In the 80’s, movie theaters were flooded with films aimed at teens and young people. This was fine with me since I myself was a teen at this time. Come on, you think in 1987 I was heading out to the theater to see 84 Charing Cross Lane? Heck no! I was shelling out for tickets to Adventures in Babysitting and Can’t Buy Me Love, sometimes multiple times. After all, I was 16 and I thought Elisabeth Shue and Amanda Peterson were pretty darn cute! Needless to say, the film Campus Man, which focuses on a college student who creates an all-male sports calendar, was aiming for a different demographic.
The film stars John Dye, who I kept needing to remind myself was not Arye Gross, as business student Todd Barrett. He’s one of those guys who wears suspenders and a belt at the same time, and always seems to have some sort of money-making scheme going on. Despite having created a successful pinup calendar of his school’s hottest girls, he finds himself in financial trouble when his scholarship falls through. Luckily, Todd’s roommate Brett (Steve Lyon) is the school’s top diver and heartthrob; the perfect candidate to appear on a beefcake calendar of collegiate athletes.
As someone who is actually named “Todd,” I’ve often said how it bothers me how my name is often used for unlikable characters. In films that pit the snobs vs the slobs, “Todd” is almost always one of the annoying snobs. Our “Todd” in this film, though, is a pretty amiable guy. He’s not really a part of the social A-list, but he’s not an outcast. Yes, he’s a bit of a schemer, but it’s hard not to like him on a certain level. Plus, his friendship with Brett, a jock of all people, feels legit.
The film is interesting to look at in the context of the prosperity mindset of the 80’s. Todd is definitely driven by his need to make money and this does lead him to take advantage of his friendship with Brett in some unpleasant ways. There’s even a sequence where we see Todd mapping out his business plan as soundbites of Ronald Reagan talking about financial relief for 80’s Americans fill the soundtrack. Brett, on the other hand, doesn’t give a rip about money. He just wants to dive. Of course, I think it’s fair to say that Brett doesn’t give a rip about money because he doesn’t have to. He tools around town on a shiny red Honda scooter and definitely doesn’t buy his clothes at KMart. Mommy and Daddy treat their little Brett well.
The film does get a bit disjointed as it goes on. The story starts to focus on Brett being courted by a magazine executive, played by Morgan Fairchild, to be the new face of the 80’s. This ends up putting his collegiate diving career in jeopardy when word reaches the NCAA Infractions Committee. There’s also a subplot involving Todd’s inability to pay back the loan shark who gave him the startup money, a tough character named Cactus Jack, played by Miles O’Keefe. Yes, Tarzan from the disastrous Bo Derek version. Both of these storylines are a bit half-baked as we jump back and forth between Todd and Brett’s sides of the story.
We also have an attempt at a romantic subplot involving a girl named Dayna, played by Kim Delaney, who has had her eye on Brett for some time. The filmmakers seem to want us to believe that Dayna and Brett would be a bit of an unlikely couple. This is a bit baffling as both were clearly the respective Prom King and Queen of their various high schools. The more interesting romantic thread, which is also undercooked, is the one between Todd and Dayna’s quirky friend Molly, played by Kathleen Wilhoite. Molly is snarky and tough and has that great geeky but cute vibe that we often saw in the 80’s. It’s a great contrast to the smooth-talking salesman type that Todd tries to be. Wilhoite and Dye have some nice chemistry with each other. Every time the film shifted to the budding romance between Dayna and Brett, I wished it would go back to Molly and Todd.
Campus Man is a film that definitely struggles a bit in the story department, but it’s wrapped up in a fun 80’s package that is hard to not enjoy to a certain degree. It’s got a great 80’s look, the cast is likable, and it’s got a cool soundtrack featuring a few classic tunes (“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” puts in an appearance) but mostly a bunch of 80’s tracks that were not hits, but maybe should’ve been. Todd Barrett’s got nothing on our friend Ferris Bueller, but he gets an “E” for Effort.