This is a truly strange movie. I cannot understand why it ended up this way. We’ll speculate on that later on, but first, let me tell you what’s going on here.
We begin with this prologue that shows John Travolta working at the obituary desk at this paper, a job he hates. Then we have this credit sequence that is really shockingly static for a movie that is supposed to be so energetic—it’s just credits against a blank background, while we hear “(The Closest Thing To) Perfect” by Jermaine Jackson. Poor Jermaine. Then we are told that it’s five years later, and John is now a feature writer for Rolling Stone. I mention the prologue from five years before, because—WHAT is it doing there? What purpose does it serve? Is this the portrait of the journalist as a young man? Or is this an idiotic romance set against the dynamic world of arobics? And it continues in this vein.
Anyway, Travolta is trying to secure this interview with some mob figure or whoever, but it would supposedly be this important journalistic piece. While he’s listening to the representative of whatever person he’s trying to get the interview with, his attention is drawn to these women in tights passing by, and he has the idea to work on a back-up piece on L.A. fitness clubs that’ll be a “New York Makes Fun of California” piece on bimbos and muscle morons.
Please note a very special dramatic appearance by Carly Simon. That’s right, all of a sudden, there’s Carly Simon, as herself, pissed off about a critical piece that John wrote about her, and she throws what I think is supposed to be wine [it’s in a wine glass] but is thick and red like tomato juice in John’s face. The movie totally should have diverted at this point and been all about Carly Simon, who seems like a bit of a spitfire in her short scene, but alas, we can’t have everything.
Jan Wenner, the real-life editor of Rolling Stone at the time, is also on hand, playing himself. Such is the highly accurate level of verisimilitude in this film. He gets many, many more scenes than you’d think he would, and he’s not all that bad, assuming he probably hadn’t acted much otherwise.
So John flies out to L.A. and meets with Lynette, the manager of the fitness club, who says she consciously opened the place because young singles in the mid-80s had no place to go to meet and hook up. This is the thesis of John’s article, that fitness clubs have become the new singles bars. Everyone in the story treats this is a scandal akin to Watergate, although it seems to me the proper response to his thesis is: “Yeah? So?” We are then introduced to the staff of the Sports Connection, the one and only club that supposedly professional journalist John is going to draw his inferences about an entire social “scene” from.
He is shown around by the blond and middling-hunky Bobby, who plays a good dumb but friendly jock with a good leering face when a female club attendant says “I like it when you work on my body.” We also meet some redhead who seems to be a bit overly obsessed with physical fitness [we ARE hitting the hot-button issues of the day], and Marilu Henner, whose boyfriend is a Chippendale’s dancer, and who strongly urges Marilu to keep working out to “get bigger tits,” which leads Marilu to laughingly ask “How big do you WANT ‘em?” This is in spite of the fact that I think even aerobics instructors knew at the time that exercise cannot, in fact, give you bigger breasts. One of the other characters later says that Marilu is “so lucky” to have a male stripper as a boyfriend, though I don’t know, how many women REALLY want their boyfriends to be the object of lust to a great many women who will be throwing themselves at him all the time? This question is not addressed. But all of this is part of the way the film desperately works overtime to emphasize the sexual aspects of the gym environment. Which flies into the red zone once we…
…meet Jamie Lee Curtis as Jessie, in the midst of leading her aerobics class. Jamie Lee is the “pied piper of aerobics” [she rids towns of rats through aerobics? She steals large groups of children through aerobics?], and we see her in a skin-tight pink suit thrusting and rolling and squeezing her pussy all over the place. John, who was have established has a weakness for spandex-clad gyrating poon, is transfixed. He approaches her about an interview, but she’s not interested, so her pursues her with the single-mindedness of a psychopath. Jamie Lee, who wears a mullet that falls somewhere between Olivia and Billy Ray Cyrus, has apparently never heard of restraining orders, and, we are later led to believe [though NO evidence of it appears in the film] is being won over by Travolta’s pig-headed insistence. She agrees to have dinner with him, so long as it’s not an interview for the piece, then asks about his article: “It’s not going to be one of those things on how health clubs are turning into singles bars, is it?” …and you’re like; so WAIT a minute! These types of articles, which the rest of the movie is treating as though it is an explosively new idea that only someone with the canny foresight of John Travolta can intuit, are actually so common that they’ve become a CLICHÉ? Well, wouldn’t that make Travolta a rather hack reporter, and this rather a foolish topic to address on the cover of Rolling Stone? Again, not addressed. Travolta then goes on this long jag of flat-out bullshit, complete with quotes from Emerson, before they repair to his hotel, where Jamie peruses his bleeding-edge word processing technology, typing “Wanna fuck?” into it. They are about to when they are interrupted, but get to complete it later, and in both cases we notice that they are PASSIONATELY talking about aerobics AS they have sex. You also notice that everything in this movie goes on too long. I’m not talking about one thing or another, I mean that every single element goes on just a while too long, which can annoy, as one knows this movie is two hours, and has no kind of business being anywhere over 90 minutes.
Another thing that has no place being anywhere near as long as it is also functions as the centerpiece of the film and really the only reason to watch it. Travolta, now enrolled in Jamie Lee’s aerobics class, attends what I must assume to be her “Pelvic Thrusting” class, because that is literally all they do for like five minutes. You get long takes of Travolta, wearing short-shorts stuffed with a tube sock [at least I didn’t notice that thing in the tight clothes of Saturday Night Fever or Staying Alive], repeatedly THRUSTS HIS CROTCH DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA. I stand humbled by my inability to accurately describe to you precisely HOW FUCKING BIZARRE this is. And it just goes on FOREVER. I should have timed it, but imagine a good five minutes of John Travolta thrusting his stuffed crotch into your face, and you may get some idea. Now of course you say; “But Scott, isn’t this precisely the kind of thing that always appeals to you?” and the fact that it doesn’t, in this case, is testament to how creepy and bizarre it all is. As well as the fact that Travolta is no Sam Elliott. Anyway, what of Jamie Lee? She is also involved in leading this highly-eroticized aerobics session, which causes her to thrust her hips as though she is vicariously riding the Travolta cock—er, I mean, SOCK—and she makes a number of “passionate” faces delivered with the aggressive intensity Jamie Lee is known for, and is simultaneously mouthing words of lusty sexual encouragement to him—WHILE she is standing in front of her whole class! The whole thing needs to be preserved in some sort of time capsule or something, and seriously is so strange it is almost worth getting the movie for. If you do, this part takes place around 42:00. I don’t think it’s worth wasting your time watching anything in the movie before or after.
Anyway, Travolta gets his interview with the mob boss or whoever, and then there is some whole journalistic integrity thing about whether or not he’ll hand over the tapes, and you’re like—WHY are we having all this development when I’m watching a puff movie about aerobics classes? You also notice—BIG TIME—that in between scenes in the aerobics club, this movie is NOTHING but phone calls and plane rides. We also find out that Jamie Lee was burned in the past by a journalist who told her he was writing about her swim team but was actually writing about the affair she had WITH HER SWIM COACH. So apparently she has a history of shacking up with stupendously inappropriate object choices. Then Travolta, who has finally [and repeatedly] earned her trust, whips out a tape recorder during the middle of a personal conversation YET AGAIN, and then acts like he can’t understand why she’s pissed. This leads to the first of several times in which she refers to him as a “sphincter muscle.”
Meanwhile, Travolta is experiencing job difficulty, and one key scene takes place while some sort of Boy George festival is going on outside, featuring a bunch of people dressed up as Boy George, and psychotically chanting “We want Boy! We want Boy!” over and over and over and over again—for like, MINUTES—even though there is NO indication that Boy George is scheduled to appear or is anywhere in the vicinity, making them all just seem insane. During all this time we are supposed to understand that Travolta is under threat because of his more serious article, and YET AGAIN the motherfucker tries to tape Jamie Lee! Are you beginning to get the impression that we’re just seeing the same scene over and over? I mean, we could cut out about 12 of the ‘she comes to trust him / he tapes her for the interview / she gets pissed’ cycles and still have a feature-length film.
Enter the evil, unscrupulous photographer. She tries to worm her way into John’s stories at several points, but she finally shows up at the gym in order to shoot photos for his story, and takes one of Jamie Lee before John chivalrously turns her lens away. She also takes pics of gay porn star and purveyor Paul Baressi [that’s him above on the right with the stache], who sold a story to the National Enquirer that he and Travolta were longtime lovers. If that’s true—good one, John! Paul is HOT! Anyway, so the story finally comes out, and Jamie Lee and the rest of the gym see the photos and read the story and feel so betrayed. So dirty. So… used. So cheap. So degraded [okay fine, I’ll stop]. It would seem that the one photo the woman got of Jamie Lee shows her seemingly grabbing her breasts and screaming [seems strikingly unerotic to me, but…], and it would happen that his evil editor Wenner totally rewrote the story to make it sound like “one of those stories saying health clubs are the new singles bars.” And John feels so betrayed. So used… [okay, fine] and what’s more, this causes us to start another revolution of the “Jamie Lee gets pissed…” cycle. He goes into Wenner’s office and starts bashing everything up with a baseball bat! Then he gets thrown in jail! OH—and did I mention that he was in motherfucking MOROCCO for like ONE scene? Does it seem like this movie is all over the place?
Anyway, so it’s time for the flat-out insane Jamie Lee to begin one of her “I forgive you” cycles, which finds her hanging out around the jails where Travolta is locked up… and finally he’s released and they live happily until the next time he whips out a tape recorder after she’s been confessing her secrets.
By the way, we also catch a brief glimpse of the one Chippendales dancer I used to like, and would furtively peruse Chippendale's calendars in my local Waldenbooks in order to see. That's him below, behind Marilu with the stache. Hmmm... still so handsome.
So the question one is left with is: “What kind of movie did they THINK they were making?” It seems like they thought they were making a serious movie about a reporter having his ethics tested, and I think the writer/director thought he was really chronicling this fascinating social scene, which may be why the scenes, even those with minor characters who don’t amount to much of anything, go on much longer than they have any right to. This guy turns out also to have been the writer/director of Urban Cowboy and The China Syndrome [and later Bright Lights, Big City], both inspired by real-life journalistic events [and Urban Cowboy, like this one, inspired by a series of articles], so maybe he thinks he’s some sort of sociologist. One other explanation is that possibly this was based on a true story, and so they felt like they couldn’t change many of the details without altering the overall shape. I guess no one told them that the entire thing is simply ludicrous, and any attempt on their part to take it seriously would only become laughable. And then you think—but what with the pelvic thrusting scene, how could they possibly be serious? It’s a mystery. This is one of the few trashy movies I would actually be fascinated to listen to a commentary on.
This movie was really the last nail in the Travolta coffin [pre-Pulp Fiction] as his films just previous were Two of a Kind and Staying Alive. Then there were the three Look Who’s Talking movies, along with Shout, and then Pulp Fiction and back into the limelight. Jamie Lee had a fairly consistent yet less illustrious career, but I think she’s kind of awesome and it’s a little embarassing to see her having to go through something like this. But she throws herself into it with her all, just like the Jamie Lee we love. Also present is Chelsea Field, former Solid Gold dancer who went on star in Prison. Not worth knowing, but you know, anyone who was a Solid Gold dancer is pretty awesome.
Overall, really, really strange and way too long, and neither in a way that makes it interesting to watch. If you had a chance just to watch the pelvic thrusting scene, which really is quite something, I would do that and skip the rest of the film.
No. It sounds like goofy fun with the whole concept and the porn stars and the padded crotches, but it just ain’t. Though you should try to watch the pelvic thrusting scene if you can.