The comedy classics “Animal House” in 1978, “The Hollywood Knights” (click here for my review) two years later and “Porky’s” (click here for my review) four years later actually did have a downside: each spawned imitation films not worth watching. Today I’ll struggle through “Up the Creek” that has stars from all three classics and not much else going for it. It was just on MGM’s HD movie channel, but maybe they’ll put it back in the vault forever.
‘Up the Creek’
(1984; 96 minutes; rated R; directed by Robert Butler and starring Tim Matheson, Stephen Furst and Dan Monahan)
A REALLY PATHETIC MOVIE
(NOTE: I updated this review on June 5, 2016, by adding links and updating the height of an actor – IMDb.com finally got it right and I’m correcting it in several reviews in which I used the incorrect height reported by that website).
I guess there’s always hope when a comedy film has stars from classics in the genre. Actually, I cannot believe that even from the first day of shooting that the filmmakers responsible for “Up the Creek” could believe anything but an upcoming sweep of the “Razzie” awards for worst in film. However, they were up against “Bolero” and that’s a pretty bad film, too.
“Up the Creek” has potential with what could be a good cast featuring Tim Matheson and Stephen Furst from “Animal House,” Dan Monahan from “Porky’s,” Sandy Helberg from “The Hollywood Knights” (and he’s the father of Simon Helberg of today’s TV mega comedy “The Big Bang Theory”), Julia Montgomery (“Revenge of the Nerds” – click here for my review) and even John Hillerman of “Blazing Saddles” (click here for my review).
So, how could it be so bad? Just watch the first 10 minutes and you’ll see: a lame script that forces everything from laughs to the simple concept of the grunginess of the gang’s university, poor cinematography and stereotypes (oh, goodness the stereotypes – everything from the rich vs. the hoi polloi to gratuitous topless shots). Everything reeks of trying too hard and whatever good comedy is wasted.
The plot is that the country’s worst university (“Lepetomane” … the same name of Mel Brooks’ governor in “Blazing Saddles”) wants a trophy, any trophy and the college’s dean (Hillerman) will even take a river rafting competition trophy. He selects the four worst students (our main characters) and sends them off to the race with the promise of degrees in any subject they choose if they win.
You really don’t need to know much else, so I’ll speed through the film with a critique of the actors …
- Matheson, who plays “Bob McGraw” here and was “Eric ‘Otter’ Stratton” in “Animal House,” gives it his usual post-“Animal House” effort as he’s the cool one (stereotype) and must elevate everyone else’s game so they can get degrees. He gets beaten up by the snobs (stereotype, remember “Animal House”); he gets the hot girl (ditto “Animal House”); and he comes out on top (ditto ditto). Matheson has also been in Clint Eastwood’s “Magnum Force” (click here for my review) as a killer cop and more recently in the TV series “Hart of Dixie” and “Burn Notice.”
- The other “Animal House” alumnus here is Furst, who plays “Gonzer” here and was “Kent ‘Flounder’ Dorfman” in “Animal House.” He dials in this effort as the group’s slob and has trouble playing a generally hapless stooge. He even looks contrived as he makes a pig of himself wolfing down food. Not his best effort since after “Animal House” he showed he actually has ability as displayed in “The Dream Team.”
- Next up is Monahan, who was “Edward ‘Pee-Wee’ Morris” in “Porky’s” and plays “Max” here. Monahan has that youthful energy so necessary to such roles. Outside of Helberg in the main cast, he does the best job. In addition to the “Porky’s” franchise, Monahan was in the little-known vampire flick “The Night Flier” (click here for my review) and left show business after his last credit in 2000.
- The final main character is Helberg, who was “Officer Clark” in “The Hollywood Knights” and plays “Irwin” here. Helberg plays the straight man as well here as he did in “The Hollywood Knights” and gets the best (but low) marks for his efforts with “Up the Creek.” Helberg has also been in “Spaceballs” and “This is Spinal Tap.”
- Hillerman, whose best known role was “Higgins” on TV’s “Magnum P.I.,” does his usual efficient job and, to most likely his relief, doesn’t get too much time on screen. Another television mainstay, James Sikking as “Tozer” and who is best known as “Lt. Howard Hunter” on “Hill Street Blues,” is the stuck-up snob who’s helping the rich boys to victory. He, too, comes off stiff and contrived.
- Another veteran actor (266 credits in his career) who most likely wishes he wasn’t here is Robert Costanzo, who plays “Campus Guard Charlie.” Ouch. Nasty role. Costanzo exits quickly and has been in “Total Recall,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Die Hard 2.”
“Up the Creek” was the 71st ranked film at the box office in 1984 with $11.7 million coming in off a budget reported at $7 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It was far behind fellow comedy “Revenge of the Nerds” at $40.8 million (16th place) and the No. 1 film of the year: “Beverly Hills Cop” with $234.7 million. Here are films from that year I have reviewed:
- “Night of the Comet” (OK sci-fi thriller) – click here for my review
- “The Flamingo Kid” (outstanding) – click here for my review
- The original “Red Dawn” (solid action) – click here for my review
- “Top Secret!” (hilarious comedy) – click here for my review
- “Bachelor Party” (outstanding comedy) – click here for my review
- “Splash” (wonderful comedy) – click here for my review
Other cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Helberg, while not of basketball height at 5-foot-10, is taller than his son Simon who is 5-foot-4. Simon is shortest of the male characters on “The Big Bang Theory,” whose crew’s height is one of the cornerstone jokes of the show (Kunal Nyaar is 5-foot-7 and Jim Parsons towers over them all at 6-foot-1¼, while Johnny Galecki is the second shortest at 5-foot-5, which is an inch shorter than Kaley Cuoco). Click here for my review of when that TV series jumped “the shark.”
- Since I’m writing about height (and “Up the Creek” isn’t so interesting), I’ll note that not all actors’ progeny have more physical stature than their parent. For example the legendary James Caan is a modest 5-foot-9 and his son, TV’s “Hawaii Five-O” tough guy Scott Caan, is a micro man at 5-foot-5 (just like Galecki).
- Blaine Novak plays military wacko “Capt. Braverman” and I’m sure his career of only four acting roles didn’t end because of “Up the Creek.” However, you never know (actually he moved on to the business side of the industry).
- Le Petomane is the stage name of a Frenchman noted for his flatulence. Click here to read about him.
- The only member of the primary cast to do an episode of TV’s “The Love Boat” is Hillerman. Just as interesting is that Helberg was “Gopher” in the TV movie “The Love Boat” that preceded the TV show and it had Ted Hamilton as the captain and Dick Van Patten as the ship’s doctor. I always enjoy trivia about “The Love Boat” (but not “Love Boat: The Next Wave” – I don’t post its link). Click here to read my review of “The Love Boat.”
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