Movie review: ‘O.C. and Stiggs’

ocsThere are only a handful of films that I would evaluate as “crap.” It’s easy to see why I’d call them that since they have a deficient plot, the acting stinks or the movie is just a plain embarrassment to watch. Examples of “crap” movies are “Freddy Got Fingered” with Tom Green, the “McHale’s Navy” film with Tom Arnold and any film featuring Sasha Baron Cohen. See where this is going? Well today I’ll be taking a look at a film with a lot of promise and a delivery of nothing more than crap: “O.C. and Stiggs,” which was directed by Robert Altman. I managed to find it on YouTube.com (sadly, one of the rare complete films you can stream from it – I can understand the reason why no one enforces the copyright code on this one) and nearly recoiled in revulsion from how bad it is.

‘O.C. and Stiggs’
(1985 and 1987; 109 minutes; rated R; directed by Robert Altman and starring Daniel Jenkins, Neill Barry, Paul Dooley, Jane Curtain and Jon Cryer)

FILMMAKING 101: DO NOT DO THIS

I had really high hopes when “O.C. and Stiggs” came out in limited release in 1987. It was born of a series of stories in my favorite humor magazine “National Lampoon” and while the two title character actors were unknowns, it did have Robert “MASH” Altman in the director’s chair. Don’t forget, it also had in the supporting cast “SNL’s” Jane Curtain and Paul Dooley (remember him from “Breaking Away”?), plus veterans such as Louis Nye and even Tina Louise, who was “Ginger” on TV’s “Gilligan’s Island.”

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While not a certain laugh-fest, I hoped at least “O.C. and Stiggs” would be fun to watch or if it was bad it could become a minor cult classic. No such luck. Sadly, it turned out to be pure crap and had no chance to be anything but crap.

What the actors did in “O.C. and Stiggs” isn’t close to being called acting and what Altman did could only be called a disgrace. You can forgive Dooley because you can see him at least making an attempt at acting, but the others (especially Curtain) were lucky to continue their careers afterward.

For newcomers like Jon Cryer and Cynthia Nixon, they’re lucky to have had a future in entertainment. Maybe their upcoming employers didn’t manage to see this stinkbomb, since they had to have left it off their resumes and “O.C. and Stiggs” was in such limited release two years after its initial screenings that it only officially made $28,815.

An outline of the “O.C. and Stiggs” plot is easy: Two teenagers are tormenting an insurance company owner (“Randall Schwab” played by Dooley) and his family because he stopped insurance payments to the grandfather of one of the guys and now the elderly retired cop is headed to a state home for the aged. So now, they harass the “Schwab” family and generally bum around Phoenix looking to be as socially unacceptable as possible. The guys also have a strange fixation on lobster.

OK, not a bad idea in thought and the “National Lampoon” stuff made them counterculture heroes … but, goodness gracious, what a horrible execution. Altman is guilty of every directorial sin from no character development, no creative expansion of the miserable screenplay and cinematography from a high school class.

The story is told by the guys who call Gabon in equatorial Africa and speak to “Bongo” in a long-distance phone call on their victim’s line. They tell him about the adventure the movie tells. In real life, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was president of Gabon until his death in 2009 and I hope he never was informed of this film and the lead characters’ fascination with him.

From a wedding of Dooley’s daughter where they give the gift of an UZI submachine gun to rafting to Mexico to hosting a charity event uninvited at Dooley’s house that includes the homeless and black people (cardinal sins in the Dooley world here). In the end they get enough money to rescue the grandfather from the state home and the credits roll with a welcoming sigh from what few are in the audience.

Now, for the worst part of “O.C. and Stiggs” after Altman’s work … the acting.

It’s simple: Jane Curtain should be completely ashamed of having played “Elinore Schwab” in this film and doing the acting job she did here. Her work here is simply execrable and unexcusable for a woman of her talent. Curtain plays the alcoholic wife and she drinks in virtually every scene. It is so over the top that alcoholics must feel sorry for her for having to have done this job. Curtain was much better in “How to Beat the High Co$t of Living” and TV’s “Kate & Allie.” She was also wonderful on an episode of “The Love Boat.”

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the rest of the actors and what passes for their work here:

  • As I already wrote, Dooley at least tries here. He’s the uptight, racist teetotaler with an alcoholic wife, an idiot for a son and vacuous daughters. Dooley tries, but doesn’t get it done in the end. He did a great turns as the father in both “Breaking Away” and “Sixteen Candles.”
  • Daniel H. Jenkins plays “Oliver ‘O.C.’ Cromwell” (he’s since dropped the “H.”) and Neill Barry plays “Mark Stiggs” as the title characters. Both have some talent – Barry marginally over Jenkins – but don’t have the canvas to show it here. Both are energetic, especially Barry, but just come off as cheesy as the rest of the film. “O.C. and Stiggs” was Jenkins’ first film and he was also in “Glory” and Barry is in his fourth film here and he was also in “She’s So Lovely.”
  • Another completely insipid performance (running out of adjectives here) is by Jon Cryer in his second film. Cryer isn’t just one-dimensional, he looks delusional and couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag with this one. I hope Chuck Lorre didn’t get inspiration for Cryer to sleepwalk in TV’s “Two and a Half Men” from “O.C. and Stiggs,” but Cryer does it here (while reading porn). Cryer was actually competent in “Pretty in Pink” and “Hiding Out” (click here for my review).
  • Cynthia Nixon, who plays “Michelle” and who would earn fame from HBO’s “Sex and the City,” was a veteran here (her sixth film) and almost rises to the point of being called an actor. She’s a bit earnest and energetic, but the role doesn’t allow her to do anything. Nixon would also be in “The Manhattan Project” as well as “Little Darlings” and the film version of “Sex and the City” and its sequel.
  • Dennis Hopper plays “Sponson,” the burned-out Vietnam vet who’s growing 35 acres of marijuana in the film. Hopper has to suffer a parody of his work in “Apocalypse Now” (complete with cameras) and also shouldn’t have worked here. Hopper was also in “Easy Rider” and was a wicked bad guy in “Speed” with Keanu Reeves.
  • Martin Mull is the lone glimmer of close to decent work here. He’s hard-drinking “Pat Coletti” and befriends the guys and, with their inspiration, makes big money and shares it with them. Mull is acceptable here in a smooth turn on a rocky road. He was also in “Mr. Mom” and a wonderful variety of TV characters.
  • Veteran actor Nye has a very small part as “Garth Sloan.” I won’t describe the character here, but just let it be known his work is embarrassing for him and he embarrasses an entire group of society with how he plays his character. Nye’s also been in “The Cannonball Run II.”

Finally I come to Tina Louise. “Ginger” had it much better on the island. Louise plays the oversexed “Florence Beaugereaux,” the school nurse who has her eyes on Jenkins while being the mistress to his amorous father (Donald May as “Jack Stiggs”). Louise has also been in the original “The Stepford Wives.”

O.C. and Stiggs” wasn’t just a bomb with audiences, as it is obviously a standard by which filmmakers show what not to do with finances. On a $7 million budget, it was released for screenings one year (1985) and didn’t count in box office totals and then in limited release another (1987) and racked up $28,815 (yes … in thousands, not millions of dollars) as the 228th ranked film of the year, according to Box Office Mojo. The No. 1 film of 1987 was “Three Men and a Baby” with $167.7 million, which means that film probably made “O.C. and Stiggs’” total at one theater in less than a week.

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Ray Walston of TV’s “My Favorite Martian” fame plays “Gramps” here and shouldn’t have done it. He’s bad, just like the film. Walston was also in “The Sting” and the longsuffering teacher “Mr. Hand” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
  • Melvin van Peebles plays “Wino Bob.” Enough said for this talented actor (whose character winds up buried on a golf course). He was also in another stinker: “Jaws: The Revenge.”
  • Note about the title of the “MASH” movie which Altman directed. The asterisks were added on the film’s marketing posters and are not part of the official title of the film (just check out the opening credits). The asterisks were always part of the iconic TV show.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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