Anchor Bay Entertainment has stroked the imaginations of chronic masturbators everywhere by releasing Hardbodies Collection, a earth-shattering pairing of 1984's VHS rental classic Hardbodies, and its climactic sequel imaginatively monikered Hardbodies 2, from 1986. Whether or not you'll want to actively seek out this jerkoff jackoff-fest will depend, I suppose, on two factors: nostalgia overpowers your better judgment, or...you still can't find dirty pictures on the net. No extras, but the transfers are anamorphic, and they look about as good as they're going to get here. Let's snap off a couple of quick reviews.
Out on the endless boardwalk of the beaches of Southern California, Scotty Palmer (Grant Cramer) is "dialoging" the "hardbodies" (perfect little foxes) out in the sand. Giving them the "BBD" ("Bigger and Better Deal"), Scotty spends his days lying to women who are tired of their drab lives, exchanging sex for dreams in this sun-drenched land. Scotty's latest conquest, Kristi (Teal Roberts), finds this mildly amusing (after all, she fell for his line, too), but there's no way Kristi's friend Kimberly (Cindy Silver) is going to fall for Scotty's friend Rag's (Courtney Gains) line. She thinks the red-haired, scrawny, dentally-challenged Rag is a "scuz," and she doesn't want any part of him. Into this scintillating foursome walks Dumpy, Frumpy and Lumpy. Middle-aged businessmen Rounder (Michael Rapport), Hunter (Gary Wood), and Ashby (Sorrells Pickard) had decided they've earned their time in the sun...nailing hardbodies, so they rent an expensive beachside pad and wait for the babes to start tramping in. Unfortunately, the guys have no game ("Hard-ups with hard-ons" as they're cruelly described), so it's up to scammer Scotty to teach them how to score with the chicks. His plan? Lie to them, what else?
I guess it's a good sign I find all of this tiresomely quaint now. I distinctly remember catching Hardbodies at the drive-in in my later teens, and even though I and my buddies laughed at all the wrong places, I didn't think it was a good film even then; we were laughing at the experience of seeing Hardbodies--not Hardbodies itself. Still, the nudity was plentiful (and that was nothing to sneeze at back in 1984, decades before the internet made the chaste topless nudity found in Hardbodies seem positively Victorian), and had I thought about it at the time, I would have imagined that the film was designed for audiences like myself and my friends: young guys looking for a laugh and some T&A. Watching Hardbodies today, though, it's plain to see that the film was actually designed for horny old goats all along (how else can you explain this decidedly middle-aged fantasy?)--kids just happened to catch it on cable and VHS, making it a dubiously-labeled "cult hit" of some name recognition.
And I suppose that's the key to why Hardbodies comes off as such a bust today, regardless of its intrinsic worth as a movie. Crappy or not, the main selling point for the film in 1984 was its nudity--nudity that today might get the film a PG-13 rating at most. Seriously, with the advent of internet porn (I know it's there; I see the kids downloading it at the libraries), what self-respecting teen hasn't already had his fill of bare breasts? For that matter, if they want bare breasts and even simulated sex, they can just tune into basic cable; they don't even need the premium channels. It was a little tougher when I was a kid (you had to search for the old man's stack of Playboys or hope for an R-rated movie on Showtime), but today? What possible value could Hardbodies hold for even the most basic erotic satisfaction in a mainstream media world soaked in the most graphic, ungodly porn imaginable?
Taken within that context--"Our modern pop culture is a cesspool"--I suppose you might eventually feel kindly towards the hopelessly square, outdated, na´ve Hardbodies. But then, having dispensed with the film's main purpose, you'd have to evaluate it on its other merits...and there are damn few of those. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just a combination of AIP's Beach Party and Muscle Beach Party, only now with topless nudity, less laughs, and dry humping? Scotty is no different, really, than Frankie Avalon, who just wanted to get laid on the beach, and who had to cope with stacked Annette Funicello giving him guff about his partying ways (in Hardbodies, Scotty's "Annette" at least puts out). The three old dopes asking Scotty for the keys to unlock the secrets of nailing hardbodies aren't really any different than Bob Cummings' "Old Pig Bristles" trying to fathom the intricacies of teen dating in Beach Party (and Annette's infatuation with him is about as believable as the girls that eventually fall for our three middle-aged studs). The beach is populated with characters right out of the films, like the fat slob who manhandles the girls (Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper), or the Gonads motorcycle gang (again, Zipper's Rats and Mice), or Rocco (Antony Ponzini) who wants to promote his bodybuilders, a la Don Rickles in Muscle Beach Party. And if none of that is familiar enough, we get the requisite band-on-the-beach, playing for the kids in the sand (Vixen a la Dick Dale or any other number of AIP sign-offs). Someone watched a whole lot of AIP Beach movies before Hardbodies rolled.
So with yawn-inducing nudity (although to be fair, the opening sequence with the girls applying suntan oil and frolicking in the surf - particularly the four girls running out into the ocean in slow-motion as the sun fades - is a poem to adolescent voyeurism), and a too, too familiar story line, that leaves the acting - and there's not much to recommend there, either. Best of the lot has to be Cramer as Scotty. You can tell, despite the nonexistent direction and the laughless script, that he's not bad, had any care been given to his performance. In fact, his story would have been sufficient for Hardbodies--a callow stud learning his lesson on the beach and in the sheets--without any of the nonsense of the three middle-aged blue-balls. The rest vary in competence, with performances that range from embarrassing to strictly embarrassing, but who's to blame them when they have to deliver jokes like, "My lips are sealed," "I'll bet they weren't last night!" (and Noel Coward accepts defeat after 2 out of 3 falls). What looked stupid-but-acceptable at 18, looks weak and prosaic today.
High above the Greek Isles, Scotty Palmer (Brad Zutaut) and Rags (Sam Temeles) prepare to land where they'll be appearing in a film directed by self-absorbed artiste Zacherly (Alba Francesca), and produced by her ex-lover, tyrannical horn-dog, Logan (James Karen). Along for the ride is Scotty's fiancÚ, Morgan (Brenda Bakke), a terrific-looking blonde (with fashionable 1986 shag haircut) who wants a serious commitment from Scotty...particularly since she thinks she's pregnant. Amid all the hijinks that go on during a location shoot--such as tiffs between Scotty and co-star Sean Kinglsey (Curt Wilmot), or Logan's affair with continuity girl Cookie (Louise Baker)--Scotty becomes infatuated with his own discovery: newcomer Cleo (Fabiana Udenio), who's been picked to play the part of the princess in Zacherly's film. As fantasy and reality switch back and forth, Scotty has to come to a decision: Morgan or Cleo?
Yes, I know director Mark Griffiths switches back and forth between the "actual" film we're supposed to be watching, and the "film within a film" that the crew is shooting in the Hardbodies 2 story. And yes, once or twice, there are some crafty cuts between the two altered states that let you know Griffiths as seen an art film or two. But that technique alone doesn't make the movie successful, particularly when those two sections are wanting in and of themselves. You can go on and on about how surprising or how clever it is to find this kind of "Is it real or is it the 'movie'" ping-ponging in a dopey R-rated sex comedy, but ultimately, Hardbodies 2 suffers the same fate as its inspiration: it all, eventually, comes down to the nudity, and it's no more exciting than the first outing.
I would have much more generous towards Hardbodies 2 precisely for that stretching of the format in a genre that rarely if ever experiments--I'm for anyone trying to breathe new life into something so formulaic as the raunchy sex comedy (as practiced in the 80s...which ain't so raunchy today by a long shot). And one or two performances did offer moments of amusement--James Karen in particular--that would have been welcomed in a better, more carefully-crafted comedy. However, "comedy," or more accurately, the "lack of comedy" is the main drag on Hardbodies 2, a downward weight that sinks the enterprise in spite of Griffiths' efforts to jazz it up with too-familiar technique. Simply put, Hardbodies 2 just isn't funny. Its jokes, such as they are, are either ridiculously puerile, or painfully obvious in their juvenile enthusiasm (hey! Someone falls in the mud! Ho-ho! That joint of marijuana is real!). The sexual humor is even worse. Karen, just when he's starting to make me like him with his recognizable parody of a film producer interested in snatch first and art second, is then forced to say so-called naughty "booby" jokes and puns that would make a third grader groan in derision, and Hardbodies 2 is right back where it started: at the bottom. And when there's nothing left to listen to in Hardbodies 2, we're stuck looking at the naked women...which is fine for a little while, but again--what's the point when you can find even better nudity (and sex and anything else you may care for) in countless better films that may actually offer you something other than the equivalent of elementary school pee-pee and wee-wee jokes. There's no question that Bakke and Udenio are great to look at, and Bakke might even have the facility for light comedy or farce...had such elements actually found their way into Hardbodies 2. But after awhile, you get bored with the countless shots of the Greek extras sunning themselves topless (the extras in the first film were better-looking), or the relentless, ungodly mugging of Temeles or gay costumer Brucie, played by Alexandros Mylonas ("Oh, he's hilarious because he's so...gay! Wait...that's not enough...I need an actual joke,"), or the poorly-staged knockabout slapstick that wouldn't pass muster on The Banana Splits, and you eventually call it a night. I'm all for mindless drivel, but cripes - at least have the energy and conviction and verve to make it entertaining mindless drivel.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.