Playing for Keeps

“Shakespeare in Love,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Crying Game,” these are just a few of the great cinematic moments brought to the screen by brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein.  They created Miramax and built a reputation for bringing art house fare to a wider audience.  In recent years, their films have often dominated the annual Oscar nominations.  However, the one time the brothers took a seat in the director’s chair, the result was an 80’s teen comedy that focused more on trying to produce a hit soundtrack than a quality movie…1986’s “Playing for Keeps.”

The film is about a group of fresh-out-of-high-school New York teens, led by dreamer Danny (Daniel Jordano).  He and his buddies are tough street kids who get their jollies playing a street gang version of hide and go seek they call “Christopher Columbus.”  When Danny learns that his family has inherited a run-down country hotel, he recruits his pals Spikes (Matthew Penn), Silk (Leon W. Grant) and Tracy (Marisa Tomei) to help fix the place up and turn it into a rock n’ roll hotel.  When they arrive, they find that the hotel is in really bad shape and even comes with a squatter, a down on his luck financial wizard named Rockerfeller (Harold Gould).

The city kids immediately get resistance from the locals, led by Mr Cromwell (Robert Milli) who has plans to acquire the land and sell it to a chemical company.  The only person in town who isn’t against the kids also seems to be the only teenager in town…cute farm girl Marie (Kim Hauser).  Danny immediately falls for her…and why not.  I mean, when he awkwardly sneaks his arm around her shoulder, her response is to quickly remove her clothes and invite him to go skinny dipping.  It’s an awkward scene, obviously carefully planned out to get as much nudity as they could and still get a PG-13 rating.Eventually, a bunch of Danny’s friends from the city venture to the country to help fix the place up, and provide more dancers for the music-videoesque montages.  When Danny ends up learning about Cromwell’s intentions, the gang launches their own plan to get the rest of the townsfolk to learn the truth.

I remember seeing the ads for this film on television at the time of it’s release.  They didn’t focus on the story or the stars…the chief marketing tool was, “featuring music by Phil Collins, Aracadia, Peter Frampton, Pete Townsend, Julilan Lennon…” and so on.  Not a good sign.Everything about this movie works against it.  The script, also written by the Weinstein brothers, is horrible.  It was supposedly inspired by Harvey’s experiences purchasing a theater in Buffalo, New York and turning it into a rock venue.  Buffalo ain’t exactly a country town, though.  Honestly, this film feels like it was written by someone who has never set foot outside of the five boroughs…and this is how they imagine all that fly over territory is.  The film’s depiction of small-town folk would probably be considered by many to be offensive.

The script and story are terrible…but the cast makes it worse.  Our group of hip city kids bear absolutely no resemblance to actual human beings…not in the 80’s or any decade.  Leading man Daniel Jordano comes across like the The Karate Kid with the hyper nob turned up to 11.But the biggest problem with the movie, is that there is no payoff.  The concept of a bunch of kids fixing up an old building and turning it into a rock n’ roll hotel actually has potential.  But the whole movie is spent battling the nasty townsfolk.  Had they managed to get the hotel open before the last five minutes of the movie…we might have had an interesting film.Given the achievements that the Weinsteins have gone on to, this is an interesting curiosity.  But when you watch it, just keep thanking God that they’ve let other people handle the directing duties for the past 26 years.

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One thought on “Playing for Keeps

  1. I actually really like this movie a lot and I’d say I like it BECAUSE it’s so cheesy (since I love so bad/so cheesy it’s good/awesome kind of movies from the eighties). And I actually really liked Danny and his friends, I thought they were funny. Also, it seems like they filmed the movie in some really beautiful spots in what I’m guessing was upstate New York. And Marisa Tomei was looking pretty great back then as well.
    The only thing downside to the whole movie is the Harold Gould Rockerfeller character as he came across kind of creepy and embarrassing. They should have paid a little more for an Alan Alda type IMO.
    Otherwise though I’d say it was great, one of the better eighties teen comedies out there.

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