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Oh dear. Oh, my eyes ... they're not ... working right. And there's something eating its way through my brain! I think it's...
Holy crap, it's Heartbeeps!
(Cue hazy flashback sequence.)
It's January of 1982 and my sister and I trudge off for our Saturday afternoon matinee at the AMC Leo Mall Twin Theater. Through the snow and nasty Philadelphia wind... To the box office...
"Two for Heartbeeps, please."
We enter the comfy confines of the darkened movie theater, not really surprised to find that we have the massive auditorium all to ourselves. We yell at each other a few times just because we're not supposed to yell in movie theaters -- but we're the only ones here.
My sister turns to me and asks why we're seeing this particular movie. Already a desperately helpless movie geek at the age of ten, I turn to her and say "It's got Latka from Taxi and the pretty blonde lady from The Jerk. And it's about robots."
And then, for the next 72 minutes, I was treated to one of my very first film-critic lessons: That while some movies are good and some are bad --- there are some that are so amazingly bad that even a ten-year old can see it.
Heartbeeps was one of the very first movies I actively hated. I remember thinking how stupid an idea it was to take two funny people, wrap them up in ugly plastic, and then force them to talk like robots for 75 minutes. Even at ten years old, which is when I liked pretty much every movie, I acknowledged Heartbeeps for the massively chintzy, painfully unfunny, and desperately boring film it was.
Flash forward 20 years later; I hold the DVD of Heartbeeps in my hand. I feel a strange sense of deja vu generally unseen outside of an X-Files episode. So I crack the plastic and spin the disc.
Hoo boy, folks. Hoo. Boy. You wanna talk bad movies? Bad, malformed, interminably, aggressively, astonishingly bad movies? Rent this one and be sure to sit at least six feet from your TV screen. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? Masters of the Universe? Super Mario Bros.? Freakin' child's play.
Heartbeeps is a romantic robot comedy in which Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters are coated in five layers of plastic & paint, asked to shuffle around a field somewhere, and occasionally speak out loud. The story is supposed to be about how two adult robots manage to fall in love, but you'll be too busy yanking your teeth out with a pliers to catch many of the subtler nuances.
Sort of a rambling road-trip thing, Heartbeeps also offers a Henny Youngman-style robot called Catskil (jokes for the tots, right?), a goofy little baby robot thingamajig, and a mini-tank called Crimebuster who wants to catch the other robots and blow things up.
Humiliated humans in the cast include Randy Quaid, Christopher Guest, Michelle Mayron, Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, and Kenneth McMillan. They all look as embarrassed to be in this movie as I was to be watching it. The jokes are atrocious, the performances are jaw-droppingly sad, the (Oscar-nominated!) special effects look like outtakes from that Robot Wars show you secretly watch on PBS, and get this: Heartbeeps features a musical score from none other than John Williams! And it's probably the lamest score he's ever done!
Heartbeeps was slapped together in a hurry, so as to piggy-back on the droid craze kick-started by R2 & 3P0, reportedly gutted by Universal prior to its theatrical release, and dumped into the laps of disinterested moviegoers at the tail end of 1981. It now exists only as a movie-geek curioisity ("Andy Kaufman? Randy Quaid? John Williams??"), and it's one that should be tackled by those with hardy dispositions. Heartbeeps is not only as mawkish and abysmal as I remember; it's actually (somehow) worse.
And just like any infamously awful movie that's over 20 years old, Heartbeeps has its own little cult of supporters, folks who somehow have an affection for this malformed mass of stupidity. To those folks I say: Huzzah, the DVD is here! You can now commence ruining your childhood memories with just one fresh look at the thing.
Video: It's a Widescreen (2.35:1) Anamorphic transfer, but the flick looks nearly as awful as you'd expect. Source dirt and an omnipresent layer of grain permeates just about every dark scene. The lighter sequences offer some crisp color displays here and there, but overall the flick's kind of an eyesore.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, or French. Knock yourself out.
Extras: Mercifully, zero.
If you can make it through more than 22 consecutive minutes of Andy Kaufman's ever-nattering "robot voice" without kicking something to death, you're a better man than I am. Heartbeeps is a massive piece of early 80s flotsam that simply must be seen to be disbelieved. Honestly, the movie packs the sensation of shards of stained glass being wedged into your brain, and Heartbeeps will, with very little effort, most likely burn itself right into your next 15 nightmares.