It's always a joy for me when, slogging through lists of titles on one of my Mill Creek public domain sets or Netflix instant trash movie suggestions, I come upon a previously unknown gem that hits just the right balance of absurdity and entertainment value to send me out smiling and enthusiastic to tell the world about the unguessed-at trash-treasure I've just been lucky enough to witness. It's one of those experiences that keeps me going here, week after week.
Unfortunately that "Eureka!" experience has its flipside: movies that on paper look like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy, geek out on, and rush to share with all my like-minded webfriendz, but in execution somehow fail to reach the promise of their synopses and even poster art. Such viewing experiences make me feel, if not duped, at least a little disheartened.
Case in point, today's movie: the 1987 rock n' roll/sci-fi fantasy Vicious Lips. An 80s-style interstellar all-girl synth-rock band struggles to get to their make-or-break gig across the galaxy, only to be pursued/harassed by a hairy Venusian Man-Beast that's stowed away on their spacecraft? I mean, just think of it: big hair, dayglo fashions, shameless Alien rip-offs all to the tune of terrifically earnest 80s power rock by a band called DROCK? Seriously, filmmakers, how do you fuck that up?
The movie starts out with all kinds of promise. We're dropped right in the middle of a backroom meeting at THE RADIOACTIVE DREAM, the hottest live-music night spot in the galaxy, where club owner Maxine Mortogo (Mary-Anne Graves) is putting her shiny, shiny boot down on a hapless manager whose band is a no-show due to a bad case of premature death. Maxine is a wonderful villainess, equal parts Cruella DeVille and Margaret from Liquid Sky, with a security staff composed of a Mr. Hyde-like major domo and an oiled, musclebound guard in a He-Man outfit. Unwilling to listen to the manager's lame excuses ("You didn't even give me 10 light years' notice!" Yeah, dude, that's fu--wait, what?), she promises to ruin him in time-honored "You'll never work in this universe again" fashion. His career prospects shot, the poor sod pulls out a blaster and does the same to his brainpan.
With a gray matter-leaking hole in her show schedule, Maxine calls up Matty Asher (Anthony Kentz), a small-time promoter who's been bugging her for a break. Matty manages the up-and-coming girl group The Vicious Lips, and of course jumps at the chance to play at The Dream. Unfortunately his lead singer, Ace Lucas, has just left the band to join rival group The Cruikshanks* (though she's run down by a taxi in the street before she gets the chance), leaving Matty one member short. As luck would have it a high school talent show is going on a few doors down from the Lips' gig, and there Matty discovers wide-eyed innocent Judy Jetson (seriously), whom he quickly recruits for the band's make-or-break gig.
*Try as I might, I can't see the connection between Vicious Lips and British caricaturist George Cruikshank--any ideas, parishioners?
So far, things have been very promising indeed. The set-design is total 80s music video sci-fi, all smoke machines and neon lighting. The shadowy club where the Lips play is also well drawn and filmed, exactly as you'd expect a futuristic slum-club to look. The whole thing has a pleasing Heavy Metal, comic-booky feel, from the triple-breasted hooker outside the club to the skeezy guy peeping at the girls through the wall in their dressing room only to get his eye gouged out in retaliation. At this point I admit I had high hopes.
"Ace Lucas" so that they don't have to change their promotional materials. Loyalty to their deceased bandmate makes the girls leery, particularly space-guitarist Mandoa (Shayne Farris), who looks like Blackie Lawless's teenage daughter. Judy/Ace's enthusiasm and ability eventual win over sensible bass player Bree Syn (Gina Calabrese) and drummer Wynzi Krodo (Linda Kerridge, last seen on MMMMMovies as the Marilyn Monroe clone in Fade to Black), however, and before you know it Matty has stolen a spaceship from a local parking garage to get the band to the gig on time.
While the band rehearses, Matty pilots them ineptly through a meteor field (complete with LED one-liners from the ship's computer), leading to an emergency crash landing on a desert planet. Unbeknownst to anyone on board, the ship's cargo is a Venusian Man-Beast slated for delivery to a prison planet, and the crash has enabled him to escape via the ship's air duct system. Much Alien rip-offery ensues, with the creature only shown in shadows or individual body parts (claws, back of head) as the girls get high on space grass and bicker about the new singer's questionable talent and loyalty. Matty goes walkabout to look for help, leaving the four spacegrrls at the mercy of the beast.
"I had sex with a Fungi Dwarf...That was really a low point."), and the threat of the Man-Beast is never used to build any appreciable suspense. When there's more energy in an argument between the girls about whether the new Ace will leave them too than is generated by an alien monster stalking them in the shadows, you know something's gone wrong.
When the monster FINALLY shows himself and the climax of the film begins, the viewer is in for more disappointment. I mean, the FX creators who actualized the Venusian Man-Beast makeup were given their own credit in the opening titles, so it's reasonable to expect that we're in for something special when he's finally revealed--if not something up to the H. R. Geiger coolness of the Alien, at least something over and above what we've seen in the flick up to now. But what do we get instead?
That's right--a Geico caveman. :(
In a drug-induced panic Judy/Ace flees the ship across the burning sands, eventually ending up in a ruined resort complex, apparently built entirely of scrap sheet metal and clear plastic tarps. It seems this place was once "The Pleasure Planet," a vacation spot for interstellar tourists, but has fallen into disrepair and is now peopled by Mad Max-esque cannibal gangs. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.
Blah blah blah, Judy/Ace starts having drug-visions (or are they?) of zombified members of the band chasing her, taunting her with her perceived disloyalty. The Man-Beast shows up, the rest of the band--magically unzombified--comes together to rescue her ("We're a band--we've got to stick together!"), and a dude in a tux shows up for no reason I could discern. Of course it turns out that this whole sequence was all a dream, as Judy/Ace wakes up in the dressing room of...well, The Dream. There's even a ham-fisted Wizard of Oz moment where the major domo (remember him?), who looks exactly like the Man-Beast--sends her off onstage. Naturally the Lips wow the crowd, and the movie ends decidedly upbeat.
I don't mean to say the movie is completely without merit. As I said, early on there was some nice set design, revisited in the film's coda, and the cinematography is often quite effective in an 80s music video kind of way. Speaking of music videos, we also get to hear the band perform no less than three songs in their entirety, including the breakout hits "LUNAR MADNESS" and "Lips on the Moon" ("We are the witness to Tales of DOOM!"). On their own the songs are cheesetastic nostalgic time capsules, and I actually wouldn't mind having the soundtrack to go with my non-existent Killer Workout CD. (Help me internets! Where are these soundtracks?)
The acting is all over the place, as might be expected since for most of the performers this is either their sole movie credit or else one of a handful (Kerridge being the lone exception). Graves is great as Maxine, but appears far too seldom. Kentz as Matty reminds me of the sidekick from Doogie Howser MD, which I guess is okay. The Lips themselves are serviceable (ba-dump). The bulk of the movies weight falls on the shoulders of Dru-Anne Perry as Judy/Ace, and unfortunately she's not really up to the task--though I admit her resemblance to Vicar crush Jenny Wright and thick southern accent were somewhat appealing.
"Thou Shalt Not Be Boring." After a slam bang opening the movie bogs down terribly and never really gains any momentum. And for a flick that never aims higher than lightweight tongue-in-cheek sci-fi, that's absolutely deadly.
Still, it has its enjoyable moments, and I don't doubt that others might like it much more than I did. 1.25 thumbs. Watch it for the music, if at all, but don't say I didn't warn you.