Blame It On Rio

Poor taste
★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Stanley Donen
Starring: 
Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, Michelle Johnson, Demi Moore
The Setup: 
Man has affair with his best friend's daughter.
Discussion: 

Soon after this movie came out, I recall reading an article about feminism that called this movie out as a disgusting piece of sexist amoral trash, which made me curious about it for all these years. Then there it was on Netflix, free, offering me the chance to wallow in its enjoyable sleaze or take the moral high ground and castigate it for its backward politics. Turns out to be the latter, but I have to speculate as to whether I would feel the same way had it starred, say, Burt Reynolds as opposed to Michael Caine in his nightmare-perm phase, and if it had been funny. At all, in any small way, funny.

We open with a cheesy light pop/jazz song which promises delights to come, but is soon repeated to death. The end credits say that there were about fifteen songs in the entire movie, but I can't recall more than three, and they all sounded the same. We also learn that we are to be treated to an early performance by Demi Moore, as well as the appearance of Valerie Harper. This is the final movie by Stanley Donen, best known as the director of Singin' in the Rain, after his failed sci-fi effort Saturn 13 with Farrah Fawcett. And this comes from deep in the nadir of Caine's career, the Jaws 4 days. So let's go!

So Caine is Matthew, who is married to Harper as Karen, and has a daughter, Nicky, played by Moore. His marriage is not going well for reasons not explained, certainly not by Karen, who lays in bed sighing in discontent, but passive-aggressively refuses to express what's wrong, except to issue snide answers like "Nothing. That's what's always been going on in our marriage... nothing." She announces, on the moment they are to leave for a trip to Rio, that she is not going to Rio, but going on vacation by herself, to think. Not a lot of healthy communication happening in this marriage. Then there's Victor, Matthew's boss, who is going through a nasty divorce and constantly complaining about how his wife has consigned him to hours of paperwork and is taking half of what he has worked for. So, five minutes in, and this film absolutely despises women!

The two men and two daughters go to Rio, where we have lots of "fabulous vacation" type footage, and settle into a beautiful home with aggressive wallpaper and an amazing view. There are parrots and toucans everywhere, and I do mean as room and restaurant adornments. Their hotel suite comes complete with two live parrots. Jennifer, Victor's daughter, is played by Michelle Johnson. She and Nicky share a room, and before bed she says to Nicky "Your father is so sweet... I used to have a crush on him," to which Nicky replies "Me too."

Now, throughout the film, we are interrupted every few minutes by interview segments in which Caine or Jennifer speak directly to the camera. They interrupt whatever momentum the film manages to establish, which is never very much, and they strain to be funny, but are not. In fact, I don't think I laughed once during the entire film. We have more woman-hating as Matthew says that his wife is away thinking and an older friend says "Thinking? That's how I lost my wife!" Soon the fathers are seeing their daughter's topless on the beach, although one notes that Demi's long hair is pasted to her boobs. The movie is trying to generate comedy out of Rio's permissive atmosphere and these uptight dads trying to keep their daughters chaste.

So one night Matthew has charge of both girls and takes them to an evening party on a beach, where Nicky goes off with some guy and Matthew ends up making out with Jennifer, who is coming onto him very aggressively, breathing "make love to me." Nicky sees her father making out with her best friend. Then Matthew and Jennifer have full sex on the beach, followed by some "comedy" as Matthew is almost caught. Matthew stresses to her that it can never happen again.

The next day, Jennifer has transformed into full-on psychotic stalker. She is outrageously coming onto Matthew everytime and everywhere, and seemingly cannot comprehend why she should be a little more discreet. I don't know how you'll react to her, but from now until the end of the film, I wanted to bash her head in. She's akin to the young stalkeress from Lambada and/or Alicia Silverstone in The Crush. I suspect there's something about portraying underage girls who have affairs as sex-crazed kittens, which (in theory) reduces the creep factor of the men who engage with them. Anyway, for the next 30 minutes Jennifer is making outrageous come-ons to Matthew in all sorts of inappropriate situations, to the point where she really comes off as quite, quite insane. Also in here we have discussions about how they're "in love," which every single time makes you say "Seriously?" because we have not seen anything in their manner suggesting that they are more than casual acquaintances, they have negative chemistry, and we barely ever see them have a conversation. By the way, there's also a big "ick" moment when Matthew mentions having held and kissed Jennifer as an infant.

SPOILERS (NOT REALLY) > > >
So from here on out the movie tries to spin comedy out of Matthew managing this big secret from Victor, which one can imagine a movie with the right elements and some cleverness might have been able to make something of. Matthew and Victor have a conversation while making dinner, and during that time Matthew grates an insane amount of carrots for their salad--like, imagine a dinner plate heaped with a pile of grated carrots--and then dumps those carrots on top of the salad, covering the surface completely... and you keep waiting for someone to comment on this, or for it to be part of the joke, but no one says anything. By now we've been hearing the exact same song over and over and over. Then, because of this weird "love" thing the movie is trying to play with, Jennifer goes to a medicine woman to get a love spell, a thread that goes precisely nowhere, and is soon screaming "You love me!" to Matthew on a beach not far from her father. The delicate line that separates youthful whimsy from total psychosis is sadly not negotiated by actress Michelle Johnson and her feeble to nonexistent skills, nowhere worse than in the scene in which she finally tells her father that she has had an affair with an older man, in which she crosses the line from inept to aggressively awful.

Victor is desperate to get his hands on the man who sullied his daughter, and appoints Matthew to take her out to lunch and ask her. Of course, sad broken shell of a human being Jennifer interprets this as a "date," and they then discuss how they are "in love." We have more sitcom-ready misunderstanding comedy, until Matthew suddenly blurts to Victor that it was he, in fact, who did the deed. Note the thunder and lightning immediately following that statement. They bicker and Matthew feels bad, then suddenly Nicky, who has known and kept mum on her Dad's affair this whole time, suddenly calls mom Karen (Valerie Harper, remember), who is able to magically hop a plane and be there seemingly within the hour. She continues to play the hateful harpy, and it is soon revealed that she has been having an affair with Victor, which is supposed to cast doubt on the moral superiority Victor claims, and blah, blah, blah.

Then Jennifer tries to kill herself, showing what a little wingnut she is, but, since the movie thinks women are total idiots, tries to do so with birth control pills. Then we have a truly horrifying physical fight between Victor and Matthew with Caine in his underwear, culminating in the most recent of several jokes in which we experience the "humor" of someone mistaking them for gay. Oh ha, ha, wouldn't it just be the worst thing if someone thought you were GAY? Then Jennifer suddenly gets over Matthew and falls for a 21-year-old dude, and Karen and Victor arbitrarily realize that they can't be together, and Karen and Matthew arbitrarily realize that they should stay together (although the film has cast Karen as pretty much the worst human being alive), and they all go bickering around a curve and--sudden credits! The movie just doesn't have that beat that lends resolution before starting the credits, making you suddenly realize that the whole thing must have suffered from a lot of editing problems, suddenly making the abrupt lurching into interview segments throughout suddenly make a lot more sense.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was shit. I'm not so opposed to the subject matter--one can imagine it handled well and the comic possibilities explored--it's just that this film is studiously unfunny and the comic possibilities are explored only in the most sitcom-ready way. So much of it falls flat, even as you know that Caine could be knocking these one-liners out of the park with the right script, right chemistry and right direction. Another huge barrier is that, much as Caine is an impeccable actor and quite attractive and plausibly sexy in the right role, it is quite a stretch to imagine any young girl falling for him as he appears here, and thinking about such a union only renders already-uncomfortable thoughts downright unpleasant. And this is making the dubious allowance that perhaps not everyone finds his perm here as absolutely hideous as I do.

I was surprised to see that a great many people on IMDb adore this film. I can see that, however, as it is gently ribald and sitcom-level and generally good-natured so long as you don't find adult men having sex with underage girls too alienating. If you've completed college, however, I think you deserve better. Leave it in Rio.

Should you watch it: 

No. Not good even for sleaze, sadly.