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Blame it on Rio
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
As a straight boy growing up in the ‘80s, Blame it on Rio was the kind of film you would hope to stumble across on HBO, for one reason only: copious female nudity. As a result, the film earned a spot in the memory bank as a "good movie". Approach it again as an adult--not to mention as a father to a daughter--and the experience is quite different. The frequent flesh certainly isn't an issue, but there's a whole other layer to the film that's disturbing and off-putting, which makes Blame it on Rio a film you endure rather than enjoy.
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.
Kino's Studio Classics line brings Blame it on Rio home on one Blu-ray disc, which is packed in a standard keepcase with one of Kino's great visual catalogs. The infamous poster art is used on the disc's static menu with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the setup and check out the extras. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English.
There's no mention on the box of a new remaster or scan, but the 1.85:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer doesn't suffer for it, with good, if not great color and a nice level of fine detail in most scenes. Despite some occasional dullness in the saturation (mostly during interior scenes), the image is surprisingly modern-looking considering the film's age, with a clean image and a healthy, consistent grain on the presentation. There looks to be no issues with digital distractions, and dirt and damage are barely perceptible.
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.
As has become a norm for Kino, though no one from the film participates, we do get a commentary track on this disc, courtesy of film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Far from screen-specific, the track feels like an old-school Criterion offering, as the pair discusses Donen's history as a filmmaker and offers thoughts on the plot and themes in the film, including talk of the "male menopause" genre of film. Knowledgeable and prepared, the duo offer lots of info and insight, making for an enjoyable and informative listen.
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
Could there has been a good version of Blame it on Rio or is the concept just simply unwelcome? Perhaps if it was played less like a comedy and more like an intimate drama. But as it stands, it's mainly just creepy, with a few good performances, one pretty bad one and a load of eye candy for fans of the female form. Kino has delivered the film in fine shape however, and included a solid extra and some odds and ends to round out the package, making it worth a look, but certainly not one for most people's shelves.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.