Rhinestone

To sing country you gotta fart country
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
Bob Clark
Starring: 
Dolly Parton, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Farnsworth, Tim Thomerson
The Setup: 
Dolly has to turn Sly into a country singer. Hilarious hijinx steadfastly refuse to ensue.
Discussion: 

I cannot comment on HOW this ended up at my apartment. I don’t know why this ended up on my list at all—was I on a Stallone kick? Looking for some Dolly? Of maybe because of director Bob Clark [who just died a few days ago], the enigma who directed A Christmas Story, but also Baby Geniuses, Porky's and Black Christmas. Regardless, it was at the top of my list, and before I could put something else there, it was being sent to me.

The first thing to note is that this is supposedly based on the song “Rhinestone Cowboy,” performed by Glen Campbell. As the movie has virtually nothing in common with the song [I downloaded it IMMEDIATELY after watching], I think they could have cut corners by not associating themselves with it, but maybe they thought that they could draw in a few more viewers that way? In 1984? More than 10 years after the song’s popularity had faded? Anyway, we also notice that the script is by Phil Alden Robinson and Stallone himself. And, having sat through Staying Alive, I know that anything Stallone wrote himself is, well, awful.

We open at this thriving western bar which appears to be on Broadway just south of Times Square. I think this is one of the few references to the song, because in the song he’ saying he’s walking down Broadway. We’ll get back to the song. Now, is it even REMOTELY PLAUSIBLE that there was a LARGE western-themed country and western club in Manhattan in 1984? I was very interested to see how they would outfit the club patrons, because if they were in Manhattan, they would probably business-looking yuppies who just happen to be in the western bar, but no, here at least half the club look like full-on Austin, Texas urban cowboys, with all sorts of beards and mustaches and cowboy hats. They are mixed with regular Manhattanites and what I would term “disco gangsters,” creating a HEADY mix. Man, WHAT I would give for a bar I could go to anytime that was half urban cowboys and half disco gangsters. I guess that’s why we have the fantasy world of the movies.

This club, the Rhinestone, is presided over by the main disco gangster, Freddy Hugo, who is wearing Al Pacino’s white suit from Scarface, handily showcasing his nice hairy chest. Freddy is first seen pulling up to the club in his white limo, and when the valet says “Good evening. Mr. Hugo,” responds “It’s always a good evening when you’re rich.” While this is going on we hear the first and best of Dolly Parton’s numbers, which begins with this gorgeous yodeling thing, then goes on to complain how New York isn’t for her and she misses Tennessee. Freddy makes horny faces at her while she’s on stage and makes clear that he wants to sleep with her. Some agent guy tries to woo her away, but she’s under contract to Freddy, so she’s trapped. So through some contrivance they make a bet, Dolly will be able to turn the next “normal” guy she sees into a country sensation in two weeks. If she wins, she gets out of her contract. If she loses, or Freddy will add five years to her contract and she will have to sleep with him. I was thinking I had picked up some unnoticed element in noting that Dolly DOES in fact agree to barter her body as part of this deal, but no, it is made explicitly clear later that she does in fact do this. We are going to come back to this, but I’ll just mention that this movie made me come to understand why I really never seem to get ahead in life: because I would have slept with Freddy in A SECOND. He has this delightful sleazy hotness and is so stuck on himself in the most intoxicating way. Anyway, they end up outside looking for someone to be trained as a singer.

Meanwhile Stallone with big hair [but nowhere near approaching the Olympian volumes achieved by Dolly] is driving a cab with three Japanese passengers in the back. This is one of those movies in which we are supposed to find the very existence of Asians funny. They say they’re looking for some “Su-chi” [sushi]. I was going to go off on a tangent about how this is ludicrous—let alone that they trust this schlub Stallone to recommend a decent restaurant—but I’m not going to bother. Stallone is a wild and astonishingly inconsiderate and dangerous driver—but this is supposed to be adorable—and the movie makes gestures toward the Japanese being excited by the wild ride, which would make this the exact same scene as in Foul Play, where it was actually funny and charming [if, you know, racist]. Anyway, you’ll never guess who is the next person to show up in front of Dolly as the one she has to turn into a country singer. It’s just THAT madcap!

But there is a third plot strand that must be mentioned. The reason Freddy is willing to make this wager is that apparently every new singer at the Rhinestone is booed off the stage. We see this in action when this little guy comes on after a long introduction. He is heckled, but then when he starts singing the crowd—and we—kind of shut up, because he’s pretty good. So we get involved, but then things start to turn as the song grows more ridiculous; it’s about how his baby got cut in two by a tractor one day, and the crowd starts laughing at him. It gets worse as the song starts going into detail about her brains being spattered on the chassis, building to the repeated line: “There were chunks of my darlin’!” I have to comment—and this may be one of the only positive areas of this review—that it was interesting the way the movie used tonal clues to get us behind the idea that this guy overcame the laughter of the audience to show them—and us, because at least I was like, “oh, this song is pretty good,”—only to move the reaction back into mockery again. Why not have him be mockable all the way through, or have him start good and end up bad? The whole effect may serve no narrative purpose, but I was kind of impressed at the skill with which it was executed.

So his failure is the reason why Freddy is desperate for new talent, etc., and it all comes together when Stallone pulls up in front of Dolly, having crashed his cab in the process. Stallone takes the time away from his busy cab-driving schedule to leave the crashed car outside and have a drink with Dolly and Freddy. He immediately starts making come-ons to Dolly. Okay, throughout, Dolly is presented as the object of every man’s lust, and I suspect you may be able to guess why. But every man does not love huge tits, and really, what are you going to DO with them? At least a big dick you DO something with. But in the real world, as far as I can tell, some guys are into tits and some are into asses and some are into legs… so for EVERYONE here to be reduced to quivering lust for Dolly’s tits seems to reflect poorly on the characters, making them seem like strange, oral-stage man-children, and also on the screenwriters. One of whom was Stallone.

Anyway, Stallone considers leaving his job as a cab driver and training for two weeks to become a country singer. If he does, he will not only get the cab repaired, but get his own cab. How he will be able to afford losing two weeks of income is not explained. Dolly shows up the next day at the cab company where Stallone works, dressed in this BIZARRE western outfit that is appropriate only to the stage, where she questions the big bear cab company dude. Stallone comes in, etc., and she convinces him to come to her Tennessee mountain home to train to be a country singer.

But first he goes to Freddy’s house to firm up the deal, where her gets down on his knees to look up the crotches of the furniture. I’m going to leave that one to your imagination. Then he and Dolly have a long public discussion about Stallone taking her home and showing her his organ, overheard by a guy in the background who gives them the thumb’s up. They repair to Stallone’s apartment, which is over the funeral parlor that his dad owns. There he has a large organ, and once more they have a long discussion about how very large his organ is. Then, to demonstrate his singing ability, he screams this horrific version of “Tutti Frutti.” We discover that there’s a funeral going on downstairs, which is suddenly interrupted by this insane song. I must say I did kind of laugh at that. But it is all SO contrived. There is no way anyone who was fully socialized [and Stallone’s character does often come off as borderline psychotic] would sing that song in that way, so you the viewer are sitting there watching this parade of actions that bypass comedy and become something that is supposed to REPRESENT comedy, causing one to fall into a sort of sociological remove wherein one is studying this film as though it’s the strange evidence of an alien culture.

So then Sly takes Dolly to meet his Italian-American parents, where his mother insists that his brain does not have the capacity to learn anything. Dolly insists that she has to take him to Tennessee, because if he’s going to sing country, he has to BE country. So they arrive, greeted by Dolly’s dad Richard Farnsworth, who leers at his daughter’s titties and sighs “Don’t you look sassy.” They drive home while discussing that a local farm has a pig with enormous balls, and maybe later on they’ll go have a look at those massive hog balls. I shit you not. We then have a country performance on Dad’s porch, wherein we see numerous bearded sweethearts, causing me to exclaim “This is like BearFest ’84!” Especially nice is this sweetikins drummer who receives extensive welcome coverage. Then Stallone gets on stage and screams another song.

So we discover than in order to “be” country, which is a prerequisite for singing country, you have to EAT the country way. I’m not just talking about what you eat, but also the way you put it in your mouth. This is another ludicrous contrivance which is meant to both pay platitudes to the country community [it’s not about singing talent, it’s about who you ARE inside!] and also to extend the running time and give the characters something to do. I don’t know if I mentioned that this movie is an inexcusable 110 minutes. Also, if the dude just has to sing one song, shouldn’t they concentrate more on his singing ability than the way he holds his fork? But I guess I just don’t understand. I guess I’m just not country enough.

Anyway, Stallone is acting so insane at times I was beginning to think the good country people should get him drunk, drive him 50 miles in the night and leave him in the middle of some forest.
Also present in Tim Tomerson of Cherry 2000, who, you know what, I’m not even going to go into, except to comment that he has this big bearded bodyguard who made me write “This is the official movie of the bear community!” in my notes. We should also note the horrible sound mix the disc has, that makes it almost impossible to hear what anyone’s saying, and makes the music even worse. Dolly and Sly have some gauzy sunlit lessons by the lake, and there’s a joke about “The Waltons,” just when I had been commenting earlier to a friend how that cultural landmark—the “Goodnight, John Boy” scene—had finally passed out of the national memory. Maybe this was its last gasp. In all of this we are supposed to believe that both Dolly and Sly are sexually-optimized, because she’s got the gigantic gazongas and he has the “perfect body.” I didn’t know “frighteningly bony breastplate” was part of the “perfect body,” but it must be, because Stallone is wearing his shirts open to his waist so much that it’s on display enough.

Now if you’ve ever seen a movie before you know that something is going to happen pretty soon which will make the two of them get in a fight, so they can go off in their separate directions and the one person in the audience who doesn’t see what’s coming—like say if archeologists had brought in a native from an obscure Peruvian rainforest tribe—might wonder if they aren’t going to get back together in time for the big show. They do, in a scene where Dolly suddenly turns fairly vengeful whilst wearing this woven hairstyle inspired by the flaky crust of Mama’s old-style apple pie [see above], and telling him in terms more brutal than I thought were necessary that he’s deluding himself if he thinks he’s a singer now. I have written in my notes: “HER HAIR!!!” And it’s appropriate, because it attains shocking volume in some scenes; at one point her face is in the center and her hair takes up the entire right side of the frame.

So Stallone comes out on stage and is heckled, someone asking “What’s that, a hairdo or a launching pad?” Have I mentioned that he is wearing this tight one-piece bodysuit with rhinestones all over the shoulders and rhinestone fringe? He has BECOME the Rhinestone Cowboy! Although he is not riding out on a horse in some star-spangled rodeo. He croaks through some song—he never learns to sing—and you’re like, “Okay, at least now it’ll end,” but it doesn’t, there’s another song! And that’s when the fast-forward button is pushed until the credits appear.

It was pretty abysmal, but not unendurable. Mostly this is due to the fact that, as I observed, it goes straight past comedy and into the category of “future archeological relics of a dying culture.” It also bears virtually no connection to the song; in the song the singer dreams of becoming a country singer, in this it is forced and he doesn’t really want it. This was Stallone’s movie just after directing Staying Alive but before Rambo: First Blood II and Rocky IV. We hear from the IMDb trivia section that he turned down the lead in Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop [before it was rewritten as a comedy] to make this. Apparently the screenwriter, Phil Alden Robinson, who went on to direct Field of Dreams and The Sum of All Fears, wanted his name taken off the film after Stallone’s rewrites, but decided to leave it on because he thought it would be a big movie.

Okay, writing this is starting to hurt my head. I can’t really think of any reason anyone who is not a Dolly fan would want to watch this. Maybe Amazon can have some sort of alternate “DVD Decision” in which we vote on a movie that should be REMOVED from circulation on DVD, where it can inflict less mental anguish. Protect yourselves. Protect your children.

Should you watch it: 

Not unless you’re REALLY into Dolly.