By Jon Roig
Arizona Daily Wildcat
In the great tradition of Evil Knievel and his estranged brother, Harley
Knarley, comes daredevil filmmaker Savage Steve Holland. Respon
sible for such epic masterpieces as "Better off Dead" and "One Crazy Summer," Savage Steve has both written and directed his own films since the early '80s, and stopped only to begin work as the director of the "Encyclopedia Brown" TV show. And then, mysteriously, he disappeared around 1990. I blame the paper boy, but I suppose anything's possible.
What makes Savage Steve great? His age, for one; he was only 24 when he made "Better off Dead" in 1985 Ÿ tying him with the infamous Steven Spielberg for the title of "youngest director to direct a feature film" Ÿ a fact that wasn't lost on Savage Steve. The numerous rabid dolphin references in "One Crazy Summer," Holland's second movie, are a sly homage to "Jaws" (Spielberg's second film).
Trained as an animator at Cal Arts (the alma mater of Tim Burton), Savage Steve brings a cartoonish style to his high school films Ÿ they resemble "Road Runner" more than pretentious gabfests like John Hughes' "Breakfast Club." Jerry Seinfeld only wishes he could make ordinary life as exotic as this.
Holland starts with a normal plot Ÿ in "Better off Dead" it's boy gets dumped, boy tries to impress girl, boy ends up with another girl Ÿ and turns it into surreal story revolving around food jokes (animated hamburgers singing Van Halen tunes), language jokes (the exchange student pretends she can't speak English), ethnic jokes (the main character, Lane Meyer, is tormented by a Japanese Howard Cosell) and fat jokes. There are also ski races, explosions, and a demonically possessed paper delivery boy.
It's the crazy, yet somehow familiar characters that make a Savage Steve Holland film great. "One Crazy Summer," Holland's second film, has more than its share. Where else could you find diabolical land developers who boil lobsters just to hear them scream, a radio contest addict, a grandmother who charges for a good, home cooked meal; someone named "Hoops" (John Cusak) who can't play basketball, and Bosco, the ugliest dog in the world? It's worth the price of rental just to see Bobcat Goldthwait crush a model city in a Godzilla suit.
"One Crazy Summer" could almost be the sequel to "Better off Dead." It's a coming of age tale about Hoops, a college-bound high school graduate, who learns about love during a Nantucket summer... but his trip isn't without its share of misadventures and set backs.
And what trip isn't Ÿ especially that great adventure into maturity known as college? Quite often I wonder what I'm doing here at the University of Arizona, that great oasis in the middle of the desert. "How I Got Into College," one of Savage Steve's lesser-known films, tries to chronicle a young man's attempt to follow his dream (girl) to the college of his choice. All the characters you might encounter in the preparation process are here: crazed recruiters, psychotic and enigmatic standardized test coaches (played by Nora Dunn and Phil Hartman), concerned guidance counselors, and, of course, the mailman from "Better off Dead" (Taylor Negron), who knows all too well that he holds the key to your future... sound familiar?
If only getting into college was as easy for our hero as it was for me. Private schools, man... they're weird. They want you to distinguish yourself from the competition, not just fill out some two page application. So, he makes a go at professional wrestling, endures interviews, and gives helicopter rides to neighborhood kids Ÿ all in the name of higher education.
All told, it makes for a very funny film, but it's just no "Better Off Dead." Because Savage Steve didn't write "How I Got Into College," it lacks the exaggerated autobiographical feel of his first two films and comes off a lot like a "Parker Lewis Goes to College" movie might. Which isn't to say that it's bad, it just doesn't have the subtle moments of the films he both wrote and directed.
Watching a Savage Steve Holland film has become a religious experience of sorts Ÿ a ritual that must be repeated every few months to renew my faith in humanity. With every viewing, new aspects of His vision are revealed, new doors opened, and a greater understanding achieved. It's the little things Ÿ Ricky from "Better off Dead" making a jump for his escaping balloons as he leaves the dance or the "the film's over... you can go home now" message that marks the end of the credits of all his movies (a trick that John Hughes appropriated for "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"). It's the subtleties that make all of his films classics, and not just '80s nostalgia like most of Hughes' films.
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