Totally Awesome
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Totally Awesome

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The basic premise of the VH1 flick, ‘Totally Awesome’ is a film made in the eighties was uncovered and since VH1 doesn’t have enough programming about that decade they decided to air it. This is explained by no less an eighties icon than Ben Stein. What is inherently amiss about this premise is most of the people that can actually get the plethora of eighties references are not normally part of the target audience for VH1. Most of their demographic was busy getting born or mastering the fine art of thumb sucking when the movies and television series referenced here where popular. For those of us that do remember the eighties, and not from the’ I love’ series on VH1, this film has its moments. We may cringe more than a little bit as we realize that we actually saw the originals being parodied here in the theaters. Memories of bad clothes and big hair will come screaming back in full force for those of us with a few more decades under our belts. For the younger viewers actually being targeted here they might laugh at what their parents thought was cool when we were their age or even older. The film admittedly steals liberally from every pop reference the writers could get their hands on. While watching it is best to understand that this film wants you to laugh along with it as much as laughing at it. Think of it as a flick that does for the eighties what the Scary Movie franchise has done for horror and thriller films.

Lori (Dominique Swain) and her brother Charlie (Mikey Day) have just moved from Pittsburg with their parents (James Hong and Teryl Rothery). When the siblings start at their new high school they hear over the public address system that Charlie has already been voted the least popular boy in school. The most popular couple are Kimberly (Brittany Daniel) and her boyfriend Kipp (Joey Kern), the epitome of eighties bad fashion and attitude. Charlie falls in love with Kimberly but doesn’t have a chance. He is befriended by the lowest ranking girl, Billie (Nicki Clyne), who is despised because she is poor and has a little grease problem with her complexion. Life in the new school is far from great for Lori who lives for dancing. She is told by the principle that dancing is banned because a few years back there was a dance where the kids became ‘foot loose’ and their feet literally fell off. The school does offer some music to the kids in what they call ‘Stand-arounds’ where the students can stand there and listen to the music. Charlie is bullied by Kipp and challenges him to a decathlon in order to fit in better. In an effort to be cool Charlie first approaches the local black man, Darnell (Tracy Morgan) who tries to teach him ‘blackness’ including having Charlie dress up in black face. When Kimberly dumps Kipp she tries to get back at him by accepting a date with Charlie. Charlie also gets the gardener, Mr. Yamagashi (James Hong) to be his mentor in the decathlon even though he uses household chores as training exercises. Meanwhile Lori tries to express herself in dance. She meets up with the janitor, Gabriel (Chris Kattan) who used to be the dance teacher until the ban. He agrees to let Lori come to his clandestine dance class much to the chagrin of his favorite student, Deb (Lucie Guest). As Lori tries to explain to her parents there is nothing wrong with a 35 year old man taking underage girls to an abandoned warehouse to make them dance for him. During a very dangerous dance routine Deb’s foot becomes loose and she breaks her ankle. Naturally Lori offers to step in to replace her. Charlie tells Billie the news about his date with Kimberly and she offers to teach him to kiss. Of course she has a crush on him and he is just too dim to notice. He does ask Billie to chauffer him and Kimberly on the big date.

I think the way they came up with the script for this flick was they took pages from every teen movie script from the eighties, threw it them up in the air and whatever landed on their desks they used. Even the ancillary characters are right on the money for the decade. There is a teen wolf (Richard de Klerk) and a child genius (Trevor Heins). Many scenes are lifted almost frame for frame from the originals such as when Billie has to dress like a chauffer it might as well be Mary Stuart Masterson in ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’. The music can be used as a greatest hits of the eighties anthology. The film is predictably paced having the conflict appear at just the right time and resolved just in time for the ending. The costumes are the clothes most who have lived through the eighties would rather forget. Headbands are seen on just about everyone. Girls all seem to have leg warmers and off the shoulder sweatshirts. Boys sport pastel shirts and linen paints.

I do have to admit that the cast is well done here. As with many films of the eighties the actors are noticeably much older than the characters they are playing. Dominique Swain is best known for her roles in independent films, usually playing much darker characters than here. As Lori she is perfect as the eighties protagonist girl who can scream extremely well but has little actually ability to dance. Mikey Day looks just like the young leading men of that decade. This is especially true when he is in black face; he bares an uncanny resemblance to C. Thomas Howell in ‘Soul Man’. Another eighties look alike is Joey Kern as Kipp. He is the reinvention of William Zabka who made a career playing every bully role possible in the eighties. Nicki Clyne is wonderful as the unpopular Billie. She is now best known for her role in ‘Battlestar Galactica’ but here she seems to have had a lot of fun with this lighter role.

Like a few other flicks for either VH1 or MTV the DVD was scheduled to be released a couple of days after premiering on cable. To their credit they gave this DVD release the same attention they would for any blockbuster film. The video is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic. The colors are bright and natural and the contrast dead on. The Dolby 5.1 audio is extremely well done especially when playing some of the eighties classic songs. There are also some extras worth a look. There is an audio commentary track with Tracey Morgan and co-writer/director Neal Brennan. Along with the bloopers and outtakes there are some (thankfully) deleted scenes and featurettes with a few cast members. This flick will never make any list presented by the American Film Institute nor will it be represented in any award show but it was fun to watch. It is something that most of the family can enjoy, albeit for different reasons, together.

Posted 11/2/06

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