I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the beach party movies of the 60’s. They’re just silly, good-natured fun. The most memorable films of the genre are the ones starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello that were released by AIP, but one of the earliest beach romps of the 60’s came a few years before Frankie and Annette teamed up…1960’s Where the Boys Are. Twenty-four years later, the film got a bit of an update. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say the title was borrowed for a new incarnation…1984’s Where the Boys Are.
The films tells the tale of four college girls off to spend spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. There’s Carole (Lorna Luft) who has decided she needs some time away from her boyfriend, prim and propper rich girl Sandra (Wendy Schaal), sex-crazed Laurie (Lynn-Holly Johnson), and serious music student, and reluctant participant in the trip, Jennie (Lisa Hartman). Before the opening credits have even finished rolling, they have picked up a hitchhiker named Scott (Russell Todd), who is off to meet up with his band (which includes Christopher McDonald) and who quickly becomes quite sweet on Jennie.
Now, the whole reason Jennie goes on the trip is because she is promised the chance to meet Sandra’s cousin, classical musician Camden Roxbury (Daniel McDonald…Christopher’s brother). He’s handsome but a bit of a stuck-up social drip. Of course, Scott sets out to prove to Jennie that she belongs with him. Meanwhile, the others have a series of adventures which includes two getting locked up in prison, which requires Carole to enter a hot bod dance contest to win the bail money. Each of the girls also ends up hooking up various guys along the way. Do they find love or is this just a spring break thing?
It’s interesting to look at Where the Boys Are and see how the basic premise, borrowed from an early 60’s flick, is crammed into the early 80’s sex film mold. Though our story centers on four females, a few brief moments of gratuitous nudity are thrown in because, well, it’s 1984, isn’t it. The four lead character types are also not all that much different from the sort of characters we see in similar male-centered movies of the 80’s. Instead of a dashingly handsome dude who ends up finding true love in the end, we have the unbelievably beautiful Lisa Hartman finding the unexpected man of her dreams. Lynn-Holly Johnson’s Laurie is the essentially the horndog sidekick character we’ve seen in so many other 80’s films…’cept it’s usually a creepy dude nowhere near as cute as Johnson is.
I was surprised at how likable all four girls are. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t always make good life decisions here, but they’ve all still got a certain charm. Wendy Schaal is one of the standouts for me. She showed up throughout the 80’s with small parts in films like Batteries Not Included and a handful of Joe Dante movies. She’s fun with her southern belle accent. The previously mentioned Lynn-Holly Johnson is also a treat as member of the group who isn’t interested in finding love, she just wants find her “Conan.”
Though the four leads are fun, there isn’t a lot of substance to this film. I know, I know, it’s an 80’s spring break flick. Even films like that can have a heart, though. This one manages to give us four fun leads but then fails to put them into situations that allow them to truly shine. The film gradually runs out of steam and ends up wasting too much time on sequences like the one where the ragtag crew of beach bums end up crashing a high-society party. The worst offender, though, is the eye-roller of an ending where Scott and his band take over Camden’s classical concert to serenade Jennie with a song that represents the lowest of the low on the 80’s music spectrum.
Considering how appealing the four leads are, this film should’ve turned out better than it did. It’s got some entertaining aspects, but it struggles as it descends a bit too far into the usual tropes of 80’s spring break movies.