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‘Eddie II’: A Second Chance for a Film Flop

“Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives” is a curiosity in the summer sequel sweepstakes. After all, there aren’t many follow-ups to bombs.

Then again, the original 1983 “Eddie and the Cruisers"--about a fictional, enigmatic ‘60s rock singer whose fate is left in doubt at film’s end--was also that rarest of bombs. A bomb that was also a hit.

Released by the now-defunct Embassy Pictures in late September, 1983, “Eddie” died theatrically--with ticket sales of under $5 million. But it was revived by cable--especially HBO--and, as a direct result, by the record charts.

In fact, just weeks after the film’s debut on HBO in July, 1984, CBS Records was besieged by orders for a sound-track album it had nearly forgotten it once released.

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Featuring songs by the hitherto unknown John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band--which had spent 10 years playing New Jersey bars--the album went on Billboard’s Top 10. In September, 1984, with sales of more than 1 million copies, the album, which was produced by Scotti Bros. Records, went platinum.

So in 1985, Scotti Bros. Entertainment--which includes a motion-picture division--purchased sequel rights. More than three years and 14 screenplay drafts later, “Eddie and the Cruisers II” began production with Michael Pare, again, in the title role.

“And this time, we believe it will work theatrically,” said chairman Tony Scotti.

He pointed to a 1986 awareness and interest survey, conducted by the National Research Group. “Four out of five moviegoers polled, between the ages of 12 and 25 (the core movie-going audience), knew about ‘Eddie.’ ” Additionally, among those who saw the original film, more than 73% expressed interest in seeing the sequel.

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Mused Scotti: “I think the world is full of Eddie Wilsons--people who didn’t achieve stardom, but who still think about it. People with day jobs who haven’t lost the fire and music in their souls. I think that’s the appeal of this story.”

Based on a 1980 novel by P. F. Kluge, the original “Eddie” was told in flashback, as a TV reporter attempted to delve into the “legend” of Eddie Wilson, a rising rocker who seemingly died when his ’57 Chevy convertible mysteriously plunged over a bridge.

Adding to the intrigue: Eddie had been at work on an album titled “Season in Hell.” The title comes from Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet who disappeared for 20 years. Did Eddie willfully do the same?

Directed and co-scripted by Martin Davidson (“The Lords of Flatbush”), the $7-million film brought guffaws from some critical quarters and applause from others.

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“A dumb, hackneyed melodrama,” said Rolling Stone’s Steve Pond. But rock journalist/novelist Michael Ventura, in a lengthy essay in L.A. Weekly, detailed how the film’s story paralleled rock’s journey from innocence to darkness.

Why the film died in such a hurry at the box office remains the subject of speculation.

Was “Eddie and the Cruisers” released at the wrong time? Should it have come out in the summer months--as the sequel is--to better capture the teen-age audience? Did the film fail because it didn’t play in the best theaters? (Embassy was a struggling company at the time.)

David Weitzner, who was head of Embassy’s marketing and distribution, remains proud of the film’s marketing campaign. “But we lost an important part of our marketing punch when the album didn’t come out ahead of the film.”

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Weitzner, who is now president of worldwide marketing for MCA Recreation (which encompasses Universal Studio Tours), sighed and added, “It was clearly a movie whose whole spine was rooted in music. Conservatively, I could have done a 35% better job in reaching my demographics, if we’d had that album.”

Executives at Scotti Bros. acknowledge that this time out, there is a concerted effort to get the music to push the movie. But the new sound-track album’s first release, “Pride & Passion,” has stalled at No. 73 in its fourth week on Billboard’s Hot 100.

In the sequel, the mysterious Eddie, who decided to drop out of sight, is living in Candada as construction worker Joe West. He’s seemingly forsaken his musical past. But the past catches up with him when the “Season in Hell” tapes are found, and released--generating a wave of Eddiemania (complete with look-alike contests).

Under his assumed name, Eddie forms a new band. And then. . . .

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Early trade reviews are mixed. Daily Variety predicts “Eddie II” could join “Dirty Dancing” as one of the most successful independently produced films. But the Hollywood Reporter said, “Eddie may live but the movie’s dead.”

Filmed for $10 million, “Eddie II” was directed by Canada’s Jean-Claude Lord, whose credits include the horror film, “Visiting Hours.” The “stars” of the film: the music--and Pare (pronounced paray ).

Pare made his screen debut in the first “Eddie"--after a season and a half on TV’s “Greatest American Hero"--and was largely hailed as a find. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it “a fine debut,” adding, “He captures the manner of a hot-blooded young rocker with great conviction.” The Times’ Kevin Thomas liked his “sexy, driving energy.” The New York Post’s Rex Reed called him “a brand new sensation . . . with the introspective fury of James Dean.”

(Those who didn’t like his acting did admire his near-perfect lip-synching to the tunes performed by Bruce Springsteen sound-alike John Cafferty.)

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In fact, Pare received arguably better notices than his co-stars Ellen Barkin and Tom Berenger--who have both gone on to feature-film success.

Pare, meanwhile, had one big budget flop and then found himself doing exploitation pictures. “And now, it’s as if my career is getting a second chance,” he said.

A discovery of the late agent Joyce Selznick--whose roster included Candice Bergen, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Beals--Pare followed “Eddie” with “Streets of Fire” in 1984. Budgeted at $22 million, the rock ‘n roll fable--as it was dubbed--starred Pare as a gun-toting man of few words who must rescue his former rock-star girlfriend from a band of bikers. The then-hot Walter Hill directed. No matter: The film fizzled its first weekend. Pare next starred in the $5-million time-travel film, “Philadelphia Experiment.”

Recalled Pare, “It broke even in two weeks--and then got pulled (from theaters). And suddenly, I wasn’t a movie star any more.”

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So he took roles in slim-budgeted action and sci-fi vehicles--and even a soft-core sex comedy. As he noted, the pay beats what he used to get when he worked as a chef.

Pare, 30, who is currently in Italy starring in the drama “Red Sun,” about a young Italian-American who gets embroiled in politics when he journeys to Sicily to see his family, is understandably hopeful that “Eddie II” will once again open major doors to him.

“I think I’m better than I used to be. The sequel was my 10th film. I’ve learned a lot since the first one, which seems like a lifetime ago.”

As for the character’s appeal: “He’s like the embodiment of all the rock and rollers who died and left a hole in everybody’s heart. Does that sound too . . . corny? Plus, he’s mythical. You can make him into anything you want him to be.”

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REVIEW: Page 12


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