To be honest, HARDBODIES, the midnight movie tonight at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema, is not a movie I think about often. I’m not even positive I’ve seen it all the way through. Maybe you can relate. It’s very much a generational thing.
If you’re older than me, you might never have encountered a movie like HARDBODIES. If you’re younger than me, the internet has so revolutionized and specialized your movie-watching experience that you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. Nowadays you can watch almost any movie you want at any time of day, even wherever you are. You have more choice than ever before, but in a way, it narrows your view — you’re going straight for the movie you have in mind. There are less accidents. My generation are the channel-surfers. We grew up with a remote control in our hand, sometimes a TV Guide (print edition) in the other. I’m old enough to just barely remember what things were like before the internet changed everything, but young enough to have adapted. Cable was my first source of movie exploration. HBO. The Movie Channel. USA.
I was never looking for a movie like HARDBODIES. I wanted to see GHOSTBUSTERS or BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA or any movie anything like them. But, you know, puberty. That’s a thing that happened to me. So if I was flipping TV channels, late at night, and I saw a pair of boobs, I’d stop and take a look. There usually weren’t those in the kinds of movies I owned and rented and went to the theater to see.
So that’s the value of a movie like HARDBODIES. Pre-adolescent ogling. It actually amazed me when I looked it up and saw that it came out of a major studio (Columbia), but then that’s American cinema in the 1980s. Whereas mainstream movies now are a weird combination of children’s source material and relentless violence, mainstream movies then at least offered up juvenile visions of sex to balance out all the sci-fi and action flicks. Quite frankly, there were a lot more titties in the 1980s. As the 1990s dawned, America returned to our forefathers’ most paradoxically prudish ways — violence everywhere, while harmless sex anywhere in culture became a prosecutable crime. Porn went underground: Everyone watches it, more than ever by the numbers, but you’d never know it from our movies.
Anyway, let me step down from my sociopolitical soapbox. (The sociopolitical soap is the less-trafficked area of Bath & Body Works.) I don’t have much personal fondness for HARDBODIES. As an adult, I wonder how it even happened once, let alone earned a sequel. It’s easier to accept a movie like PRIVATE SCHOOL, a straightforward ’80s sex comedy about horny guys crashing a girls’ school, which is leering but leering like a teenage boy. HARDBODIES leers like a grown man, which is a ways creepier. Here’s Nitehawk’s summary:
When three divorced men on a vacation in California realize that they’re fancy beach house and cars can’t get them the one thing they want (to get laid!), they hire a young man known for his way with the ladies. In exchange for his ‘dialog’, he gets to stay at their fabulous abode but when this playboy actually falls for a girl, well, then things get a little nutty. With its cheesy one-liners, Valley Girl speak, big hair, boom-boxes, and outlandish hijinx, HARDBODIES epitomizes 1980s sex-comedies, and is best to see late night on the big screen.
So there’s the difference, and it’s a big one: Where most 1980s sexploitation comedies focused on teens lusting after other teens, HARDBODIES centered around old guys chasing after hot young things. Kinda gross. In fact, I remember being a bit disturbed by the trio of old dudes in the movie: They look kinda like monsters, and they lack the charm of, say, a Rodney Dangerfield in BACK TO SCHOOL that would’ve balanced out the discrepancy. Grant Cramer, who later starred in 1988’s KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE plays the young stud character, but he’s a little too studly here to root too hard for — it’s like pulling for William Zabka to get with Elisabeth Shue over Ralph Macchio.
But forget about relatable protagonists. If you’re coming to HARDBODIES for gratuitous and lingering shots of bikini-bound and -unbound cleavage, with a chaser of goofy slapstick, then you will not leave disappointed. Again, for the younger generation, who now lives with porn ever-ready at the end of an arm, you have to understand the era: this is the best some of us could get for a while. Believe me, I have more Judeo-Christian angst and revulsion over the objectification of young women (and their defilement by ogres) than anyone, but even for a sensitive poetic sort like myself, there’s biology to contend with. The heart wants what the heart wants, but it ain’t the only part of me that lives life that way.
So I didn’t not notice, as a preteen, that HARDBODIES features a young woman named Darcy Demoss, who you’d also have seen in JASON LIVES and CAN’T BUY ME LOVE. Pretty lady. Not averse to toplessness. Attacks these meaningless sex-object roles with a certain enthusiasm. A brunette in a world of blondes. Her scenes I remembered. The rest of the movie I didn’t really bother to store in my cranial hard-drive, but this particular highlight reel I did.
HARDBODIES is also a place to get your Courtney Gains fix, if that’s your 1980s demi-icon of choice. He was in CAN’T BUY ME LOVE too, but he had my heart from Joe Dante’s THE ‘BURBS, and Rob Zombie’s too it seems, as there was the cameo in HALLOWEEN. And, randomly enough, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s FASTER, which is proof that the character actor’s career odyssey is generally far more eclectic and interesting than that of most mainstream stars. This dude is the bridge between Michael Myers and The Rock (in another era, Michael is a role Dwayne could have played). Respect is due.
I haven’t seen even a minute of HARDBODIES II so I can’t speak to that, but if you want to see where the saga began, you should definitely see HARDBODIES I. For those of us who appreciate the great arts of cinematography and editing, there’s absolutely nothing here of interest, but as a snapshot of California beach culture at a certain point in time — or maybe just a horny old guy’s idea of such — it does have its value. By definition it’s not the kind of movie that has ever been watched much with a crowd, so tonight should present a rare and intriguing opportunity to see how that works.
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