It’s not often I see a movie that makes me wanna kill myself — well, other than Titanic — but California Casanova had me fondling the noose. This flick is like a four-foot-tall layer cake of crap slathered with a thick frosting of wretchedness and incoherence — which means, of course, this one is a must-see for lovers of trash cinema.
When a movie stars Audrey Landers (one half of the famous Landers Sisters) and the first credit reads “A Ruth Landers Production,” you can pretty much guess what you’re in for. Obviously designed as a vehicle to not only show off Audrey’s acting chops but her singing talents as well, California Casanova plays out like a bizarre cross between a Lifetime Original Movie about abusive relationships and a sub-par Ritz Brothers slapstick comedy (because it never rises to the level of a sub-par Marx Brothers comedy — if such a thing even exists).
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin trying to describe the “plot” of this movie, so I’ll just dive right in: Peter (Tyrone Power Jr.) works as the lighting guy at a club owned by Leech (Bryan Genesse, who looks like some sort of proto-Pauly Shore and wears godawful outfits).
The club’s stage is home to some truly atrocious song-and-dance numbers, including the Flashdance-style writhings of Peter’s skanky squeeze, Laura, and the stuck-in-the-80s pop tunes of JB (Audrey Landers). Russian lothario Constantin Rominoffski (Jerry Orbach, who delivers all his lines — to a point — like he’s doing a bad Bela Lugosi impression) hangs out in the club and witnesses all the goings-on.
JB used to have a thing for Leech but eventually realized that a guy named “Leech” is probably not solid relationship material. She tried to leave him, so he had drugs planted in her apartment, and for some reason, he’s now the custodian of her probation, which is almost up, and when she’s free from Leech’s outrageously-clothed clutches, she’ll regain custody of her young daughter. Of course, Leech keeps the evidence of his crime tucked away in a desk drawer in his office, and you can bet we’ll be seeing it again.
Meanwhile, Laura has designs on being famous and is willing to bed-hop her way to success, telling Peter he just doesn’t have enough style for her. She kicks him out and Peter is forced to move in with Spike (Ted Davis, who also appeared in the 1995 remake of Not Of This Earth, which I was a makeup effects assistant on). Spike, just for the record, is gay — extremely gay, so overwhelmingly gay that we’re never given a moment to forget that he is quite irreversibly gay. He also spends half his screen time trying to convince Peter to jump the fence, saying “I’ll be your special girl” and pawing at him constantly — because, you see, Spike is gay.
There’s some kind of attempt at setting up a subplot about Peter being an aspiring novelist, but it’s a slapdash effort at giving a large ham-hock some kind of character development — in fact, Peter is so personality-free that it’s impossible to feel anything for him beyond the desire to punch him repeatedly in the head.
Somehow we go from all of this to a big party that Peter isn’t cool enough to attend. Of course, Peter sneaks in and winds up getting his leg groped by a chick who’s making out with another guy. Peter’s clever solution to this problem is to slip out of his pants, which draws the attention of the waitstaff, who give chase. While this is going on, Laura is making out with some producer dude, but another chick takes her clothes off and dances around, distracting him. Peter interrupts and Laura somehow kicks him from clear across the room. Peter and his loose pants are forcibly ejected from the party.
We find ourselves at Rominoffski’s dance school, where something happens but I couldn’t tell you what. Oh yeah — there’s also another gay guy working the phones, although he’s not quite as gay as Spike.
Speaking of Spike, we cut to his apartment, where we discover that his gayness has increased exponentially since we last saw him. Please do not forget that Spike is of the gay persuasion. Peter heads for the bathroom where he surprises JB in the shower. When Peter asks Spike why he didn’t tell him a girl lived there, Spike says “I don’t want to ruin my reputation!” JB is pissed off and tells Peter to “Try and keep your face out of the creampuffs,” a line I’m still trying to figure out, but I suspect it has something to do with Spike being gay.
This all leads to Peter being taken under the wing of Rominoffski, who plans to turn Peter into “Pietro,” a mysterious chick-magnet — “A first-rate Casanova,” as Rominoffski puts it. They go trolling for babes, and Rominoffski sends Peter after a chubby chick. He begins wildly massaging her shoulders, setting off her built-in car alarm and the whole thing ends badly.
Later, Peter stands in front of a mirror at the club, sweet-talking a cue ball. I swear to you, this actually happens. JB enters and is enchanted by Peter’s loving ways with the small orb. JB is confronted by Leech and says “Thank God this is almost over,” a sentiment I shared until I realized I was only about halfway through the movie.
Rominoffski and Peter hang out back at Spike’s place, where JB sees “Pietro” and is disgusted. As Spike gives Peter a makeover, JB heads out for a montage, accompanied by another Audrey Landers tune. When the makeover is done, the gayest man ever throws a whining, screeching fit because he can’t understand why Peter likes girls.
The movie makes another sharp turn into unpleasantness (well, a different kind of unpleasantness, anyway) when Leech slaps JB around and says “You’d better jump when I say spit!” JB doesn’t seem to understand what the hell that means any more than I did, but figures she’d better go along with it.
At this point, the movie comes to a complete halt so the less-gay fellow from the dance studio can perform a dance routine with a cardboard cutout. Then we cut to a fancy party where Rominoffski dances with a horny older broad while two topless girls hold their drinks. Then the suave new Peter enters and knocks the ladies dead. Rominoffski’s old tart offers Peter $5000 to service her in her room. Peter arrives for his appointment decked out like Eddie Munster and a couple of nerds fart on the elevator with him.
Seriously, I’m exhausted just talking about it. The movie insists on going on like this to the point where I thought about contacting Michio Kaku because I was pretty sure I’d discovered a way to slow time. Obviously JB and Peter decide they dig each other and there’s a sex scene that ends uncomfortably, and everything heats up as Laura finds the evidence that will free JB from Leech’s control, and Spike gets gayer and gayer. And there’s some gunfire and a car chase.
California Casanova is without doubt one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and therefore gets my recommendation — with one word of caution: you’ll want some buddies around to help you make fun of this train wreck, and I’d suggest some form of alcoholic beverage be readily at hand. No nudity from Audrey Landers, by the way, but I’m pretty sure the Landers Sisters fall into the ranks of hot 70s and 80s babes who never delivered the goods.
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