Mother's Boys

The shoulderpads that overpowered the Earth
Yves Simoneau
Jamie Lee Curtis, Peter Gallagher, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Vanessa Redgrave, Luke Edwards
The Setup: 
Mom who abandoned family comes back, and won’t brook any argument.

Imagine my dismay as I’m about to put my Home Film Festival entitled simply BITCHES! Up on the site, only to find that the first half of this review is on my word processor that was stolen and is probably now being picked apart by indigent Chinese in a dump 70 miles West of Shanghai. So I’ll have to recreate the first half from memory, which is okay anyway, as we can then dispense with the “facts” and concentrate mostly on making snide comments.

I feel it would also benefit you to know that I am this second sitting on an A train waiting to go downtown, and at my feet is an inch-long, very real, red-painted woman’s fingernail. Great! That’s what New York is all about.

Okay, so the movie. I became somewhat obsessed with this movie, and the entire cult of Jamie Lee Curtis, after finally re-watching the original Halloween and falling in love with her unique essence. Of course, for me, this makes me want to see her in her worst movie ever. Which brings us here. We open with these credits as we hear Jamie Lee [JLC] talk to a therapist or some such about returning to the family she abandoned three years prior. There is some dripping water imagery, then we come out of the mind of her 12-year-old son, Kes, implying that he has foreseen her arrival in a dream. He is in science class, where he has to dissect a frog, while the teacher, clearly instructed to teach a subtext-friendly lesson on the day the film cameras were there, talks about how the mother frog dumps her eggs and abandons them. Kes repeatedly stabs his frogs guts, causing pandemonium in the science lab! Kes is played by Luke Edwards, who went on to roles in Cheaters, American Pie 2, and Jeepers Creepers 2.

So Kes [I thought his name was Cass, and was dismayed to find it’s the even-more-repulsive Kes] is sent to the Assistant Principal, Callie, played by Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. She portrayed the ingenue in Scandal and married Val Kilmer briefly. She has a talk with Kes, then, when he gets home from school—there she is! Because she’s engaged to be married to Kes’ dad, Peter Gallagher. There are two other boys as well, but Kes is the focus. He’s the only one old enough to remember when his mom was Jamie Lee.

So Jamie Lee has been spooking around, and goes to Callie’s office, pretending to be a new mother moving to town, but secretly sizing up the competition. Then she goes into her old house and pokes around, when Peter comes home and is shocked to find her there. He lets her watch the kids without their knowing, and she demands a visit. She never explains where she went or why she left, and she is rarely directly asked.

Oh dear, here’s where things get blurry. Can you imagine a movie as searing as THIS one being forgotten? I think what happens next is that JLC comes by the house with a bunch of groceries, but finds the kids and Dad and Callie eating at the back picnic table already. How thoughtful of them to eat outside so she could see them. She then guns it along the Pacific Coast Highway, tossing bags of groceries out the back of her convertible! You gotta love her. I wish my mom did things like this—let alone spray-paint WHORE on the cars of my Dad’s mistresses—if he had any. You must also understand that JLC has this 90s bleached-blonde power-hairdo and favors RED cars and RED outfits with invincible shoulderpads. Her shoulderpads will roar, and the meek will tremble!

So she has a visitation with the kids and takes them to the planetarium. But first they come see her rather decked-out apartment [where is she getting the money? And how long has she been in town?], and gives them all Game Boys. The young boys are instantly bought off, but Kes is still moody. JLC tells him lies about how she left because Peter was slipping sausage to Callie, although the truth is he met Callie after JLC left. She also tells them that Callie carries a brood of poisonous asps in her cooch. Actually she doesn’t, but why not, JLC? Go for it!

Sometime in here she’s at Peter’s and is just leaving when Callie comes by. JLC freezes sweet, innocent little Callie with her icy attitude beam. MMMmmmm.

Okay, now starts the part I wrote earlier, which features much more adherence to the plot. I leave you in my own capable hands. Buh-bye!

So JLC goes to see Callie at her office, and you can see Callie trying to be a strong, independent woman like she's seen on TV. You know, if we're going to be trafficking in mousy, bargain-basement actresses, couldn't we have gotten Jeannie Tripplehorn? Anyway, JLC is a total bitch to her in the most amusing way, and even throws a saucy "hi" to the clearly horny principal. Why Assistant Principal Callie has a spacious office while the Principal seems to be parked at a desk outside, I don't know. Anyway, Callie calls on everything she ever read in SELF magazine and tells JLC that she knows she loves Peter and the boys, but she left, and now Callie's in the picture. Now, dear reader, one of the disappointments lately is realizing that sequences I admired in certain films are actually total rip-offs from earlier movies, such as the way the clever Langley break-in from Mission Impossible is actually a total steal of the heist from Topkapi. And imagine my disappointed surprise to find that Ed Norton's self-inflicted "assault" by his boss in Fight Club is actually… totally ripped off from Mother's Boys! Right down to the detail of the tacky bookcase behind her! Man, it's depressing. Anyway, JLC freaks out and screams, making it seem that Callie attacked her. Unfortunately it was up to Norton in Fight Club to realize that a crucial selling point is getting some blood on your "assailant." Write these tips down, kids, you may one day have to frame someone for assault by bruising yourself, too.

So now Peter is going to let Kes [Who the hell names their child KES? It sounds like something that builds up on your teeth.] stay the weekend over at JLC's house. Now—WHY is he doing this? He doesn't have to let her see them at all. If she sues for custody, that'll tie things up in courts for years. Whatever. Kes goes over to JLC's ludicrously swanky apartment after her letting him drive the car. She says she's going to take a bath, then calls him in to hand her the cordless phone [might as well have a date stamp on it]. He feels uncomfortable seeing his mom all naked, and she talks about how her labor with him took forever, because he just LOVED it up in the womb. She then stands nude in front of him [he's 12, btw] and makes him look at her Caesarian scar. If you read the comments for this movie on the IMDb, you'll see that this scene infuriates a lot of people. And it is, at best, totally tasteless. She then gives him the book she saw his eyeing covetously—and I'm sorry, do hip '94 12-year-olds REALLY want hardcover editions of Great Expectations?—and tries to get him to do something evil to "scare" Callie. Yes! We want evil!

So after Kes returns home, they all stay the night at Vanessa Redgrave's house. During this time we find out that young JLC "worshipped" her father, and one day he took her to a hotel room, and left her in the other room while he stepped off the ledge to his death. Then Vanessa overhears the boys plotting to do evil, there's a struggle, and she ends up tumbling down the curiously long stairway. She's not dead, though. By the way, Vanessa proves, against all odds, that it IS possible to make something of this dialogue, if, you know, you're superhuman. Like Vanessa Redgrave. It's clearly beyond the powers of poor Peter Gallagher, who not only looks like a fish, but also conveys their full range of emotional response, bulging his eyes in or out as the scene requires.

So somewhere in here, I think when JLC is visiting mama at the hospital, there is a muddled flashback about how Vanessa was going to take baby JLC away from her father, because he had committed a "Great Sin, Great Sin, Great Sin." It's never spelled out, but it seems that little JLC was taking dad's magic love wand, and apparently liked it, as we heard she "worshipped" him, which leads us to remember how she said that little Kes looks just like her father. It's ALL coming together now, with this especially deep selection from Uncle Sal's Crass Psychology Bargain Basement and Subtext Shack.

Now JLC scores 100 bonus points for just plain mean-spiritedness combined with evil ingenuity with a special 10-point boost for general pointlessness—aside from causing human suffering, of course—when the hospital calls Callie to inform her that Peter has been in a terrible accident. They want to speak to his wife—NOT some tramp homewrecker—and ask Callie to get in touch with JLC. Callie, the good little girl scout, overcomes her own personal reservations in the face of the serious circumstances, and calls JLC to deliver the terrible news, when JLC curtly stops her sand says "That's impossible, he just left here five minutes ago. We were fucking. I can still taste him," and hangs up. This moment may have been worth the entire movie. Of course, now I've ruined for you. Well what the fuck, if you had any sense you'd have watched this movie by now, cocksucker!

So human mouse Callie is babysitting the kids when they enact their virtually suspense-free plan. They're going to put the handcuffs on her and play "trial," and she's the one on trial. Kes, who has been totally converted to JLC's side, keeps her tied up and tries to prevent the other kids from helping her, but the youngest one wants to bring her a glass of water. He trips while carrying it, the little idiot, and get stabbed just below the right shoulder. Big deal! Just tape a few band-aids over it, throw him a crust of bread and leave him tied out in the back yard for a few days and he'll be fine. But no, they're all like what a huge CRISIS, and Callie wants to get untied, and finally does, and grabs the little one to take him to the hospital. But wait—she can't get into the car, for SOME reason, and so she decides to WALK to the hospital! Which, for all we know, may be 3 – 85 miles away! What the FUCK, Callie? You don't get points for earnestness and sincerity if the little brat dies. So Kes, who you'll remember was "taught" how to drive by JLC earlier, takes off after her in the car. BUT, get this, JLC has cut the brakes, hoping to send Callie to a fiery grave, never suspecting that her precious Kes would be behind the wheel. He and the fat middle brother end up flying over a cliff, the car suspended from a tree—straight out of Jurassic Park. Although I have to say that I was unable to detect any seam in the special effects or anything letting us know that the car is not really on the side of a cliff—it looks good. Callie climbs down to save the kids—she really DOES care!—and so does Jamie Lee. Then Peter shows up, and they all end up on the car. Anyway, with no fanfare, the car shifts and JLC flies off to her doom. That's it. Barely any struggle, no build-up, no sense of justice or vengeance—it really is like the timer on the movie ran out and it had to end immediately.

To my surprise and delight, this movie ends with a THEME SONG, "The Longest Night," as performed by Clair Marlo, and composed by George S. Clinton, who a little research informs me is, in fact, not THAT George Clinton. The movie… well, it sucked. It was kind of fun, but nowhere near as fun as it should have been, what with Jamie Lee and the whole premise. They just really need to GO FOR IT, and they didn't. I did really appreciate some of JLC's pure bitchy mean-spiritedness, but all the connecting material around it just wasn't up to snuff. In fact, it was quite poor, but brought up by JLC's bitchiness [and her hot 90s outfits and fierce shoulderpads]. The whole story didn't make a lick of sense, the characters were completely unappealing [which worked for it—you WANTED to see JLC make them suffer], and all the relationships made about as much sense as a duck with a hair dryer. Thanks, I just made that one up.

That's about it. It was a bummer. Jamie Lee deserves better. You deserve better. But Joanne Whalley-Kilmer deserves exactly what she gets. If there was any justice in this world, we'd have a sequel where JLC's character from this movie teams up with Sharon Stone's character from the American remake of Diabolique, and go out to sling sass and kick ass. Now THAT would be a formidable pairing. I'd pay double to see that shit.

Should you watch it: 

If you really loves you some Jamie Lee, but even then, expectations are best lowered.