keeping this movie on their resumes. Sure, it’s not The Grifters or A Few Good Men, but I daresay both of those films put together don’t have half of the laughs. While I doubt we’ll be seeing a Criterion version in any of our lifetimes, One Crazy Summer deserves some respect, especially compared to its better-known predecessor. If a representative from the National Film Preservation Board approached me, and wanted my opinion about which one should be saved for posterity (Hey, this is my unrealistic fantasy, okay?), I would go with One Crazy Summer. I still find it funny today, which is more than I can say for most teen comedies, revisited with jaded eyes. It can be painful to re-watch something I enjoyed in my teens, only to find it doesn’t stand the test of time, but I’m happy to report this one passes the test. It’s time for One Crazy Summer to step out of the shadow of its more popular cousin and have its day in the sun.  


  1. This was a movie I watched on repeat many times back in my youth. I think this is way better than Better off dead.

    1. I love Better Off Dead, but this one is my go-to Savage Steve Holland movie.

  2. I love both One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead. I once talked to Curtis Armstrong, who was in both, and he confirmed that Cusack very adamantly does not like to discuss them. He didn't really understand why but I've noticed Cusack has a tendency to move on from most of his film roles and not like to look back.

    Is the DVD you have of One Crazy Summer the one with the really cheap looking and oddly coloured cover? I own Better Off Dead on DVD but I've been waiting for years for a decent DVD of One Crazy Summer. I'm surprised to hear it even had commentary given how cheap it looks.

    1. They're both fun films, perfect for these dark times. I'm envious that you had a chance to speak to Curtis Armstrong. It's too bad about Cusack, though. I suppose he just doesn't like fun.

      Unfortunately, the DVD was a rental, but I think it's the one you described. Oddly enough, I don't have it in my personal library. I'm still holding out for a Blu-ray (Warner Archive or even better, Shout Factory?).

    2. It would seem a perfect Shout Factory release. A somewhat obscure film that WB seems to have forgotten about but with a strong fan following. They could do a nice collector's edition maybe even as a two disc set with Better Off Dead.

    3. I like that idea. Both films (but especially One Crazy Summer) deserve more love. Hey, they'd get my money!