Hannah’s poignant reminiscing about Pump up the Volume a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about movies that struck a chord with me for whatever reason when I was young (many moons ago). Some of them were big releases that I saw in the theatre with my friends (E.T., The Karate Kid, For Keeps – look, if you’re about judgment, you should take your sophisticated film sensibilities and go find another blog, ‘kay?). Some of them were random selections that came on late at night when I couldn’t sleep and was hanging out on the ugly beige couch in our tv room brooding about boys.
Through the mists of memory, I recalled this movie that I had happened on one night that seemed much better than it had promised to be – it presented like a run-of-the-mill murder mystery featuring some teen-agers who exhibited varying degrees of pluck, but the writing and plotting seemed a step above the usual, and it made an impression on me.
All I could remember about it was the main character, a likable Matthew Broderick-type who I thought should have gotten more subsequent recognition than he seemed to, and Josie Bissett, for whom I’ve always nurtured a tremendous girl crush. So I did some research. Like a true dinosaur, I tried to see if I could order the movie from Amazon or Indigo, which I could if I was willing to spend upwards of a hundred dollars (I was not). I finally found it on Youtube and watched it again. And I know what you expect me to say – that it didn’t hold up and I was embarrassed about my earlier adulation.
Well SCREW YOU, it held up IN SPADES. It’s called All-American Murder, and friends, it is magnificently cheesy. I had remembered Charlie Schlatter’s winsome face but forgotten the pouffy nineties mullet. I had remembered Josie Bissett, but forgotten that the lead detective in the murder case was CHRISTOPHER FREAKING WALKEN – how does one forget Christopher Walken, exactly?
Charlie Schlatter plays Artie, a lovable outcast (evidenced by the fact that he has tattoos and keeps a pet snake. Also, because it’s the nineties, he smokes but is still good at heart). Thrown out of his latest school, he ends up enrolled at Fairfield, a wholesome and strictly-run place where he won’t embarrass his stick-up-the-ass judge father, who won’t even listen when Artie declares his innocence in the latest malfeasance. He promptly sleeps with the dean’s wife, a formidable character played by Joanna Cassidy: at one point Artie asks her if she wants anything with her vodka and she says “Yeah – youth, money and romance.” Later on she declares “I may be a liar, a cheat, a drunk and a tramp, but I’ve still got principles”.
Walken’s character shows up on camera needing to defuse a situation where a convenience-store robber has a knife to a woman’s throat. Walken proceeds to impugn the robber’s manhood and wax eloquent on how he has known the man’s wife in the Biblical sense until the robber flings the woman aside and tries to kill Walken instead. One of his most memorable lines (among many) come when Artie asks how he’s suposed to believe the detective is really on his side in discovering the truth: Walken says “That’s the problem with life, isn’t it? Life, love, the whole salami. You plow enough shit, take enough heat, feel enough pain, one day you know.” The whole salami. Yeah.
In amongst Artie’s zippy wisecracking – (“I bet she’s tired of dating beefy stooges – I think it’s time she met a nice, pigeon-toed anarchist”) – are several extremely improbably and sometimes shockingly gruesome murders, which someone is clearly trying to pin on him, the outcast on the idyllic campus. There’s a fairly striking theme about the pressure on “all-American” kids to perform, albeit slightly clumsily rendered, and the chemistry between the characters is fantastic. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy watching it again. It looks like it was a straight-to-video offering, but it’s better than most of the Friday the 13th movies put together.
As for Charlie Schlatter, he may not have blazed a path of fame and glory, but his imdb page looks like he’s not hurting either. And ha, look, I wasn’t the only one who made the Matthew Broderick comparison – he played Ferris Bueller in some series called Ferris Bueller, which I didn’t even know existed. Also, Kick Buttowski, so, you know, the whole salami seems to have worked out pretty well for him.