The 1984 film, Never Ashamed, gets off to a lawles start with two teenagers, Tim Hughes (Tim Elwell) and Marty Sullivan (Jon Jacovic) stealing an ice cream truck. Even though the ice cream man yells at them that he owns the truck and that he needs it for his job, Tim and Marty take off with it. They speed down the street. They play the ice crea, music. They toss out the ice cream. And, eventually, they get stopped by the police.
Tim’s father, a liberal talk show host named Sid Hughes (Stan Adams), thinks that Tim is just being a normal, out-of-control teenager. Tim’s mother (Denyse Leahy) is far more concerned and she suggests that perhaps Tim should attend a special summer camp for juvenile delinquents. Sid is not happy to hear that it’s a Christian summer camp. (At one point, we see Sid getting upset when Ronald Reagan gives a speech about prayer in school so we know how Sid feels about religion.) However, Sid finally gives in.
This is followed by a montage of Tim doing summer camp stuff. For me, not being a camp-type of person, the montage was horrifying. I cringed at all of the canoeing, the playing, the laughing, the singing, and all the rest. It was a montage of happiness but all of the smiles seemed a bit too wide and calculated. To be honest, it reminded me of the type of activities that were used to brainwash Nick Mancuso in Ticket to Heaven and Michael O’Keefe in Split Image.
Still, Tim has a great time and, when his parents pick him up from camp, Tim announces that he’s now a Christian. Sid is horrified and starts talking about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Tim’s old friends are astonished, especially Marty. Marty is not happy when Tim starts hanging out with a new crowd at school.
Here’s the thing. We’re supposed to like Tim’s new friends but, honestly, Marty does kind of have a point. Tim’s new friends are so bright and cheery and perfect and well-behaved that they really do come across as being a little creepy. And when Marty says that he wants to be able to spend some time with his oldest friend without having a bunch of strangers following them around, Marty again has a point. At times, it seems as if Tim’s new friends really do expect him to spend every waking moment with them. If Tim’s not going to their study group, then he’s going to the “Christian car wash.” When Marty says, at one point, that he really needs to talk to Tim about some problems that he’s having in his life, Tim’s response to tell him to come to church with Tim and his new friends. Marty gets upset about that and again, it’s hard not to feel that he has a point. Marty needs someone to talk to and it wouldn’t kill Tim to have a sincere, one-on-one conversation with Marty. If Tim wants to invite Marty to church after that conversation, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, at that moment, it was obvious that Marty needed to feel that he was more to Tim than just another invitee.
Marty feels that he has a lot to be upset about. He runs for junior class president on a platform of parties and drugs but he loses to the nerdy and boring Wayne, who is one of Tim’s new friends. Marty doesn’t feel close to his family. His grades are slipping. His best friend is pretty much ignoring him. Marty is supposedly a drug dealer who regularly goes down to Mexico to pick up cocaine. While Marty is definitely a bit cocky and irresponsible, there’s absolutely nothing about him that suggests he’s the type to sneak across the borders with bricks of cocaine in a duffel bag and I was shocked when I discovered that the movie was actually being serious about that. In a surprisingly well-directed sequence, Marty has his friends toss firecrackers at the Christian car wash while he sneaks into the church and steals some money.
Never Ashamed is only 64 minutes long. It’s obviously one of those films that was made specifically to be viewed by church youth groups. It’s definitely a product of its time and, in the end, it is perhaps most interesting as a time capsule. I imagine that watching this film is the equivalent of stepping into a time machine and setting the destination for 1984. (“You look like Scott Baio!” one of Tim’s new friends excitedly tells him.) It’s a sincere film but, at the same time, it’s also a film that is very much about preaching to the choir. As happy as Tim and his new friends are, I think most people would feel that Marty seems like he would be more fun to hang out with.
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