January 02, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day One - The Adolescent Pleasures Of MYSTERY DATE

"The Chinese are probably inside making a living."
In the early days of this blog, I made a list of people I hoped would be willing to give me some recommendations and right at the top was my friend Michael Lerman.  I've spoken about Lerman before, as well as his varied and completely bonkers taste in film, so I was certain that if I could get him on board, he'd expose me to a variety of cinematic oddities that I'd likely never discover on my own.  And when Lerman gets excited about something, the guy goes all out.

I was hoping he'd give me two or three titles.  He suggested curating an entire month.  We settled on two weeks.

And thus I'm kicking off 2014 with fourteen films (see what I did there?) hand picked by my longtime cinematic sherpa.  According to Lerman, "...each day relates to the previous day in some way, which you should try to figure out.  It should be fun, but also means that when it gets dark, you're not getting out of it quickly.  That being said, I would suggest you read as little as possible on each of them before you begin -- go into them fresh."  So no only has he given me two weeks of movie magic, but he's also built a sort of puzzle into it.  I LOVE PUZZLES!  And for those of you who want to play along at home, all fourteen films are currently listed in the calendar linked above.  I've taken his advice and done no prior research, and while about half of the films I'm vaguely familiar with in some way, the other half are complete mysteries to me.

Speaking of mysteries, I started off my journey into madness on New Year's day (after getting exasperated with the BBC livestream of the season premiere of Sherlock and giving up halfway through the episode) with Mystery Date, starring young Ethan Hawke as Tom McHugh, a kid who goes on a sort of blind date with Geena, (Terri Polo) the beautiful blonde girl who's housesitting down the street.  You see, Tom's been seeing her around the neighborhood for weeks now and he's totally lovestruck, but he's also pretty shy when it comes to the ladies.  Enter Tom's perfect big brother Craig (classic 90's "that guy" Brian McNamara) home from law school for the weekend with his totally sweet baby blue '59 convertible.  Before you can say Jesse And The Rippers, Craig has cold called Geena and set his brother up on a date, arranged for a limo, dispensed with all sorts of sleezy and misogynistic advice (like what to do when a girl slaps you in the face) and given Tom a complete makeover in his own image.  He even hands over his wallet so Tom can use his credit cards and his ID to get booze.  What a guy!  After totally stiffing flower delivery guy Fisher Stevens on a tip, Craig skips out with his brother's car to "visit some old hangouts," leaving Tom in the lurch when Fisher Stevens crashes into the limo while backing his comically oversized delivery truck out of the driveway.  Tom is left with no choice but to borrow Craig's totally awesome convertible for his big night out with Geena.

And that's where the zany adventures kick in!

Turns out that Craig is a lot shadier than he first appeared, (okay, he was pretty obviously a dick) and he's somehow mixed up with some dirty cops in search of missing evidence as well as some Chinatown gangsters in search of an antique vase, not to mention a host of local floozies looking to slap him in the face (don't worry, HE KNOWS WHAT TO DO!) and Fisher Stevens who still really wants his goddamn tip!  And wouldn't you know it, since Tom is wearing all of Craig's clothes, driving his car and using his credit cards, everyone thinks that he's really Craig!  Nevermind the fact that they look absolutely nothing alike, he's wearing Craig's blazer.  And everytime Tom tells someone that Craig is his brother, they all scoff and say, "Let me guess, he's your evil twin brother?"  Apparently this is a whole town full of people who have gained all their life experience from daytime soaps and romance paperbacks.  Thus Tom has to make it through the night without being captured by the cops, killed by the mob or run over by the flower guy, all without blowing his chances with the hot girl who's totally into it because she reads mystery novels!

Lerman prefaced Mystery Date by saying, "It might not be as good as I remember from when I was ten, but fuck you, I can make you watch whatever I want!!!!!"  With that in mind, I can TOTALLY see the appeal to ten-year-old Lerman.  In fact, if I had first come across Mystery Date playing on TV when I was in fifth grade, I'd probably have an irrational attachment to it as well.  For one thing, I love young Ethan Hawke as well as Fisher Stevens, although nothing will ever rival him playing an Indian in the Short Circuit movies.  (The fact that he got promoted from plucky comic relief to the goddamn hero between films one and two is a miracle for which we should all regularly give thanks.)  And for a hopeless romantic adolescent who wasn't great at impressing girls, I have no doubt that this tale of comic misadventure in the name of winning over your dream woman would have totally appealed to me.  It reminds me of Adventures In Babysitting, but with a hero designed to appeal more to insecure teenage guys instead of suburban teenage girls.

Everything about Mystery Date perfectly encapsulates the embarrassment of the early 90's, from the hairstyles to the fashion to the music.  It's that fuzzy era where people are struggling to get out of the 80's but the Seattle grunge scene hadn't yet hit the mainstream.  (Mystery Date was released about six weeks before Nirvana's Nevermind would cause a seismic shift in the pop culture landscape.)  But that's a moment in time that absolutely defines my childhood, so I can't help but have a soft spot for it.  And the movie is just goofy enough to be appealing, from Ethan Hawke accidentally murdering a police detective and then driving around the rest of the movie with a trunk full of corpses, to the motorcycle cop who can't tell blood from transmission fluid, to BD Wong's babyfaced Chinese mafia boss who occasionally slips into a James Cagney-esque accent.  We also get two outlandish and total throwaway cameos by both James Hong and Victor Wong, because most of the third act takes place in Chinatown and there were seemingly only six Asian actors working in the early 90's.  I'm almost surprised Long Duk Dong doesn't make an appearance.  And let's not forget Fisher Stevens essentially playing a cross between Wile E. Coyote and the newspaper delivery kid from Better Off Dead.  Sadly, Terri Polo doesn't really have much to do as the object of Tom's affection, but she's totally hot and a girl who's equally down for exotic drinks at an island-themed hole in the wall bar by the docks or beers at a death metal club in an old warehouse where GWAR (!!!) is playing, so twelve-year-old Daley probably would have been smitten.

Lerman was gracious enough to actually buy me Mystery Date on DVD, so it's now part of my collection.  (You can watch the whole thing in mediocre quality on YouTube.)  It feels like a movie I can adopt as a retroactive childhood favorite, right up there with The Man With One Red Shoe or Hudson Hawk, although sadly Mystery Date never matches the dizzying heights of Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello as showtune singing cat burglars trying to steal Leonardo Da Vinci's alchemy machine on behalf of The Vatican.  Then again, nothing really does.  Nevertheless, it's extremely comforting in a way, knowing that Lerman is starting my journey in a place that feels very familiar and even downright nostalgic.

I can't wait to see how he's going to get to A Serbian Film in just three moves.

What's Next? - Crazy Love

Title: Mystery Date
Director: Jonathan Wacks
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Terri Polo, BD Wong, Fisher Stevens, Brian McNamara, Don S. Davis, James Hong, Victor Wong
Year Of Release: 1991
Viewing Method: DVD

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