Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

In Listen, Movies by Scott3 Comments

(I’m way behind this week, but the movie madness must flow — so here’s an excerpt from my book Unsafe On Any Screen. Barring anything ridiculous, we should be back on track with new stuff tomorrow).

Whatever the hell was going on in producer Alan Carr’s fevered brain when he followed up the success of Grease with this ode to the Village People, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen just how unbelievably screwed-up it would be.  Just listen to this: Steve Guttenberg (!) is a roller-boogieing record store employee who wants to make music (“Music is magic — and I wanna make that magic!”).  When his boss insists that he skip his “big chance” to guest DJ at a local club in order to do inventory, Steve bails on his job and puts his faith in disco.  After frenetically skating through the opening credits sequence, he hooks up with Skeletor-lookalike Valerie Perrine, who has given up the glamorous life of being “the biggest model in the world” to take care of her plants (or something).  We soon discover that the two share Valerie’s snazzy Greenwich Village apartment (at least I think they do), but I never could figure out what the hell was going on with that.  Steve was Valerie’s housesitter, now he’s her little brother — I just don’t know.  That’s one of the screwy things about this flick — everything seems thrown together at random, with one non-sequiter after another.

Anyway, after finding Indian-Guy Village Person in her apartment, they all go to the club where a lot of mustachioed guys in cut-offs and half-shirts pretend to like women.  Steve rocks the house as DJ and everybody goes nuts over his song.  I didn’t even realize it was his song until much later, but again, just play along.  Valerie decides that Steve doesn’t have the voice to be a megastar, so she sets about forming — you guessed it — the Village People to perform his songs.  At an early rehearsal on the back porch (before the tight unit — if you’ll pardon the expression — that was the Village People had gelled), Bruce Jenner (!) shows up to deliver a cake to Valerie.  For a long time, I thought he was supposed to be related to Valerie, but then they hooked up later, so I dunno.  Bruce is the obligatory “uptight square guy” who learns to live life to its fullest thanks to the music, eventually turning up in some scanty cut-offs and a half-shirt of his very own.  Throughout the rehearsal, some woman who looks exactly like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show wallows around in a lust-driven frenzy, hoping to land in the pants of at least one of these guys, but I think it’s safe to say they have other interests.  That’s Big Screwy Thing No. 2 — what was up with trying to make it look like the Village People were straight? Was this some Hollywood attempt to make this thing palatable for “mainstream America?”  I don’t know about you, but I’m not buyin’ for a minute that Construction-Worker Guy really gives a hoot about rubbin’ up against the girl they hired for him.

Eventually, everybody goes to the YMCA for the one-and-only Village People hit song that was actually used in the movie.  That’s right: no “Macho Man,” no “In the Navy,” but we do get the heinous ditty “Milk Shake,” featuring my all-time favorite lyric: “When it’s time for lunch/A milkshake goes with a sandwich, too.”  The “YMCA” production number is an orgiastic tribute to Men, featuring greasy boys wrestling, showering, leaping and grappling while the stars (using the term loosely, of course) stare on in appreciative glee.

Once the whole group comes together (so to speak), Valerie coerces an ex-boyfriend (and big record exec — who’da thunk?) to come to a rehearsal.  However, the boys don’t have those smooth dance steps down yet, and the exec is unimpressed.  Valerie and Steve decide their only hope is to have a “pay party” in order to raise money to record a demo.  Unfortunately, they quickly realize it’ll cost thousands of dollars to stage this party, so Valerie takes a modeling job (don’t ask me why they couldn’t just pay for the demo with the money they were gonna spend on the party).  The modeling gig ends up being a milk commercial featuring the aforementioned “Milk Shake” number.  When the commercial is finished, though, the American Dairy Association is afraid it will be “too controversial” (one too many panty-clad crotches, perhaps?) and rejects it, leaving the boys high and dry once again.  But guess what?  Bruce Jenner’s mom is hosting a big do in San Francisco and would love to have the Villagers perform!

Am I getting across at all how convoluted this flick is?  To make matters worse, everybody attacks their roles with that manic, Xanadu-esque energy! that makes one suspect that the $20 million they spent on the thing went up the cast’s collective nose.  Twenty million, folks — and just three years earlier, Star Wars had only cost $9 million.  The biggest, screwiest thing of all is that for a movie about the Village People, it really has nothing to do with them at all.  This bizarro classic (directed by Nancy “Rhoda’s Mom” Walker) gets my highest recommendation.

For more funky movie reviews, check out my book Unsafe On Any Screen:

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