Fraternity Vacation (1985) – A Review
“Excuse me. Can I buy you a drink?”
“Would you care to dance?”
“Well, I guess a blowjob in the parking lot would be out of the question.”
Wendell Tvedt (Stephen Geoffreys) is a freshman at Iowa State College who’s about to embark on a week-long vacation to Palm Springs. Wendell admits he’s something of a “late bloomer”. Clumsy, awkward and completely uncool, he’s a lowly pledge for the Theta Pi Gamma fraternity. Wendell’s idea of a good time involves looking at stars and planets through his telescope. The concept of women and sex however are light years from his universe.
From the looks of things Wendell doesn’t have much hope of being accepted by the frat. Fortunately however he has a cousin with a condo in Palm Springs, which is how party animal fraternity brothers Joe Gillespie (Cameron Dye) and Larry “Mother” Tucker (Tim Robbins) agree to accompany Wendell to sunny California.
Joe and Mother get further incentive to be Wendell’s pals for the week by Wendell’s own father played by the always stammering and nerdy Max Wright. Who asks the guys to teach Wendell the tricks of the trade about “the opposite S-E-X”‘ and in return he’ll buy them a sauna and jacuzzi for their fraternity house. What a great deal! A sauna, a jacuzzi, a free place to crash in Palm Springs.
The only problem is Wendell, who the guys learn will need a lot more schooling to be transformed into a ladies man than they ever thought.
Fraternity Vacation (brought to you by the director of The Muppet Movie of all things) is part of that sub-genre in Teen/Sex/Comedy movies – the Horny Travelogue. Opposed to the action taking place at the characters home turf they get to travel to a fun vacation area where hijinks will commence.
There were plenty of teen sex comedies that took this approach in their settings. The youthful speedbump of spring break or summer vacation would interrupt the partying at college and/or high school and it would be an excuse to change scenery for the partying to a different locale. Usually the characters would travel to nice sunny and warm locales where there was ample opportunity for the movie to parade girls around in bikinis and make viewers wish they were there.
The movie opens with a cold snowy prologue of the guys at Iowa Airport about to depart for fun in the sun. It further illustrates the dichotomy of the setting they’re leaving for by this opening being filmed in black and white. It’s not the most radical way to punctuate the difference, but for a film of this type it is somewhat unusual. It’s not many teen sex comedies that draw inspiration from The Wizard of Oz.
The guys attempt to change up Wendell’s appearance to make him cool and more appetizing to the ladies. It’s a standard dress up montage with one of those forgotten eighties songs playing over it.
Wendell tries on different clothes, we cut to the guys reactions. Not much going on other than that. I wonder how many of these dress up montages have been done in movie history. The number must be astronomical. I wonder if anyone ever put together a master list of them.
The one thing I found most amusing about these early scenes are the guys carrying around their boom box everywhere they go. I realize that’s what kids did back then, but it looks so corny now.
I suppose it was a good device to use to create a visual cue for musical montages in movies though. Having a boom box so everyone can share listening to the music makes a much more partying atmosphere than if you just had an ipod stuck in your ears. Maybe the 80’s kids had something there.
Anyway, once that’s settled down two stories begin that we follow. The first is Joe and Mother dealing with rival fraternity brothers Chas (Leigh McCloskey) and J.C. (Matt McCoy) who also happen to be in Palm Springs and now have it out to wreck the guys vacation….just because they don’t like them and stuff. Chas is the quintessential bully in these kind of movies. He’s rich, pretty looking, arrogant and is always way overdressed anywhere he goes.
A $1,000 bet is placed between the guys to see who can score with the blonde bombshell Ashley Taylor (Sheree J. Wilson) first. By the way the guys first spot this classy looking lady through Wendell’s telescope. This is keeping with the whole peeping tom motif that consistently pops up in these movies. And there’s more to come with that. Oh and the movie provides the required aerobics scene. Gotta provide viewers with some spandex fun.
So Joe and Chas go about different ways to try to lure this chick into the sack. Joe goes the sympathetic route pretending he’s a devastated, suicidal broken-hearted guy who’s gal left him and just wanted him for his rich fortune. Chas tries to portray a macho, book writing philosopher. Who will be the first to get vertical with Ashely? I’m on the edge of my seat!
Meanwhile, Wendell unbelievably meets nice girl Nicole (Amanda Bearse). She actually digs him! The guys are impressed and think he actually had sex with her, when in reality all they did was lay on the bed and sing Wayne Newton songs. But heck the guys now think Wendell is cool and he’s very ok with that.
Subsequently Wendell gets thrown into the slammer when he falls off the condo roof and is suspected of attempted rape (only in teen sex comedies can this stuff happen). Police Chief Ferret (John Vernon) really takes a disliking to him too.
Vernon essentially resurrects his Dean Wormer from Animal House. These movies need an older authority figure that the kids can make fun of and do battle with and Vernon already showed in Animal House he was a great adversary. So here he basically repeats that performance.
Things get really complicated after Wendell is released from jail, goes to meet Nicole’s father and finds out her father is the police chief! Doh! What a surprising turn of events.
Should I even hint at what the possible outcome of this movie will be? I dare not. Although I will say these two stories intersect when they arrive at their lowest points for characters and they take unexpected detours that are meant to surprise us. The end is everyone being friends, laughing, promising to keep in touch, see you back on campus, what a great vacation. Freeze-frame of the guys and The End. A nice wrapped up ending.
This is not as outrageous a movie as the title would make it sound – at least to me. Fraternity Vacation makes me think of a bunch of a wild out of control behavior going on by a ton of characters with each episodic adventure upping things until the big party at the end. But the movie is just these two very different stories and it never reaches the outrageous peaks other films of this type do.
The schemes the guys get involved in aren’t that amusing or yield big laughs. For all the setup of Joe and Mother being such worldly ladies men and partiers we don’t see much of that. I know they drink beer a few times, but I can’t remember anyone even getting drunk in this.
There’s not a lot of time spent with the guys schooling Wendell and his feeble attempts to score with girls either. It’s just sort of dropped after he meets Nicole, which happens quite fast by the way. The whole thing about geeky Wendell hooking up with her feels like a completely different movie. And that ends fairly quickly once her father the Chief gets wind of it. Thinking back on it I couldn’t pinpoint one stand out scene in this whole movie. Well maybe when Chas parachutes into the pool – but that’s it!
The movie does contain the required boobs, but only a handful. The guys spy a naked Ashley Taylor coming out of the shower via that telescope and even take pictures of her. But that’s the character of Ashley Taylor we’re seeing and not actually Wilson. Viewers hoping to get an actual gander at Wilson in her birthday suit will be sorely disappointed when they learn that it’s a body double.
Roberta Whitewood is credited as ‘Ashley’s Body Double’. Not that you would need to read that credit to tip you off you weren’t in fact seeing Wilson’s rack. The scene is one of those poorly done edit jobs that even the most casual viewer could tell – that’s not her boobs. It’s somewhat funny how they try to sell it and maintain the illusion with the body double drying her hair with the towel completely covering her face.
The only other boob offerings are provided by Kathleen Kinmont and Barbara Crampton as they play a prank on the guys making them think they’re about to get lucky with them and undress. No body doubles were used in that scene. After that we get Wilson’s body double….and I think that’s it. No more nudity to be seen here. Unless you want to count a mooning scene by a bunch of the cast.
The cast are all pretty forgettable. All the frat guys are bland and are almost all interchangeable. They like to party and are horny. That’s pretty much where it ends. These are standard characters in movies like this, but usually there are one or two of them that stand out being the wild crazy guy of the group. There’s nothing like that here
Even the rich, arrogant bad guy isn’t that devious. We’re not supposed to like Chas, but I didn’t think he was that unlikable. And the adventures of these guys and this bet of theirs are never taken to dizzying heights as what I would expect to see based on this flicks title. The frat guys just do insipid acts of faking suicide attempts or acting arrogant in front of Taylor. I have to say if these guys are examples of hard-partying frat guts, Wendell would be better off just hanging with his telescope.
It’s somewhat strange to see Bearse and Geoffreys together outside of Fright Night, especially playing romantic scenes. I’ve come to associate these two with Fright Night so much it has always been hard to accept them in this movie. It just feels weird to me. But out of the two stories in this flick that’s the one I’d rather watch unfold.
Oh yeah, Britt Ekland is in this and is billed as a ‘Special Appearance’. It’s so special in fact that it lasts two minutes. I don’t know why they even bothered. She looked good too. I would have liked to have seen more of her.
It’s interesting to see Robbins acting in a movie like this, but that feeling is short-lived. Based on what he does here I didn’t think much of it and he just kind of fades away as the movie ends.
As I’ve said before in my Howard the Duck review at the time seeing him in this and Howard I never expected to see him acting again. I especially didn’t think he would go onto have such a fruitful career. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise a lot of young actors getting their early breaks in films like this.
During the 80’s teen sex comedies were coming out non-stop. It was like an assembly line of films being churned out and they offered up a lot of work and opportunities to young aspiring actors. So it’s not too crazy to see recognizable actors we know today pop up every so often in them.
Stephen Geoffreys is the one who stands out most. He’s the main star and is given the most to do here. He gets to be funny and goofy then things switch up and he’s sympathetic and vulnerable. He’s a likable guy and you want to root for him to not only get a girl, but have the guys accept him.
It’s not the most sophisticated story arc, but for a movie of this type it works. I think that’s the thing that works best out of this whole thing. Maybe the studio knew that too, since Geoffreys’ prat-falling character is the main thing featured on the movie poster.
If it wasn’t for Geoffreys I don’t think there’s anything in this flick to make it worthwhile to sit through. And I’m not saying “YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS JUST BECAUSE OF HIM!” No. he’s just the best thing throughout this whole movie.
I would consider Fraternity Vacation a lesser film of its type. It’s a Teen/Sex/Comedy where they could easily edit it for regular television. A few quick cuts and it could be a rather timid PG-rated flick. Other than Geoffreys geeky performance and the novelty of seeing a young Tim Robbins playing a ‘wild college guy’ there’s not much here.
Time could be better spent watching a more satisfying teen/sex/comedy, which would be very easy to find. It’s not the worst of its kind, but it’s just very forgettable and dull.