Sometimes a few good visual conceits, some directorial pizazz and energy from the cast can make a dumb idea sing a little--and that's pretty much what happens in "Dudes" (selected theaters). It's an entertaining movie from a bad script. And it's good in only a limited sense, as a teen-age movie that might play terrifically well at a loosey-goosey grind-house or drive-in.
"Dudes" gives us three hapless New York punkers--Grant (Jon Cryer), Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck) and Milo (Flea)--whose emigration from the mean Manhattan streets to blissed-out L.A. is interrupted by a hellish confrontation with maniacal rednecks in a Montana desert. After Milo is wasted in the wasteland, Grant and Biscuit form a punk posse, tracking the hooligans with the aid of the requisite gorgeous gunslinging earth-mother (Catherine Mary Stewart) and what seems to be the Spirit of the Old West--incarnated in a mystical mustachioed buckaroo (Calvin Bartlett) and three spooky, stoical Indians, who follow them around, dispensing phantasmagoric inspiration.
The basic idea--more "fish-out-of-water" revenge drivel--could be redeemed only by spectacular handling, by humor or zippily naturalistic detail, the third of which this movie doesn't have. The script is one more out of the VCR cookie-cutter: a revenge Western in the old Henry King-Henry Hathaway mold. (During a shootout that takes place in a local movie house, King's 1939 "Jesse James" is playing on the screen.) "Dudes" has been stripped to minimal, car-chase, '80s limits and spiced up with slapstick and an allegedly colorful subculture--which isn't very well portrayed.
But occasionally the handling saves it. The deep-focus, scorching cinematography of Robert Richardson ("Platoon") is more than movies like this usually give you. Director Penelope Spheeris handles the material with relish. Spheeris has an eye and a sense of humor, and she keeps everything overripe and zingy. She's also cast interesting actors who keep going pleasantly over the top, as in a good Abbott and Costello movie.
Lee Ving is a good psycho-villain with the same you-gotta-kill-me-to-wipe-off-my-grin meanness that the young Lee Marvin radiated. Cryer--whose forte is fresh-faced chutzpah--is a little too greasy-curled macho here. But Roebuck--the killer in "River's Edge"--has a mugger's holiday. With his upswept Mohawk haircut, Indian regalia, caterwauls and repertoire of face-twisting scowls, he resembles a cross between Curly Howard, Fred Flintstone and Andy Devine. At one point, he even gets to recycle Red Skelton's "smooth" line from the Guzzler's Gin routine.
No one looking for sophisticated entertainment or intelligent drama and comedy will be very happy about "Dudes" (MPAA-rated R for violence and language). But what can you expect from a movie with a title like that? The people who made it look like they were having a good time, and sometimes they pass it on. More than that we can't expect from a film in which one of the main characters is a rodeo clown/Presley look-alike called "Daredelvis."
A Vista Organization presentation. Producers Herb Jaffe, Miguel Tejada-Flores. Script J., Randal Johnson. Executive producer Mort Engelberg. Camera Robert Richardson. Production design Robert Ziembicki. Editor Andy Horvitch, Music Charles Bernstein. With Jon Cryer, Catherine Mary Stewart, Daniel Roebuck, Lee Ving, Calvin Bartlett, Glenn Withrow.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).