One Crazy Summer (1986) – A Review

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A review of the 1986 comedy One Crazy Summer, starring John Cusack, Demi Moore, Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray and Curtis Armstrong

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Hopeful teen artist Hoops McCann (John Cusack) has just graduated Generic High School. While his parents hoped he’d get to college from his basketball talents, Hoops just plains sucks playing B-Ball.

Hoops’ hopes rest on his artistic talents and getting into art school. The only problem is he’s been staring at a blank canvas as to how to go about the scholarship assignment of creating an illustrated love story. Hoops hasn’t had much luck finding true love and doesn’t have the inspiration. 

Luckily, his friend George (Joel Murray) invites him to spend the summer in Nantucket. Maybe some relaxing time on the island will be the ideal setting to sort out his life, motivate him with his art and maybe he’ll even meet the girl of his dreams!

Fortunately, fate shines down on Hoops when he meets singer Cassandra (Demi Moore). There might be love in the cards for the two! However, Hoops and his gaggle of oddball pals have to deal with the island bully and his rich powerful father who is looking to foreclose on Cassandra’s family home. To add even more mayhem to things, the island is the filming location of Foam 2, the sequel to the popular dolphin with rabies blockbuster. 

With a final boat race to decide everyone’s fates and happiness, it turns out to be truly one crazy summer!

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-cast-John-Cusack-Demi-MooreThat all sounds pretty strange huh? No worries, it’s par for the course of another Savage Steve Holland/John Cusack goofy ’80s teen comedy.

Last time it was Better Off Dead about high school romance with foreign exchange students, singing hamburgers and ominous paperboys. This time, it’s summer vacation on Nantucket Island with an even bigger cast acting wacky with Cusack trying to overcome his animated ‘Cute and Fuzzy Bunny’ demons. 

Don’t be fooled thinking One Crazy Summer is a sequel to Better Off Dead. No, it’s not an official sequel. Cusack isn’t playing Lane Meyer who is still being chased by that newspaper boy and is now hiding out on Nantucket Island to lose him. Although, that might’ve been a cool sequel!

One Crazy Summer is its own new comedy. It’s a followup in the same vein and style as Better Off Dead, but has no connection to it other than writer/director Savage Steve Holland and actors Cusack and Curtis Armstrong, who both returned to work with the surreal comedy mind of Holland to make another twisted ’80’s teen tale.

If anything One Crazy Summer is a perfect companion piece with Better Off Dead. Like Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer has its devoted fans and has become a beloved cult movie and is even more absurd than Better Off Dead.

I think the needle leans more towards Dead as being the more revered film. It gets quoted much more, it’s created more memes and is one of the films that is always associated with Cusack’s 1980s teen run of films. One Crazy Summer always seemed to be in its shadow and flew lower on the radar.

However, I think One Crazy Summer is just as entertaining and funny as Better Off Dead. It’s a very good follow-up film, that’s a silly frivolous teen comedy from start to finish. There’s no underlying subtext or deep aspirations other than to make you laugh. Whether that’s by jokes that are trippy, dark, silly, bizarre or completely ludicrous, Holland and the cast go for the laughs every chance they get and play the cartoonish tone to the hilt.

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-Savage-Steve-Holland-John-Cusack-Joel-Murray-Matt-Mulhern-cult-classicI first saw One Crazy Summer when it first came out, my friends and I watched it dozens of times when it hit cable, it always made us laugh and gave us a good time. All these decades later, rewatching it, I still get a kick out of it.

Like Better Off Dead, I think you have to be able to appreciate the distinct sense of humor Holland’s pair of ’80s teen comedies. If you can’t crack a grin seeing Cusack’s graduation present from his mother is a street cleaner, the guys trying to collect artillery shells on a live military targeted beach, a mangy dog wearing a medical collar whose little girl owner will go to great lengths to protect him, Bobcat Goldthwait running around in a Godzilla costume or the cute and fuzzy bunnies getting machine gunned down by Cusack’s animated alter ego, you might not enjoy One Crazy Summer.

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-John-Cusack-Kimberly-Campbell-Tom-Villard-Bob-Goldthwait-Hoops-CookieThe story is very loosey goosey. The main thread is that after arriving in Nantucket and meeting his wack pack of pals, Hoops catches the eye of shallow Cookie (Kimberly Foster) and then finds himself in the crosshairs of Cookie’s boyfriend, the island bully Teddy (Matt Mulhern).

Managing to survive encounters with him, Hoops and his group of pals (Joel Murray, Curtis Armstrong, Bobcat Goldthwait and Tom Villard) find themselves with a big problem with Teddy’s rich father Aquilla Beckerstead (Mark Metcalf), who’s ruthlessly buying up property all around the island, including poor Cassandra’s (Demi Moore’s) family home. Cassandra is the nice girl singer, who her and Hoops seem to have a spark. But as with movie romances, it will take Hoops until the end of the movie to realize she’s the girl for him.

The group of friends then help Cassandra raise the money to save her house, but it’s too late! Their only hope is if they can somehow win the Nantucket Regatta. If they can somehow win the boat race, they can trade the trophy for Cassandra’s house! You see, Teddy always wins the Regatta and if he doesn’t secure the trophy his grandfather (William Hickey) will cut he and his father off from the family fortune.

It’s a real stretch of logic and doesn’t make the most sense – win the trophy and save the house…ok – but what the heck it sets up the perfect grand finale as the underdog group roll up their sleeves fix up an old boat in a bouncy montage and then sail off into glory!

One Crazy Summer doesn’t have much of a story. It’s really quite a worn down, A to B to predictable ending tale. You’re not going to be sitting on the edge of your seat anxiously hoping Cassandra’s family home will be saved.

It’s the cast and gags that string along this simple story and Holland’s warped perspective on a summer teen movie that makes it so much fun. All the actors are game for the ridiculousness and really pour their energies all in on this. Bobcat Goldthwait brings his manic yelling energy to the role of Egg Stork. I always thought he was funnier in this than any of the Police Academy movies.

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-Tom-Villard-Bobcat-Goldthwait-Stork-BrothersHe’s paired up with his dimwitted brother Tom Villard (who sadly died at the age of 40), who also doesn’t hold back playing dumb and goes for every opportunity to act as spazzy as possible. I suppose you either love the Stork Brothers or hate them. I can certainly understand how some would feel a little of their hijinks goes an awful long way, are put off by Goldthwait’s persona or that the two just go too overboard with their buffoonery. For me I thought they were a good balance in One Crazy Summer and fit in quite well with this bizarre summer tale.

Armstong who had already attained a level of fame playing ‘Booger’ in Revenge of the Nerds and played Cusack’s high as a kite pal in Better Off Dead is a much different character here. He’s the more quiet, passive guy who is resisting the control of his military-obsessed father played by Joe Flaherty, who is adamant Ack Ack becomes a marine. Poor Ack Ack gets emotional seeing lost little dolls. The military life doesn’t seem like its for him. Armstrong is very clean shaven – which takes some getting used to seeing him like that. He has such a baby face! 

Joel Murray is Hoops’ best pal. He smirks his way throughout the film. Being part of the famous Murray brothers, I can’t help but feel he’s like Bill Murray-lite. 

John-Cusack-Demi-Moore-One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedyThen there’s Demi Moore, who Hoops eventually finds his true love with. It’s actually surprising how little time is spent on their flirting and their romance. It’s not a gradual progression of them falling for each other little by little with sweet scenes that build up to them ending up in each others arms at the end of the movie. The two hang out a bit, work together putting the boat together and bam they’re a couple! Hoops found his true love! 

Cassandra is the one character in One Crazy Summer who seems like she’d be better suited to be in a straighter teen movie. She doesn’t say anything funny, she doesn’t act in any strange ways or adds to the comedy. She’s just a straight laced character who is there to provide the motivation for the guys to rally around and gives Hoops someone to kiss at the end of the movie.

I don’t know what Moore’s feelings about One Crazy Summer are. She had previously been in St. Elmo’s Fire and About Last Night, two films with much more meatier roles compared to what she does here. It’s not as lightweight a role as when she was in Blame It On Rio, but there’s nothing notable about her performance other than seeing  her and getting to say “Hey, it’s young Demi Moore.”

Her biggest moment in the movie is when she gets to rock out at Dew Drop Inn. So fans of Demi will enjoy watching her sing ‘Don’t Look Back’.

Along with the main cast, Holland dots the supporting cast with recognizable faces that all get a moment to shine and bring a laugh of their own to the movie. There are smalls roles for Taylor Negron, Joe Flaherty, William Hickey, Billie Bird, John Matuszak, William Hickey, Jeremy Piven, Rich Hall, and even Rich Little! 

I have to mention Matt Mulhern who plays spoiled rich bully Teddy. I always thought he was hysterical in this. The way he switches from yelling to whining to just wanting to do his swimming laps. He looks like a typical ’80s bully with his buff body and blonde hair, but he brings a lot of comedy to his adolescent bullying role and makes a great villain for Cusack and the clan. 

John-Cusack-in-One-Crazy-Summer-cult-comedyCusack is as likable as ever and again shows he was the perfect ‘every man teen’ in during the 1980s – especially in Holland’s cracked screen prism of a teen comedy. I suppose you have to have a very distinct type of sense of humor to appreciate Holland’s pair of ’80’s comedies. If you’re looking for an emotional center to anything or lessons to be learned, you’d be hard pressed to find it in Better Off Dead or One Crazy Summer

Looking back on it now, it’s incredible to imagine it was a major studio release at the time. In the mid-80s it was all about teen sex comedies and John Hughes teen films. There really wasn’t much in the way of such an extreme offbeat sensibility being brought to the genre. Three O’Clock High is one rare teen comedy I immediately think of. 

At the time, Warners Bros. was feeling so confident with the test screenings of Holland’s Better Off Dead they immediately gave him a green light for another film. Holland quickly came up with an outline to a story, he and his cast headed to Nantucket and the result was One Crazy Summer. You could say One Crazy Summer kind of slipped through from Warners promising feelings they had a hit on their hands with Better Off Dead.

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-Savage-Steve-Holland-cult-film-John-Cusack-Curtis-Armstrong-Demi-MooreLuckily for movie fans Warners ‘ok’d’ One Crazy Summer before the Better Off Dead got released. Had they waited to see how that film did, it was probably unlikely they would have ever let Holland jump immediately into writing and directing a followup film.

Better Off Dead might be a revered cult film today, but upon its release it was a disappointment to the studio. By then it was too late to pull the plug on One Crazy Summer, since it was already being filmed.

Once Better Off Dead was released and it didn’t become a box office hit, Warners cut the marketing budget for One Crazy Summer, quietly dumped it into theaters. It would find its audience on cable and VHS tapes and be on the path of being a cult favorite.

Now I think it’s interesting to look at the frayed working relationship between Holland and Cusack. The final results onscreen look like this writer/director and actor were a perfect match and complimented each other nicely. However, they didn’t have a cute and fuzzy bunny relationship. They would do two movies together, both of which have become beloved classics. Why did they never work together again?

Over the years there have been a consistent speculation that Cusack refuses to talk about Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. So what’s the story?

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-John-Cusack-Demi-Moore-Bobcat-GoldthwaitThe story I’ve heard is the enthusiasm during the upcoming release of Better Off Dead’s, got Cusack to join Holland again to make Summer. He read the 150 page script Holland had written and said it was not funny. Holland explained, “I’m just gonna let you guys do your thing, and make it funnier when we get there.” So Cusack signed up for One Crazy Summer.

After everyone arrived on location to Cape Cod, before the first day of shooting Holland screened Better Off Dead for everyone – and Cusack was not happy with it. After about twenty minutes Cusack walked out of the screening and told Holland that he felt tricked by him, that the film was the worst thing he had ever seen, that he had made a fool out of him and he would never trust him as a director again.

Holland and Cusack went about filming One Crazy Summer amidst this tension. Supposedly, after Better Off Dead was released during the filming of Summer and it started to receive some positive reviews, Cusack lightened up a bit about it, but was said he was “checked out” for the rest of the filming. Cusack and Holland never worked together again.

I do have to point out that Cusack has mentioned Better Off Dead in the years since. On a Reddit AMA in 2013 he told one fan, “I just thought it could have been better, but I think that about almost all my films. I have nothing against the film…Glad people love it still.”

One-Crazy-Summer-1986-comedy-cast-John-Cusack-Demi-MooreAll these years later, One Crazy Summer is a bizarre fractured 80s teen comedy that delivers on the laughs. It gave fans many quotes to repeat over and over and goofy memes to share and chuckle at. I can still watch it and giggle at its silliness and it remains one of my favorite 80s teen comedies. 

In 2016, Holland said he was thinking of doing a sequel to One Crazy Summer.

“I’m doodling with Bobcat Goldthwait on a semi-sequel to One Crazy Summer. Our lives are just really different but I still love him and we say we gotta do this thing. So we are working on One Epic Fall. Of course, Joel [Murray] is gonna be in it. The question is, how do we make it a sequel when Cusack’s not gonna be in it? But we have so many bad, dumb, great jokes we’re piecing together to see if we can pull it off. I don’t think Demi [Moore] would be on board, but with Joel [Murray], Bobcat [Goldthwait] and Curtis [Armstrong], you’ve already got a trifecta of genius there.”

So far nothing has happened with this follow-up. I would be curious to see it. Hey, why not! They’re remaking, rebooting and giving decades-delayed sequels to so many movies, why not One Crazy Summer?

It’s tough to imagine it being as much fun as the original. There are certain films that were made at certain time, with specific actors that you see when you’re particular age or stage of life and all those elements come together resulting in the perfect storm of it becoming a ‘perfect film’ for you. That’s kind of what I feel with One Crazy Summer

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