The 80s Gay And Straight Buddy Cop Film ‘Partners’

Anyone remember Partners? The film starred Ryan O’ Neal from Homicide Division as Sgt. Benson and John Hurt as Officer Kerwin, a records clerk. It was a buddy cop film from 1982 with a straight white male and a closeted gay man who go undercover to catch a killer murdering beefy magazine pinups. Yes? No?


Okay, it wasn’t a big hit and it wasn’t the finest hour of these notable actors, who by the way are both straight (I was certain John Hurt was gay until I read up on his marriages).

Here’s the reason why I remember the film and why I picked up the DVD to watch it again. I was around 10 when I stayed over at my friend Ryan’s house. His parents rented Partners, but because it was R-rated it was hands off for us two. So Ryan waited until his parents left the next morning to run some errands and then popped the VHS tape into the VCR (yes, VHS!) and we started watching. I honestly didn’t know what we were watching except that it was R and if you were a kid with no access to HBO or Showtime and your allowance of TV at home included The Disney Channel and reruns of Mr. Ed you were desperate to know what all those restricted movies were about.

I can’t remember at the time if I understood what “gay” was? I mean I knew what it meant in terms of slang or derision, but not “gay love.” What I did understand was this movie had female nudity as well as male and so I was fine with seeing gratuitous tit shots…that is until Ryan’s parents returned home about 45 minutes into the film and I never got to see the ending. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I rented the movie for myself and watched the whole thing one night after working my glorious fast food job.

What’s interesting about my life around 20 is that I was a Jesus Freak and I would say it was fair to call me a fundamentalist in my views even though I didn’t look the part. I was into Christian Metal and wore ripped jeans, T-shirts with gospel messages and long hair. I also volunteered my time with a pro-life group that had as part of its agenda to fight “the gay agenda.” After all, man on man sex didn’t equal babies and being pro-life is all about babies. Add to that the political climate with the OCA (Oregon Citizens Alliance) who put an anti-gay rights initiative on the local ballot and it was definitely the right time to watch a film like Partners. And yes, sadly, I voted with the OCA based on my Christian beliefs. Told ya I was a fundamentalist.

I know from doing a little surfing that Partners is not well liked by gay reviewers and Gene Siskel and Rex Reed hated it when it came out. The complaints range from stereotyping to  John Hurt’s character being a mouse of a gay man to the use of the word “fag” with no repercussions to outright homophobia. The other film that attracts this kind of criticism is William Friedkin’s Cruising starring Al Pacino, which I also watched when I was 20. Fact is, Partners is almost like a light-hearted version of Cruising.

As a straight male, I’m sure I don’t have the perspective to grasp the complaints of the gay community or be offended by stereotypes. I do know that certain movies are maligned by activist groups (gay, political, religious, etc.,) because they are perceived to represent every gay man or every Christian or every Democrat or Republican and so forth. In reality, the gay community is very complex and it has a multitude of personality types–some, dare I say, are stereotypical because I have met them–and it does include a leather scene and an interest in gay porn (which is what Partners and Cruising focused on). So to say that Partners is homophobic simply because it is not about showing gay people in a perfect light I think is unfair. You can certainly say it is a two star cheesy movie though and critique its shortcomings.

And it’s shortcomings are that the comedy is lacking, many of the jokes are cheap, the mystery is convoluted and it fails to show more of what the movie was supposed to be about: the gay community, or rather for the sake of straight couples what it was like to be gay. But I will defend the film for what it’s worth because I don’t think this movie was meant to be mean-hearted or its intention was to make fun of the gay community. It’s a curiosity film for straights. At least that’s my best guess because what was the profit motivation for Paramount Pictures? To make a minor gay film to sell tickets to a gay audience? I don’t think so. The profit was to be found in straight people who wanted to know what gay people were like (without having to get near them, let’s be honest) and to laugh at the awkward moments between gays and straights. In a way, you could view it as an exploitation film. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing with Partners.

When I watched Partners at 20 it was exactly for that reason: a matter of curiosity (how can a man love a man?). And I can say I didn’t react like you would think a homophobe would. My mind didn’t shut down with fear, I didn’t start praying over the TV or vomit over the thought of male on male intimacy. I liked the character of Officer Kerwin, he was human. That may sound patronizing, but this was important because the religious political right was making the gay community less than human. At the same time I watched Partners I also watched a propaganda film that said gays wanted special rights in order to spread disease and indoctrinate kids as well as molest them (that’s not an exaggeration). If you were looking for negative stereotypes, the propaganda film had it in droves. Imperfect as Partners was, it countered the negative propaganda. Even Sgt. Benson in the film, who acts like a dick and is filled with straight male anxieties, changes his outlook and looks forward to Kerwin’s attention (as long as it doesn’t involve touching).

Between Partners and the propaganda I was left in a constant debate about the gay lifestyle. Was it a sin above others or was it just a failure to procreate? Did God hate fags or did God forgive all? The Bible certainly didn’t seem to like gay people which unfortunately is what I kept coming back to as a conclusion. Rules are rules! But still, it’s not like gay people were all that bad, were they?

Four years later I lost my Christian faith (a story in of itself) and as far as I was concerned it didn’t matter if you were gay. One of the reasons was that after going to art school I had met several gay people and I really couldn’t think of them as “them” anymore. Since then I continue to work with coworkers/friends who happen to be gay and I would suggest that Officer Kerwin helped straight people like myself get to know someone who was gay before actually embracing real world gays. Wasn’t it Will and Grace that helped straight audiences get to know the gay community? You can view it as cultural propaganda, as exploitation, as stereotypes for straights, but whatever it is I think it works. Too bad there isn’t a popular sitcom about atheists (well, Big Bang Theory, sort of–talk about atheist stereotypes!).

The one complaint I do want to address by reviewers is the accusation that Officer Kerwin is a verbally abused wallflower. I say so what? He’s human! In the film, Sgt. Benson forces him to dance with another gay man and go up to the man’s apartment to have a drink in order to obtain information about the murders. I don’t understand why a gay man can’t be reluctantly shy, or why he should feel the need to hop in bed with every gay man he meets? My interpretation of Kerwin is that he is a closet homosexual who is a romantic traditionalist (old-fashioned, if you will) and just hasn’t met the right man.

There’s plenty of straight shy and insecure guys and gals out there who are the same way towards the opposite sex. Because Kerwin works for the police he may feel alienated from both the gay community and his peers. His main sin by today’s standards is that he’s in the closet. I get that positive films about gay people were rare in the early 80s, but can’t we consider Kerwin to be a person with flaws and insecurities and even strengths that make him an interesting character versus a shiny super gay man with a seal of approval by the LGBT crowd? And yes, he falls in love with his straight partner (another criticism). Isn’t that possible? (It’s also a friggin’ movie! A fantasy!) Sgt. Benson doesn’t seem to care in the end, he deals with it much like any of us would deal with that kind of awkwardness because it can happen with an unwanted gay crush or an unwanted straight crush. Have we never dealt with the adoration of the opposite sex who we were not interested in? As long as Kerwin is not forcing himself on Benson there’s no foul. It’s just uncomfortable at times and that’s life.

Again, Partners is a two star rental for those interested in 80s films and how the gay community was depicted. I’m not denying there are valid criticisms, but I think it’s worth a look and I don’t think it counts as homophobia. It’s cheesy fun. It may also remind you of how far we’ve come in our attitudes about being gay. Most young people growing up these days don’t think twice about it. “What’s the big deal about being gay?” If only they knew how much has changed.

‘Cellmates’ Movie Review

Cellmates — ***Stars

Released last year in theaters (didn’t see one ad for it, but…), Cellmates is the story of a KKK Grand Dragon named Leroy Lowe who gets thrown in jail by the US government and eventually has to bunk with a Mexican immigrant Emilio. The real story, though, is not how these two manage to get along, but how Leroy falls in love with another Mexican, the warden’s office cleaner (derogatorily referred to as “the maid”). Leroy and the cleaning lady begin passing notes back and forth to each other without the warden catching on. Eventually, as expected, Leroy turns his back on his former life and racist views and, like a puppy, follows after his new love Madalena.

The official website has the tagline: “A Heartwarming Buddy Comedy With Something To Offend Everyone.” …This film is not offensive. It’s very sweet and I think that tagline was a mistake in promoting the film. I suppose some people may be offended initially by the depiction of a KKK leader, but even that is so toned down that I can’t imagine there being an objection. For instance, I don’t remember hearing any racial slurs thrown about by Leroy Lowe, not one. He gave his politics about Mexicans staying in their own country, that’s about as dirty as it got. Dare I say, with the exception of maybe a couple of swear words, this is a family film. There isn’t even so much as a kiss shown when Leroy and Madalena are left alone for the first time.

The sweetness is in the transformation of Leroy Lowe from stubborn white guy to soft-hearted American championing the rights of others because of his friendship to Emilio (falsely arrested because of a labor dispute) and his love for Madalena, hard working cleaning lady who wants to start her own restaurant. There really isn’t much more to the story except the direction is very light-hearted and offbeat. We’re always waiting to see what happens next with the letter passing. The letter where Leroy tells Madalena that Mexicans should stay in their own country is pretty hilarious as her eyes get real wide reading it and then the subsequent lover’s spat in the form of broom sweeping.

Hector Jimenez plays Emilio with the same quirky feel of his other character Esqueleto in Nacho Libre. He has American dreams and strangely enough wants to look like a TV doctor named Ben Casey so he has to figure out how to tame his wild hair (I did find this little subplot kind of weird since it ironically is a rejection of ethnicity even though it’s played for laughs).

You might think that Cellmates is a liberal white man’s fantasy about friending someone of another race and falling in love with a beautiful Mexican woman–which may be true–but I noticed Hector’s credits were listed as an executive producer. He obviously believed enough in the film’s premise to back it and overall it is a relevant story even though the time of the story takes place in the late seventies. There has been so much racism in the last decade about Mexicans taking American jobs and sucking the healthcare system dry it’s hard to imagine we’ve made progress. Sure, Mexican music can be annoying (yes, I said it!), but Mexicans are just the next wave of immigration and they are integrating with our society even as they change our society–it’s called diversity and it can be uncomfortable for the existing population. AND it’s happened before with the Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, Chinese, Germans, etc. Get used to it, bigots. If you were stuck in poverty surrounded by druglords (caused by an American black market) and American run sweatshops, you’d be running for the border too.

Ultimately, the lesson of how to get rid of bigotry is one we know works, because it’s hormonal and natural. A white bigoted man meets an attractive, caring Mexican woman and he’s going to retain his hatred for Mexicans? I don’t think so. Cellmates won’t make you laugh out loud too much, but  you will be smiling by the end of it. It’s a feelgood movie.


Julia Sweeney’s ‘Letting Go of God,’ She Got it Right

Letting Go of God review, ****Stars

The one thing I’ve noticed about various intellectuals in the “new atheism” movement is that they can be very good at explaining science or philosophy in a dumbed down form (let’s face it, we’re not all university professors so I appreciate this approach), but when it comes to entertainment they often fall short. I remember seeing a couple of early examples of skeptic organizations trying to create TV Shows or TV spots that were supposed to grab viewer attention and, frankly, they were kind of boring and failed. Along come some Hollywood veterans like The Mythbusters and Penn & Teller’s Bullshit and suddenly you have shows that are great introductions to skeptical thinking which have spawned other like-minded shows.

I don’t believe we’ve seen that happen with atheism yet. We’re still in that awkward stage with very little entertainment and whole hell of a lot of information. There are films like The God Who Wasn’t There  and Religilous which relate personal stories, but are not quite what I call entertainment, more like editorials. I’m not knocking these entries or the numerous documentaries on religion, these are valuable, but what would you recommend to a friend or relative who is trying to understand your atheism? What would you recommend as an introduction to unbelief that isn’t going to deluge the viewer with so many arguments they’ll tune out? Or, let’s face it, that will offend them so much they’ll ignore anything being said (I know Penn & Teller and Bill Maher can rub people the wrong way and the language is hard for some Christians to take).

Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God has been around for quite some time now, it was filmed in 2007 and premiered in 2008. I had seen clips of it and the TED version where she did the introduction to her monologue, but never the whole stage show until I rented it off Netflix. This is the DVD I would give to someone trying to understand atheism. There are laughs, there are tears and there a moments of revelation. Even if you disagree with the direction Sweeney went in her life, it all adds up. It’s not like she woke up one day and was–KAPOW–an atheist! It was a process of time and questioning and self-examination. It was, in a way, a spiritual journey as she confronted something bigger than herself–not God, but the universe and the implications of there not being a god (s).

I shared this with my “believing” wife, she tolerates my “biased” documentaries and other “atheist” entertainment, and she found much of it interesting because she also came from a Catholic background like Sweeney. Letting Go of God didn’t suddenly make her let go of God, but it gave her some insight in to how I felt and where I left god behind. The stage show is genuinely funny and very personal because it often has to do with family and their reactions to their “crazy” daughter asking all kinds of questions and then rejecting basic arguments for God that no longer make sense. Julia uses her talent to make it all come alive for the audience as she depicts her mother and a priest and various characters in her life she finally had to diagree with. There’s no mean-spirited attitudes, it’s all very sweet and, honestly, comes close to some of the presentations I saw as a kid at my church with Christian testimonies. Maybe that’s what we need, more atheist testimonies about lost faith. People think when someone becomes an atheist they fall down a set of stairs into a dark dwelling filled with depression and hopelessness and usually this is the farthest thing from the truth. In my situation, I felt like a big burden had been lifted. I no longer had to worry about heaven and hell and defending the contradictions of the Bible…I could relax and study and observe how things really were. It’s not always pretty, but knowing what you’re up against prepares you. It allows you to live life realistically versus jumping into prayer everytime something goes wrong.

Letting Go of God isn’t an entertainment blockbuster (it wasn’t meant to be, again, it’s very personal), but it does show a direction that can be taken to communicate with believers and even those who don’t believe but think atheism is horrid (because it goes too far). Really, I’m referring to creating similar story-like films (inspired by real life or completely new stories) with characters who happen to be atheist and how their unbelief affects their lives and others around them. This is territory that we need to tread into. Yes, we could start “The Atheist Hallmark” channel!  The horsemen, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens (now passed), are all great in what they have written and/or created, only I don’t consider them to be entertainers, but educators. I think life stories like Sweeney’s may make larger inroads to a believing public and the reason is that  life stories are easier to be drawn into than logic and science and apologetics. Religion overrides logic to begin with, it is above questioning.  Religion, in general, thrives on stories (almost every sermon I hear includes anecdotes and analogies). People will listen to a story over a lecture any day. Once someone starts to “get it” then maybe it’s time for heavier material like Dawkin’s The God Delusion.

I expect to see more direct films about atheism in the future, not just ones that hint at unbelief or that a freethinking audience can claim as their own for a freethinking theme. I think Julia Sweeney’s work is inspirational for doing this even as it is only a stage show. It works, it is early Freethunk! (my term for freethinking entertainment), and I know if you’re a Christian reading this, you may be adverse to seeing Letting Go of God. Don’t worry, it won’t make you an atheist. It’s simply a way of understanding atheism or your atheist friends. Now from there, if you go studying some of the things Julia studied, then don’t blame me or her…

Classic Fletch Moment

I saw the sequel Fletch Lives in the theater with my friend Rob AND was a Christian at the time–I still liked the movie for its parody of evangelists. I’ve always disliked TV evanglists as both a Christian and an atheist because of how they target gullible people. Here’s one of the classic moments from the movie with Chevy Chase doing his version of a TV evangelist.

The character Jimmy Lee Farnsworth, an evangelist stereotype, is played by veteran actor R. Lee Ermey and mirrors the same scam artistry going on in the eighties, some of which has made a resurgence as as my complaint about BET Entertainment notes. Farnsworth wants to get a hold of Fletch’s land to build himself a Christian theme park (or so we think) and it almost feels like things haven’t changed. Various new Christian theme parks are now in development while the older, established ones have simply been bought up by other Christians before they could financially fail. We need Fletch back or at least this kind of satire. The only difference is that the scam artists aren’t as outrageous or as easy to spot unless you count people who never really went away (Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff, etc). In a way, the media has become complacent about exposing these idiots because it’s been done before–we all seem to know these people are frauds and yet, who the hell keeps donating money to them?

‘Highway to Hell’ Movie Review

Highway to Hell, *** Stars for cheeze

Here’s a lost gem discovered by numerous other Netflix viewers called Highway to Hell (1992). The premise is simple: A couple by the name of Charlie Sykes (Chad Lowe) and Rachel Clark (Kristy Swanson) are eloping to Las Vegas and decide to take a backroad. Unfortunately, they meet up with “Hell Cop” who carries away the bride-to-be since she is a virgin (warning to virgins, you’re a target for vampires, Satan, dragons and various demons. Best to go get laid). Our poor hero Charlie must backtrack to a rundown gas station to get information out of an old geezer who also had his bride stolen. He offers the young man a special car, a special gun and directions on how to find the Highway to Hell, which ends up being a portal that opens up while driving.

Charlie makes it through the portal and into a dry, hot desert filled with lost souls doing everyday monotonous work. There’s a diner from hell where you can’t get any service from the waitress (been there), a construction crew made up of Andy Warhol clones who makes cement out of human bodies, casinos filled with desperate historical villains and ultimately Hell City which is similar in scope to Oz but with Satan instead of a boasting wizard.

The entire film is low-budget cheeze, but it’s good cheeze. There are numerous jokes if you’re fast enough to catch them and several guest appearances by well known (though not necessarily A-list) actors. Ben Stiller and his family play characters like a greasy chef, a diner patron who can’t get a refill, and Attila the Hun. Hitler also appears played by the thoroughly obnoxious Gilbert Gottfried.

If it weren’t for the ending, Christians might be able to view this movie as a humorous allegory.  The reason Hell is “hell” is because of many of the same things we find to be hell on earth: bad service, self-absorbed and annoying people, heavy traffic, and unreasonable cops. I have to note the scene about the heavy traffic: I suspect the reason the traffic is all VW Bugs is because they are Nazi cars. If you don’t already know, it was Hitler who ordered the VW Bug to be designed during World War 2.

There’s enough going on in this B-movie to entertain you for a cheap thrill on a week night and many of the jokes will put a smile on your face. I can’t say there’s much more to it than that, but I do like seeing what people think Hell might look like if it were real.

‘Meatballs,’ Bill Murray as Secular Youth Pastor

Meatballs (1979) *** Stars

Meatballs (1979) is one of those feelgood movies full of sweet moments guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of most viewers. It is a Bill Murray vehicle with cornball jokes and pointless sight gags and the movie itself has no other objective but to entertain and appeal to the nostalgia of youth and the time spent at camp. To go deeper, for those people always whining about the meaning of life, Meatballs may represent it on a small scale. The meaning being “each other” and simply enjoying life with some mild conflict that always returns to gentle laughter. Certainly, there are those of us who aspire to do more–artists, writers, scientists, philosophers–but if you just want “to be” then there’s nothing wrong with “being Meatballs.”

I was watching it again today, as I was chained to my desk trying to finish drawing a comic book page, and kept noting how much Bill Murray’s character Tripper Harrison was like a youth pastor. I’m very familiar with that role as at one point in my life I wanted to be one. I actually looked up to my own youth pastor as a role model since he was a bit of maverick and with well meaning intentions he broke the rules where necessary to build a tight knit and loyal group of kids that went to church of their own freewill–on weeknights and on Sunday mornings. That’s not easy to do, but my youth pastor fostered an atmosphere of acceptance with much of the same humor that Tripper Harrison used (barring any sexual references).

Specifically, Tripper zeroes in on a lonely kid named Rudy Gerner played by Chris Makepeace who initially runs away from Camp Northstar. Through humor and encouragement and even putting Rudy up to tasks he doesn’t think he’s capable of–like giving camp announcements to say over the speaker or running a race at the end of the film–Tripper helps the kid come out of his shell. Tripper doesn’t patronize the kid, but pushes where he needs to while looking out for him so even if he falls, he can be helped back up again.

It is the role of what we could term “a secular youth pastor.” There is no mention of God in the process of transforming Rudy into someone who now is willing to take chances, despite the potential for failure. All he needed was guidance from an adult friend. You might think this is just fictional nonsense to provide some sentimentality to a lowbrow humor movie, but the relationship between Tripper and Rudy is fairly realistic. When I assisted in the youth pastoring program at my church (before church politics gave me a headache) I had at least one kid who looked up to me as well as connecting with another kid at a church camp. Certainly, I felt like an inadequate role model and my motivation was to convert, but what it really came down to was showing a kid you cared and giving them a boost in their self-esteem. Because let’s face it, Junior High and High School are places where kids get torn down, by incompetent teachers and by other kids–especially other kids! Every flaw is exposed and every blunder exaggerated so that you feel you’re naked. Adults need to step in and often they don’t.

I think it may be a good idea for atheists to foster the concept of the secular youth pastor. Secular camps already provide safe havens for unbelieving kids, see Camp Quest for example. The hard part is that a secular youth pastor would have to seek out those kids on the outside of their peer groups. It’s not easy to do. Unlike Rudy, some kids have some really deep emotional problems and patience is required. But you know, as an atheist, if you reach out to those kids it will most likely take them off the map of targets for Christians who love to use youth ministry gimmicks. Youth ministry has the main goal of turning little kids into little Christians and subsequently adult Christians. I’d rather we see the potential of kids in terms of what they could discover–science and the arts–instead of letting them squander their lives away on worshipping an invisible being.

It should also be noted that Bill Murray would never last as a Christian youth pastor, though his methods would be effective. Christians like humor, but outrageous antics and unique personalities have the tendency to bring you standing face to face with the church board and people who aspire to church boards can be like politicians–they never seem to get it. My youth pastor butted heads with our church board and eventually left. They brought in an uptight conformist as his replacement who honestly seemed unhappy with his life, someone I never was able to connect with and so too I left.

I’m not saying that freethinking organizations don’t have some of these same problems, but my experience has been that the “little things” plague churches–which is why we have more churches than ever before (one splits off from another over disagreements). An atheist group probably is not going to care if Bill Murray jokingly says to a kid, “Let’s go get laid.” Because they know it’s done with innocent humor. Ultimately, it is that sense of humor that could save a kid. I guess the only reason I bring up Meatballs on this site is to show an example of how kids are saved, not by Christ, but by human interaction. Atheists need to do more than complain (I’m guilty by the way) and therefore those innovative individuals starting freethinking youth organizations have my applause.

SIDENOTE: See the movie poster for Meatballs with the girls hanging off of Tripper Harrison? It doesn’t represent Bill Murray’s character at all. Tripper Harrison goes after one girl and one girl only and she is not some bikini model. She’s very down to earth and normal and attractive without being “Hollywood” hot. Fact is, the entire cast of Meatballs feels like everyday people we may know or could get to know. That may be one of the other reasons why we can relate to it or want to be part of that group. We see “us” and not a fantasy cast.

‘Slimed’ Movie Review, Atheist B-Movie Absurdity

What a perfect day for a B-movie matinee. I got my hands on a copy of Slimed from one of the directors and I am willing to comment on any movie with an atheist character, no matter what the results might be. Especially when they openly promote the film as featuring an “Atheist Park Ranger.”  After all, this is Freethunk–we’re obsessed with atheist characters in films.

Be forewarned that this is B-movie absurdity at its highest, thus my rating of 3 stars–for absurdity. Movies like this are destined to fail–UNLESS! They have good character actors, and by no-god, Slimed did their casting right. This is literally an hour long, live-action cartoon because the characterization is zany, silly and revels in nonsense. Hearken back to early Monty Python and you might get an idea of what I’m talking about. This style of humor may either annoy you or twist your funny bone until it snaps. Fortunately, for the producers of Slimed, I love this kind of nutty lunacy–it may also have to do with tweaking the noses of highbrow, freethinking intellectuals (not that I’m anti-intellectual, but even a stodgy philosopher should come down off his pedestal and watch a Three Stooges short occasionally).

Slimed, *** For Absurdity

Speaking of Three Stooges, in Slimed we are immediately introduced to Rock Rockerson played by Jordan Lee; forest ranger and hardened atheist, he is the Moe of atheists, ready to slap, smack or threaten with an oversized revolver in order to make his point. You guessed it, not a role model for atheists but rather a parody. I know this upsets atheists looking for dignity in TV and film, however, it has to be recognized that among the “herd of cats” there are atheists you just want kick up the ass. So full of themselves, antagonistic, think everyone is stupid but them and can’t take a joke. In addition to parodying Christians, who have taken cheap shots left and right, atheists need to be poked fun of  for the sake of showing that we have a sense of humor about ourselves. I was absolutely pleased when South Park did it and I have no problems with a B-movie depiction where everyone and everything is a gag. Slimed is vaudeville with special effects.

Which brings us to the Bible salesman representing Christianity named PePe but pronounced “Pee Pee” by our atheist hero. For Christians afraid that this film takes unfair advantage of Bible thumper stereotypes I would have to say the atheist character is far more lambasted than PePe. Played by Dustin Triplett, he is the Laurel of Laurel & Hardy, who talks and–ugh–sings to a cat.

I was also impressed with Jessica Borusky’s performance as Sally, don’t want to leave her out. She had better expressions than Chrissy’s dumb looks on Three’s Company from the seventies. When you write a script that is essentially Looney Tunes without animators you have to match it with the facial expressions. These actors went all out. Holding back or being shy about jumping into the character is what kills B-movies and reminds you that you’re looking at someone’s idea of a movie rather than the movie itself. You could take both Jordan Lee and Dustin Triplett and cast them as cartoon voices for any show on Cartoon Network.

What’s the plot? Who cares! Every moment is positioned to give the directors a chance to play with dialogue, scenery and weird sight gags. The basic premise, if I must reduce it to that, is that someone is dumping a slime called “Cleano” in Rock Rockerson’s park. He only discovers it after being threatened by the IRS and is looking to make some quick cash. As Christians always have schemes to create wealth, either by praying or tricking gullible people, PePe proposes building an attraction out on the nature preserve to suck in more patronage. Of course PePe is hidng his real plans for the park. Even more insidious, though, is whoever is behind the creation of the Cleano slime.

It was fortunate that I did get a DVD copy because, for a low budget, the special effects worked nicely on my flat, widescreen TV. Especially the exploding kids–don’t worry, it’s done in such a way that you’re going to laugh. Fact is, Slimed is appropriate for kids to watch. I may have to do a doublecheck on that, but I don’t remember any swearing or supposed vulgarity–just over the top violence and if your kids have watched Itch and Scratchy on The Simpsons it’s nothing worse than that. …Hmm, the more I think about it, the more this could be a family film (honestly, I’m not sure kids have to be protected from foul language anyways, but I know some freethinkers have concerns about it). I think kids would get a kick out of Slimed and if you’re worried about the character depiction of the atheist than it’s time to have a sitdown and explain what parody is.

An hour well spent. I may have to wash my brain out with a more lofty film, but like I said, sometimes you need to watch a Stooge short to lighten up and this certainly qualifies.  If you want to get your hands on a copy you can visit the official site. Credit should also be given to directors Eric Manche and Jeff Nitzberg for coming up with this nonsense (they also make appearances in their film, who wouldn’t?).

‘Easy A’ Movie Review, Christian Stereotypes

Easy A --*** Stars

The verdict is in, well, at least my verdict. Easy A was not high on my priority of movie-watching until I started getting comments on my Freethunk Daily News Bite asking whether or not the movie was Christian bashing. The post seems to remain at the top of my section that tracks most popular posts ever since I wrote it. This is a touchy subject.

To begin with, Easy A is an enjoyable, breezy teen flick that probably got more attention than it deserved due to leading lady Emma Stone holding a mediocre script together. It is loosely inspired by Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter where the heroine of the story was forced to wear a red “A” which stood for Adulteress. Nathaniel Hawthorne wove a story about Puritanism and a type of Christian legalism that, to be quite honest, most Christians despise these days even as they may be guilty of it. Fact is, we all tend to be guilty of judgments at one time or another but we usually whisper them to our spouses or simply think them instead of verbalizing. If a woman dresses a certain way you’ll see the icy stares, “slut, whore, tramp…”

In the case of Olive Penderghast, she is a teenager who decides to embrace the repugnance of the “A” symbol because after certain rumors begin about her she figures if they’re going to call her a slut then to hell with them, let them think she is a slut. Very few teens can be that individualistic. She dresses provocatively and agrees to help woeful nerds who need to get a reputation. In a way, Olive is a hooker in imagination only. She gets paid to sell an illusion while humorously paid in the form of gift cards to places like Best Buy and Home Depot. In reality, Olive is a sweet, down-to-earth girl that any guy would be lucky to date…and she’s still a virgin.

But it is true that Easy A does present a Christian stereotype which is a throwback to what we consider to be Puritanical. I hesitate to say it is Christian bashing when it literally is the entire school that turns on Olive, not just the legalistic Christian group. However, I think a valid complaint may be to show contrast–the legalistic Christian and the reasonable Christian. Teen comedies really don’t seem to care about being nice though and, unfortunately, maybe it is because of the ongoing gay-bashing–which this film also explores–that the decision was made to use extreme Christian stereotypes.

These stereotypes feature Marianne played by Amanda Bynes who heads up a small group of Bible thumpers who I would say are just as confused as any other teens. They only think they have all the answers because apparently their church or God told them so. The group does come off as a rather dumb clique with Marianne’s boyfriend being so old from having to repeat his fourth year that he can have sex with the guidance counselor and it’s not statutory rape.

Olive’s first client is Brandon, a gay teen. He asks Olive to make him straight in the eyes of all his classmates who constantly torment him. Outside of this comedy, the torment is real and if Christians want to complain about being viewed as stuck up and bigoted they may need to reconsider how they treat the gay community. Kids are vicious to begin with, but it doesn’t help when Christian youth leaders say homosexual teens are unnatural or need to become straight. They also need to stop thinking that the high rate of gay teen suicide is evidence that the gay lifestyle is harmful. Ever stop to think if all your classmates and the outside world considered you to be a deviant freak and harrassed you day by day that you too might feel like killing yourself? That’s not the gay lifestyle that is doing the damage? That’s the straights making gay teen lives a hell on earth with their unfounded Biblical judgments.

If it were not for that element to the movie, “the bullied gay teen,” I would be more inclined to say this movie went too far with its depiction of Christians. But a comedy is a magnification, a bloating of the real world into something cartoonish and these Christians are cartoon figures depicting the current wave of homophobia fearful of gay marriage. A fear that is equivalent to the evil of the apocalypse with the coming of the Anti-Christ. In my mind the Christian bashing + the gay teen bashing = fair play.

Returning to Olive, I do want to note that she has the coolest parents ever! No, they’re not pushovers, but they obviously have confidence in their daughter to make the right decisions even as she stumbles trying to figure out what those right decisions are. And they approach questions of sexuality with a sense of humor to allow for conversation on an awkward subject. Olive, herself, is every parents’ dream kid (in my opinion). She has the best of intentions and an intelligence that is constantly sorting through the deluge of pointless epithets such as “slut” so she can discover herself versus what people think of her. This is not a teen sex comedy, for all intense purposes–it is a romantic comedy with a lot of noisy idiots in the background. Because of this attitude and Emma Stone’s performance I can recommend this as a Freethunk film to humanist parents with a need for some discussion afterwards. It’s not high art, but injecting a lowbrow teen comedy into your dvd rotation isn’t going to kill too many brain cells.

SIDENOTE: As with any complaints to stereotypes the goal should not be to ban a movie or tell people not to watch it just for that reason. The goal should be to show an alternative. Christians should clean their own house of unreasonable legalistic views by depicting them and showing the contrast with Christians who are “nice.” As an atheist I’m happy to watch such a film if they exist (feel free to leave a recommendation), though I may still disagree with the beliefs. As of yet, I haven’t come across a good example.