Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, we had all sorts of strange characters that showed up on commercials. So many products had their own mascot back then. Characters like Mr. Clean, the Tidy Bowl Man, and the Where’s the Beef lady filled the airwaves. One who appeared in commercials for twenty years was Rosie, the Bounty paper towel lady. She was played by actress Nancy Walker who appeared on many television shows, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. She also directed several television programs and eventually managed to direct one feature film. It is a film that may have just represented the final nail in the coffin of disco. From 1980, it’s Can’t Stop the Music.
The film centers on a young man named Jack Morrell (Steve Guttenberg). Jack is an aspiring music composer who occasionally DJ’s at a local club. He doesn’t make a whole lot of money and only has a place to stay by mooching off his ex-super model friend Samantha (Valerie Perrine), but he’s got big dreams. He is sure that he will create the big sound that will define the 80’s. Jack manages to convince Samantha to help him get a deal with some of her record company pals, but he needs a group to perform his songs.
Now, brace yourselves here folks. As luck would have it, there are a whole crew of potential singing greats all around him, beginning with Samantha’s neighbor Felipe who likes to dress as an indian. There’s also two guys that hang out at the club Jack DJ’s at, a construction worker and a guy who sports a cowboy hat. These three come to Samantha’s apartment to record some demos and are joined by a motorcycle cop. The demo turns out pretty good and soon auditions are held for a few more group members. Soon the group is joined by a military man and a “leatherman” with an epic moustache. You got it folks…this is the birth of the Village People!
Jack and Sam also end up getting some help from a tax attorney named Ron (Bruce Jenner) who shows up at the first demo session bearing a cake. Why exactly a tax attorney is delivering a cake is still a mystery to me, but point is he ends up helping the group get going…when he’s not getting into Samantha’s bed.
It ends up being no easy road for the group. They struggle with some early sessions, but band together and practice their act at the…yup, YMCA. Soon, Samantha convinces an ex-boyfriend record exec (Paul Sand) to give the group their big break, but Ron starts to get jealous over the time she’s spending with this old flame. Will the power of music win the day?
Can’t Stop the Music is epically bizarre. It’s story is nothing more than a slender thread there to give an excuse for all sorts of craziness to be put on the screen. It goes without saying that there are several musical numbers peppered throughout the film. The most memorable, and not necessarily in a good way, is the Village People’s signature tune “YMCA.” Not only does the number feature a variety of muscular men working out and engaging in all sorts of sports, we also see them goofing around in the locker room which brings fleeting glimpses of full-fledged male nudity to this PG-rated film. We also get a disco ode to dairy products called “Milkshake” and a spotlight for the construction worker called “I Love You to Death.”
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the film is that the Village People themselves actually make for fairly interesting characters. I especially found the “leatherman” Glenn Hughes to be a fun character. His heartfelt rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” may be the highlight of the film. Though his character has a hard-edged look to him, his personality is somewhat self-conscious. Add to it the fact that his singing voice is deep and commanding, while his speaking voice is kind of nasally. It makes for a fun contrast. I’m not saying that the Village People were great thespians, but I will say they are far more interesting than the professional actors in the cast. Both Perrine and Guttenberg are completely over-the-top with their performances. Guttenberg especially spends the whole film bounding around like a seven-year old with a sugar rush. It’s hard to fault former Olympian Bruce Jenner, whose presence here is stunt casting of the highest order. He clearly wasn’t cut out for acting. It’s no wonder he didn’t show up in another film until 2011’s Jack and Jill. Both of the film’s Jenner appeared in have the distinction of winning the Razzie for Worst Picture. Can’t Stop the Music, in fact, was the first ever to win that award.
Can’t Stop the Music is a legendary achievement in the realm of bad movies. There is a part of me that still can’t believe that this movie actually exists. It is terrible movie…and I highly recommend it.