Have you ever noticed how, occasionally, a totally obscure film that was made several decades ago will suddenly show up on either Starz or Encore and, the next thing you know, it’s only like every other day? That was the case a few months ago when, at times, it seemed as if the only thing playing on cable was a teen comedy from 1985 called Mischief.
After I saw it listed in the guide a few dozen times, I thought to myself, “Somebody at that station must really like that movie.” So, one night, I actually took the time to watch it and discovered why that mysterious person loved this movie. Mischief may not be as well-known as some of the other films in this series of Back to School reviews but it’s still a pretty good movie.
Like so many of the teen films that were released in the 70s and 80s, Mischief takes place in the 1950s. (I assume that’s because most films about teenagers are made by adults who want to both relive and perhaps change the past. I suppose that’s one reason why so many films released today are set in the 1990s. In another ten years or so, all of the new high school films will be set in 2003.) The very shy and clumsy Jonathan (Doug McKeon) has a crush on the beautiful but unattainable Marilyn (Kelly Preston). Fortunately, Jonathan is befriended by Gene (Chris Nash) who is the prototypical rebel without a cause. Gene wears a leather jacket. Gene rides a motorcycle. Gene doesn’t get along with his alcoholic, violin-playing father (Terry O’Quinn, in full asshole mode here). Gene even stands up to the school bully (D.W. Brown) and starts dating the bully’s ex-girlfriend, Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart). Most importantly, Gene helps Jonathan finally develop the confidence necessary to ask Marilyn out.
And, for a while, Gene & Bunny and Jonathan & Marilyn make for the perfect foursome. But, as we all know, perfection can never last in a coming-of-age story. Jonathan starts to discover that he and Marilyn are not quite as compatible as he originally assumed that they were. As for Gene, he has to deal with his increasingly violent and drunken father…
That last paragraph probably makes Mischief sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is. Make no mistake about it — while Mischief does deal with some serious issues — it is primarily a comedy and a pretty good one at that. McKeon is endearingly clumsy in his initial attempts to get Marilyn to notice him and Nash — even though he’s playing a very familiar character — is likable as well. Perhaps the smartest thing that Mischief did is that it made Gene cool but it didn’t make him too cool. The film’s best scenes are the ones where Gene momentarily surrenders his rebel facade and reveals that he’s just as confused as everyone else. Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelly Preston are well-cast as well, with Preston especially doing a good job at making a potentially unsympathetic character likable.
In many ways, Mischief is a pretty predictable film. I think it features probably every single cinematic cliché that one would expect to see in a film about the 50s. But the film itself is so likable and good-natured that it doesn’t matter if it’s predictable. It’s just a good, enjoyable movie and what’s wrong with that?
(Incidentally, the screenplay for Mischief was written by Noel Black, who also directed the previously reviewed Private School.)