Electra complex creepiness masquerading as a romantic comedy
Note: Images in this review are for illustrative purposes only, and do not reflect the quality of the disc.
Loves: '80s films
Likes: Joseph Bologna, Michael Caine
Dislikes: Mid-life crisis stories
Hates: feeling like I need to shower after watching a movie
Victor (the late, great Joseph Bologna) and Matthew (the just plain great Michael Caine) are two friends about to embark on a trip to Brazil that's part business, part pleasure. Womanizing Victor is in the midst of a divorce and is being accompanied by his daughter Nikki (a young and criminally underutilized Demi Moore), while Matthew is bringing his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) and his daughter Jennifer (Michelle Johnson). At least, that was the plan, until Karen announces at the last minute that, unhappy in her marriage, she is taking a separate vacation on her own. So it's the two guys and the two girls that will be hitting the beaches and nightlife of Rio.
As they get accustomed to the topless beaches and hedonistic lifestyle of the South American party town, an attraction begins to percolate between Jennifer and her "Uncle Matthew", which turns into a full-blown affair that Jennifer is consumed by and Matthew attempts to keep under wraps from his friend, Jennifer's father. There's a whole lot going on below the surface of this film, including some very troubling incestuous vibes on both sides of the friendship, but at the core is the lack of self-control Victor and Matthew exhibit, the full extent of which is only revealed in the third act, when the idea that this is a comedy falls by the wayside and everything goes straight into the ground. The final resolution--if you can call it that--hardly justifies the tonally-confused and morally-questionable journey.
Part of the problem may have been a cultural matter, as Blame it on Rio, like a host of similar ‘80s comedies, was adapted from a French film, in this case Claude Berri'sUn moment d'égarement. Writers Charlie Peters and M.A.S.H.'s Larry Gelbert made a number of changes in transplanting the story from France to Rio, and under the direction of screen legend Stanley Donen (Singing in the Rain, Charade), in his last time behind the camera for a feature film, Blame it on Rio wants to be several things at once, including a screwball comedy, a coming-of-age romance and an exploration of adult relationships, but comes up short in all of these areas, thanks to two overwhelming factors.
First, is the general uneasiness brought on from watching a 51-year-old Caine romance a 17-year-old Johnson, who is presented as the epitome of cusp-of-adulthood innocence--retainer, doe eyes and all--with the camera focusing heavily on her naked body (which, in another layer of weirdness, her parents had to sign off on.) Added to the unusual relationship between Nikki and her father and Victor's odd virginity pact with Jennifer, the whole thing has a severely high creep factor that no amount of physical comedy or bare breasts can overcome.
Then, there's the matter of Johnson's acting. This was her feature debut, and it quickly becomes clear from her woden delivery of even the most emotional line, that Donen wasn't focusing on her talent when he cast her. Put that kind of performance at the center of your film--especially with this movie's unique direct-address confessional device--and you're in Pia Zadora-level trouble. If not for the presence of two greats like Bologna and Caine (and a somewhat misused Harper), this movie could have been unwatchable, but they do the most with what they have and make it merely uncomfortable.
The audio is presented via a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and it's the kind of standard audio comedies of the era were known for, hitting all the ket technical benchmarks, with clear dialogue, solid musical cues, an appropriately-prioritized score and sufficient sound effects to set a scene. It's not going to blow anyone away, but it gets the job done well.
The 2:11 trailer for Blame it on Rio is included, though it reveals far too much about the plot, while Kino has also included a trio of previews for Caine films The Holcroft Covenant, The Destructors and Billion Dollar Brain, along with a Bologna trailer for the intriguing Cops & Robbers.
The Bottom Line