Back to School Part II #18: Not My Kid (dir by Michael Tuchner)


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Not My Kid, a made-for-television from 1985, opens with 15 year-old Susan Bower (Viveka Davis) in a car with her friends.  They’re drunk.  They’re stoned.  They’re laughing.  And soon, they’re screaming as the driver loses control and the car ends up getting overturned!  (I’ve had that happen before.  It wasn’t fun but I survived with only a few cuts and bruises.)  Susan isn’t seriously hurt but, at the hospital, it’s discovered that she has alcohol and drugs in her bloodstream.

“NOT MY KID!” her father, surgeon Frank Bower (George Segal), declares.

“NOT MY KID!” her mother, Helen Bower (Stockard Channing, totally wasted in a thinly written role), agrees.

“Totally your kid!” her younger sister, Kelly (Christa Denton), says before then revealing where Susan hides her drugs.  This leads to Kelly getting beaten up by Susan and her drug addict boyfriend, Ricky (Tate Fuckin’ Donavon, decades before playing a hostage in Argo.).

Anyway, neither Frank nor Helen want to admit that Susan has a drug problem so instead, they go to see a smug family counselor who tells them that they are both being too hard on their daughter and that they need to just let Susan be Susan.  That sounds like a good (and easy) plan but then Susan runs away and disappears for two days.  After she’s finally found, stoned and hiding out in the family’s boat, her parents finally decide to send her to rehab.

The rehab is run by Dr. Royce.  Dr. Royce is played by Andrew Robinson and it took me a while to recognize him as being the same actor who played the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry.  Perhaps that explains why Dr. Royce came across as being such a creepy character.  As I watched this movie, I kept waiting for the big reveal where Dr. Royce would turn out to be a murderer or something.  That never happened, of course.  In the world of Not My Kid, the harsh and confrontational Dr. Royce is the only thing keeping the entire teenage population for shooting up heroin.

The majority of the film takes place at the rehab and it gets annoying pretty quickly.  This is one of those places where everything is done as a group activity.  Whenever someone says something, everyone in the group replies with, “We love you, so-and-so.”  When Susan doesn’t act properly ashamed of herself, the group gangs up on her.  “You’re a phony!” someone says.  “You’re full of crap!” another person adds.  “We love you, Susan,” the group chants.

AGCK!  Seriously, the rehab scenes totally freaked me out because it came across less like therapy and more like brainwashing.  I spent the entire movie waiting for Susan to escape and when she did, I was happy for her.  She may have been a self-destructive drug addict but at least wasn’t a mindless zombie like everyone else in the movie!  But then she ended up getting caught by her father and taken back to the rehab.

Meanwhile, her parents are going through therapy as well.  Again, it’s all group therapy.  When Frank tries to talk about how Susan’s behavior makes him feel, someone says, “You’re a phony!’  Another person adds, “You’re full of crap!”  And the group chants, “We love you, Frank.”  Okay, to be honest, I’m taking some dramatic license with the dialogue here but hopefully, you get the general idea.

I mean, seriously — I understand that I was supposed to be like, “Yay rehab!” while watching the movie but the rehab came across more like some sort of creepy cult.  It reminded me of both a Canadian film called, Ticket To Heaven and a Texas film called Split Image.  As I watched Not My Kid, I kept waiting for James Woods to show up as a cult deprogrammer.

Anyway, don’t worry.  Everything turns out well in the end.  This was a made-for-TV movie, after all.  Not My Kid is way too heavy-handed for its own good and it lacks a certain self-awareness.  On a more positive note, George Segal does a good job in the role of Frank.

You can watch Not My Kid below!

Icarus File No. 2: Maximum Overdrive (dir by Steven King)


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There is exactly one effective sequence to be found in Maximum Overdrive, a horror film from 1986 that attempts to show us what would happen if all of Earth’s machines decided to destroy humanity.

It takes place at the end of a little league game.  The coach, happy that his team has won, declares soda for everyone!  He walks over to the soft drink machine and puts in his coins and…nothing happens.  The coach stares at the machine perplexed.  His team gathers around him.

Suddenly, a can flies out of the machine and hits the coach in the groin.  Coach falls to his knees, just to get another can driven straight into his skull, leaving him with a big bloody hole in his head.  As the coach twitches, his teams starts to run away.  Suddenly, the machine is shooting cans out at them.  Some of the kids escape but quite a few don’t.

Suddenly, as the kids flee, a driverless steamroller crashes through a fence and drives across the field, graphically flattening one of the players…

It’s over-the-top, it’s kind of scary, it’s fun in a naughty sort of way, and it’s exciting to watch.  It’s totally absurd and yet it’s effective at the same time.  It’s a really brilliant scene, one that hints at what Maximum Overdrive could have been.  It hints that Maximum Overdrive‘s first-time director did have some potential and watching it, one is tempted to feel a pang of regret over the fact that he never directed another film after this one.

However, then you watch the rest of Maximum Overdrive and you realize that one effective scene was a total fluke.  To your horror, you realize that this film’s director (and screenwriter) has decided to set nearly the entire film in the ugliest and most disgusting truck stop in the world.  You realize that the director has no idea how to maintain suspense and that his idea of horror appears to be having a lot of trucks constantly circling the truck stop.  And then, worst of all, you realize that the unlikable caricatures inside the truck stop are meant to be our heroes!

And you find yourself wondering if things could possibly get any worse.  Well, believe me — they can.

First off, a guy named Camp Loman (Christopher Murney) shows up and reveals himself to be a total lech and then starts trying to sell bibles and really, what do you expect from someone named Camp Loman?  And, what’s annoying, is that the film’s director seems to think that he’s blowing our mind by presenting us with an hypocritical bible salesman.  I mean, seriously — the amount of time devoted to Camp Loman will make you nostalgic for scenes of a steamroller crushing a child.

And then Emilio Estevez shows up as our hero but he scowls through the entire movie and delivers all of his lines through gritted teeth, as if he’s pissed off about appearing in Maximum Overdrive and really, who can blame him?  That said, it doesn’t really make for an enjoyable performance.

But hey — Emilio’s not the only person in the truck stop.  There’s also Pat Hingle, playing the owner of the truck stop.  He’s overweight, wears a tie, smokes a cigar, and speaks with a vaguely Southern accent.  Hmmmmm, do you think he’s going to be a bad guy?

Oh!  And let’s not forget the waitress played by Ellen McElduff.  “WE MADE YOU!” she shouts at the machines and then she shouts it again and again and again and again and it’s almost as if the film is being directed by a guy so in love with his own dialogue that he doesn’t realize how annoying the same line gets when it’s screeched over and over again.

And I haven’t even gotten to the helium-voiced newlyweds yet…

When I recently watched Maximum Overdrive on Encore, there were a lot of things that annoyed me, such as the bad pacing, the bad acting, the bad dialogue, the bad special effects, the bad cinematography, and the bad everything else.  But what really got to me was just how inconsistent this movie was.  Some machines turned into killers but oddly, others did not.  At one point, a machine gun starts shooting at the people in the truck stop but the weapons that Pat Hingle keeps in the truck stop never turn on their human masters.  Seriously, if you’re going to make a terrible movie, at least be consistent.

So, you may be asking, why is this an Icarus File?  Well, it was directed by Stephen King, the writer who is routinely called the “master of horror.”  King may be a great writer but, judging from this movie, he was a really crappy director.  I imagine, when the film was in pre-production, the logic was that if King could write a scary book then he could definitely direct a scary movie.

Nope.

It turns out that, just as Icarus should never have gotten so close to the sun, Stephen King should never have directed a movie.

Previous Icarus Files:

  1. Cloud Atlas