Friday, July 29, 2016

VHS Summer Week #5

Penelope Spheris

Grant (Jon Cryer), Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck), and Milo (Flea) are punks on their way through the desert in hopes of meeting the Go-Go's. They run afoul of some locals up to no good. One of the trio is viciously killed leading the other two on a journey that takes them from an Elvis impersonator named Daredelvis (Pete Wilcox) to the spiritual landscape of the Old West. Here they realize they must embrace that spirit if they hope to get revenge for their friend.

Under the modern lens I can see some of the antics in Dudes being considered, at best, insensitive to Native Americans, what with Biscuit adopting native dress, talking in broken English, and having spirit visions. There is such a lightness to the film that it’s difficult to believe that any of it was done maliciously. Here is a film about caricatures of punks transforming into caricatures of western movie archetypes, while they are aided by a caricature of Elvis. It attempts to reach the heart of the epic west via the silliest route possible.

"Well, Blane... fancy meeting you here."
Jon Cryer is certainly trading on some of the charm and goodwill he generated in from Pretty in Pink (1986) , he’s never quite convincing as an action hero but perhaps that is supposed to be the joke.  Daniel Roebuck steals the movie as Biscuit, his journey from put-upon outcast to mystic warrior is a cartoonish joy.  Lee Ving and the rest of the bad guys are scummy enough that you look forward to them getting what they deserve.

To date, the only way to see Dudes is on VHS. Why does such a cult oddity from a notable director have only a VHS release? The answer is music rights, which will probably be concern until someone with the time and money to untangle it comes along. The worse option is releasing it with alternate music, especially a film like this where the music is so closely intertwined with the story. The music is a mish-mash of western tinged rock, metal, and surprisingly very little actual punk music. Thematically Dudes resists being any particular thing, and since it was never going to outdo Repo Man (1984) for being the seminal  punk genre movie,  why even try?

"Alright guys, who took my sleeves?"
The relative ridiculousness of Dudes works well when its operating as an oddball comedy, but that does undermine the more dramatic moments. Key deaths in the film don’t carry quite the weight they might otherwise. The movie never creates the tonal whiplash it could veering from comedy to revenge thriller, but it never feels mean enough to dive into being black comedy either. The end result is a movie that goes through its various plot points with a certain comedic detachment. Maybe that is the most punk part of the whole thing.

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