Vibes

(USA 1988)

A day off of work is a good time to watch a DVD, so I picked Vibes. Cyndi Lauper and Jeff Goldblum are both talented performers with long careers sustained in large part by their quirky, so unusual personas (personae?); it stands to reason that each would have a good share of hits and misses—and they do. Vibes is definitely a miss for both of them—a huge one.

Vibes starts out, to use a Lauper song from another movie, good enough: two robbers in the Andes set up the backstory in a short opening. The action shifts to New York City, where psychics Sylvia Pickel (Lauper) and Nick Deezy (Goldblum) meet while participating in a study on paranormal abilities. The scene is promising: Nick can tell where objects have been by touching them, and Sylvia is a medium for a spirit named Louise. The exchanges between the two and their analysts are actually funny. Unfortunately, things slide steadily downhill from there. Con artist Harry Buscafusco (Peter Falk) shows up at Sylvia’s apartment at night and offers her a job under the guise of finding his lost son in Ecuador. Sylvia convinces Nick to join them. The adventure begins.

YAWN! Vibes is painful to watch—fucking painful. The writing sucks—the situations are unoriginal, the story is predictable, and the dialogue is dull. Lauper isn’t funny at all; she’s shrill, clearly inexperienced with acting, and downright grating with her over-exaggerated Queens shtick that she seriously toned down following this bomb (check out interviews of her from 1989 forward and her subsequent acting gigs if you don’t believe me). Aside from her first scene, she shines only when she’s using her voice for something other than reading lines—for example, singing a lullaby to villain Ingo (Googy Gress) and speaking in tongues when a spirit takes over her body after she touches a glowing pyramid that connects her to a past world. As usual, Goldblum’s timing is spot on; but he can only do so much with the material, which is so lame I doubt anyone could have saved it. A romance develops, and it’s laughable because there’s zero chemistry between Lauper and Goldblum—he doesn’t even seem to like her (and according to Lauper’s memoir, he didn’t). The whole thing is dismal.

Vibes initially sounded like a good idea: real actors, including Julian Sands and Elizabeth Peña, signed onto the project. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel—who had an established track record with comedies like Night Shift, Splash, and Spies Like Us in addition to episodes of sitcoms like The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley—started (but didn’t finish) the script. It seemed like a good bet for a light summer comedy (it was released in July or August, as I recall). Vibes no doubt didn’t go as planned. It features some nice scenery, a young and unknown Steve Buscemi as Sylvia’s ex-boyfriend, and Lauper’s arguably underrated single “Hole in my Heart (All the Way to China)”—but that’s about it. I should’ve gone to a movie instead.

(Home via DVD) D-

https://www.sonymoviechannel.com/movies/vibes/details

Reservoir Dogs

(USA 1992)

In the grand scheme of all things Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs is not his best work. Sure, it exhibits his trademark wit, crass, and twisted sense of humor in a few Quent-essential scenes, like the diner analysis of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (with Sean Penn’s now dead brother Chris sitting there listening but not contributing) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) making a Van Gogh out of Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while  blaring Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Tarantino does a great job assembling memorable characters and setting up an uncomplicated plot. Smartly, he focuses on the aftermath instead of the failed heist itself, dropping only breadcrumbs of info about what exactly went down.

The problem is that for all its charm, Reservoir Dogs just doesn’t bring enough energy; the plot and the characters feel sketchy and underdeveloped. Tarantino relies heavily on dialogue that can’t sustain the whole film; the characters– especially Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)– talk and yell and kvetch an awful lot while not much actually happens. After not seeing it for over a decade, I was surprised at how long it took to get going. As Tarantino’s first directing job– his “lost” 1987 film My Best Friend’s Birthday, which sort of became the script for True Romance, doesn’t count– Reservoir Dogs is most interesting because it shows a pivotal voice still in development.

I loved it when it came out (I was 21 or 22 years old), and Reservoir Dogs is a respectable start– hell, it’s iconic and better than a lot of movies. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and seeing it again demonstrates that Tarantino’s best work was yet to come. Indeed, his very next film, Pulp Fiction, is lightyears ahead in style and substance: it’s tighter, far more cohesive, and has a lot more pizzaz. What a difference two years makes.

(Music Box) B

http://www.miramax.com/movie/reservoir-dogs/