<i> Times Film Critic</i>

If, somehow, the John Hughes phenomenon--Hughes as writer/director/producer and architect of teen-age position-paper movies--had escaped you, “Some Kind of Wonderful” (citywide) would be as handy a place to begin as any.

It is the John Hughes Greatest Hits reel. Did you miss “Pretty in Pink,” with the glowing Molly Ringwald? No problem. “Some Kind of Wonderful,” which has the same director--Howard Deutch--also has the same story. Only the sexes have been switched--the protagonist’s hair even remains the same: prettily pink, er, red.

The stories concern a spunky high school outsider (Eric Stoltz this time), shunned for his/her eccentric ways, who is in love with someone (Lea Thompson, in Andrew McCarthy’s shoes) infinitely above his/her own station. Vital to the triangle is a weird duck friend (Mary Stuart Masterson now, Jon Cryer in “Pink”), who adores the hero but whose love must be perceived as friendship until the very last minute/reel.

Dropped into this comfortable and, heaven knows, mink-lined rut are sure-fire bits from the earlier Hughes oeuvre : the classy restaurant scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”; the trip to an art gallery from the same source; the menacing skinheads of “Weird Science,” their menace turned benign for “Some Kind of Wonderful.”


But haven’t directors and writers retread the same ground for decades, eons? Look at Sylvester Stallone. What about Kurosawa and Shakespeare? (Bite your tongue!) Look at Howard Hawks, reworking “Rio Bravo” into “El Dorado,” less than 10 years later. What about Nancy Drew?

Well, with all due respect, we are not talking Shakespeare, Kurosawa or Howard Hawks here. Nancy Drew, maybe. And in Hughes’ case, the recycling time is getting tighter and tighter; “Pretty in Pink” was only a year ago (almost to the day); “Ferris Bueller” scant months later. The real complaint, however, is that Hughes has absolutely nothing new to report--no fresh perspectives, no gratefully received maturity, nothing added or deepened. Or speeded up, from the feel of it.

He has ground out the same cheerfully satisfying teen-age fairy tale and Deutch has directed it well, with nicely utilized music and a bunch of actors in their early 20s hanging out by their high school lockers or at the mall. It’s a good thing they’re so mature; it matches the self-awareness of their characters, which is at a level few of us reach by the end of college.

Each time, though, Hughes & Co. has at least one extraordinary performer on which to hang its film--Anthony Michael Hall a few years ago, then Ringwald; the extraordinary Matthew Broderick; Jon Cryer, who can seemingly play anything, and here, Mary Stuart Masterson as a character named Drummer Girl.


It is the flip side of Jon Cryer’s Ducky, but Masterson takes this proudly out-of-step girl and runs with the role. It may have a lot to do with director Deutch, or it may be Masterson herself. You may remember her as the Brooklynite from “Heaven Help Us,” or as Sean Penn’s ill-fated girlfriend in “At Close Range.” Once seen, she’s unforgettable.

Here, as a teen-ager whose savvy would do Dr. Ruth proud, she is pained and touching and terribly real, even in a role that stretches our credulity to the utmost. (Not only does Masterson watch the boy she adores buy diamonds for the earlobes of another girl but she agrees to chauffeur him on his date with her. Masochism in livery is a new low.)

As the young man in the middle, the splendid Eric Stoltz (“Mask”) is quite wonderful enough for a schoolyard of girls to fight over. He’s handsome, funny, balanced, bright, the leveling factor at home, with a good after-school job and great drive to become an artist. There’s only one drawback to his character--he’s supposed to be the film’s odd man out.

A talented artist would be the outcast? Someone who can sketch the way he’s supposed to would be sought after by every high school newspaper or yearbook editor. A boy this good-looking, who has no visible peculiarities, no bizarro haircut or dress style wouldn’t fit in? At what high school? In “Pretty in Pink,” given Ringwald’s marvelous eccentricities of dress, you might understand if she raised a few eyebrows, but there isn’t a reason in the world why Stoltz wouldn’t be seen for what he is--except that in Hughes’ scripts, the sneering rich run the schools, and there is virtually no middle ground.


Hughes understands well how cruel kids can be, but he seems to oversimplify the reasons, while he perpetuates a few creaking stereotypes. This high school, for example, is a peculiarly integrated campus. The only place you find the black students is in the detention hall, with the skinheads and the born losers.

As Hughes becomes more adept at the manufacture of these movies, part of the rollicking fun of the earlier films is getting smoothed away--the endearing nerds of “Weird Science” and “Sixteen Candles,” for example--and the hateful rich kids (Craig Sheffer, Molly Hagan) are becoming broader, easier targets. You see why; the young audience can’t wait for them to get their comeuppance, but it’s lazy, easy writing.

At bottom, Hughes’ message for his kids is a decent one: withstanding pressure, being yourself, holding on to your own values. He seems to have access to the cream of the young crop of actors, even if they are over the hill as high schoolers. But it might be suggested that high school is a vein that Hughes has pretty well mined out. His next directing/producing/writing project is “She’s Having a Baby.” Think of the years he can spend on that subject.

‘SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL’ A Paramount Pictures presentation. Executive producers Michael Chinich, Ronald Colby. Producer John Hughes. Director Howard Deutch. Screenplay Hughes. Camera Jan Kiesser. Production design Josan Russo. Editors Bud Smith, Scott Smith. Costumes Marilyn Vance-Straker. Musical score Stephen Hague, John Musser. Art director Greg Pickrell, set decorator Linda Spheeris. With Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lea Thompson. Craig Sheffer, John Ashton, Elias Koteas, Molly Hagan, Maddie Corman, Candace Cameron, Chynna Phillips.


Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children younger than 13.)