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MISCHIEF

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Doug McKeon, Kelly Preston, Catherine Mary Stuart, Chris Nash, Jami Gertz, D. W. Brown
Director:  Mel Damski
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  None
Length:  97 Minutes
Release Date:  April 5, 2005

"Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Hiding behind my fear of humiliation."

Film ***

Ah, Mischief...always had a soft spot in my heart for this movie.

In a decade that was fraught with teenage sex comedies, this is one that stood above for me.  It was just a little bit different.  Like Porky's, it was set in the 50s, but with a more reverential and nostalgic feel for the period in terms of the sets, costumes, and colors.  Like Last American Virgin, it dealt with "the first time", but unlike it, it was only sex on the surface.  Underneath was a story of friendship and heart.

Even the characters, while hinting at archetypes, were something more.  Jonathan (McKeon) was no nebbish nerd, merely a sweet, shy kid unsure of himself.  Gene (Nash) wasn't the leather jacket wearing bad boy who sought out trouble, but a good hearted reckless youth whom trouble always seemed to find.  James Dean may have perfected that kind of character, but for my money, no one else really got it right again until this movie.

In a small town in Ohio, 1956, Jonathan pines for Marilyn (Preston), the high school knockout who barely notices him.  Into his life comes Gene, a big city kid who moved out to the burbs after getting kicked out of his last school.  Gene needs to try and steer straight this time, so he decides to focus his energy on Jonathan and help him make his dream date with Marilyn a reality.

It's their unlikely but genuine friendship that propels the film.  It's not so much about whether Gene helps Jonathan get the girl, or whether Jonathan can return the favor when Gene falls in love with Bunny (Stuart), who happens to be on the arm of the town's richest kid and biggest jerk Kenny (Brown).  It's more about the way they help bring out the best in one another, and for both, it's a side they never knew they had.

Listen to me making the film sound all downbeat and serious...this is one damned funny movie, and a welcome change of pace from most other similar films of its decade, by deriving comedy from good naturedness rather than mean spiritedness.  Gene's efforts to transform the hopelessly awkward Jonathan into a ladies man inspire some big laughs.

But yes, I did call it a sex comedy, and the highlight of the movie is when Jonathan finally gets together with Marilyn.  The gorgeous Kelly Preston wasn't camera shy, and the result was named by Mr. Skin as one of the top ten celebrity nude scenes of all time.  It's also one of the sexiest and funniest scenes of the genre all rolled up into one.

Doug McKeon achieved fame by starring opposite legends Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond, and I always thought his career faded away much too quickly.  His earnest but uneasy portrayal of Jonathan in this movie was very winning.  This also marked the screen debut for Chris Nash, whom I don't think I ever saw again...also a shame.

Their chemistry, along with the film's relaxed and easy approach to comedy and the beautifully filmed recreation of 1950s life all added up to make Mischief stand a bit taller than its competition in my memory.  Sadly, though, it was the other films that went on to become the staples of the decade, while this funny and sexy little charmer seems to have slipped through the cracks a little bit.

If you liked some of the 80s other big high school comedies peppered with sex appeal, I know you'll love this warm, funny and underrated gem.  Try it and see if you don't.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Jan De Bont is credited as an assistant photographer on the film.

Video ***1/2

Most impressive...I wasn't sure what kind of treatment a small film like this would get on DVD, but as usual, Anchor Bay doesn't disappoint.  The colors all render beautifully in this anamorphic print, which also boasts great detail level throughout.  Only one or two minor instances of grain are noticeable...for a picture from the 80s, which are usually troublesome visually, this one is a knockout.

Audio **1/2

There's even a 5.1 remix for this disc...hallelujah!  I say that mainly because this movie boasts a great collection of classic rock and roll, most of which fits the narrative very cleverly.  Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Little Richard and more come through the speakers with some of their biggest hits.  Dialogue is generally clean and clear throughout, but sometimes sounds a bit thin next to the music beds.  Rear channels are used only sparingly for a couple of crowd scenes.

Features (zero stars)

Some chicanery here...no extras.

Summary:

It wasn't exactly like waiting for Citizen Kane to come out, but I for one am very happy to see Mischief make its way to DVD.  I spent many a night laughing out loud to my old laser disc copy...now I can happily retire it in favor of this good looking Anchor Bay release.

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