For some odd reason, our “Endless Bummer” series has featured a heck of a lot of future superstars, either in their first starring roles, or in tiny uncredited ones. “Fraternity Vacation” is no different, with future Oscar winner Tim Robbins right at the beginning of his movie career. By the way, someone who really hates Robbins wrote his IMDB trivia, as it’s full of mocking references to his political activism – way to be passive aggressive, IMDB person!
Iowa is so snowy and miserable in the spring that it’s in black-and-white, and out of that hellscape and into the airport come three likely lads from Iowa State University- “Mother” Tucker (Robbins), Joe (Cameron Dye, who was so generic I had to look up his name again between starting this sentence and typing it out), and Wendell Tvedt (Stephen Geoffreys, who’s probably called “Evil Ed” by his own family these days). Wendell is an “awkward” sort, the most uncoordinated nerd of all time, but he’s pledging to a fraternity anyway, and thanks to his rich Dad owning a condo in Palm Springs, he’s got the two coolest guys in the frat to come along with him. The Dad is a super-nice guy and asked Mother and Joe to look after him and perhaps help him out with the ladies, and off they all go.
As an outsider to all these US youth rituals, I tend to look a lot of things up if movies feel less than authentic. Right at the beginning, they’re cruising down the street with hundreds of other cars filled with hotties, and super-annoying DJ Madman Mac (Charles Rocket, former SNL cast member) talks about how it’s raining in Fort Lauderdale at the moment, so the only party is happening in Palm Springs. So, dear reader, I apologise for wandering off on a “there’s no way!” tangent.
The words “spring break” are never mentioned, at least partly because Palm Springs was never a spring break destination, being the home of the rich and famous and not wanting a bunch of drunk college scum raiding it. There’s lots of hotties of both genders around, though…but during several outside scenes in the evening, you can hear crickets. Where are all the partiers? Madman Mac makes reference to some end-of-season blowout party…what season? And hell, where’s the party? It happens entirely off-screen. And, going a little further down the rabbit hole, they’re in Wendell’s parents’ place, which is right next to a large pool, full (occasionally) of partying, horseplay and other shenanigans. Why would a middle-aged couple spend so much to live in such a place?
It’s a frustrating movie, feeling like it was slapped together out of bits and pieces. Our three heroes meet two guys who go to a different fraternity at Iowa State, who have two women with them. Now…because of frat wars or whatever, they decide to play a prank on Mother and Joe, which involves sending the women to seduce them, get the guys naked together in the same bed, strip off for them, go into the bathroom and then loudly talk about having herpes before coming out, ready for sex. Mother and Joe freak out and leave the room, to find their laughing nemeses waiting for them in the lounge…let’s say the bathroom door had been thicker, or the guys had decided to put on a condom and risk it, or whatever. This is a terrible plan! Also, what relationship do these women have with the frat guys? Because I’m pretty sure no girlfriend I’ve ever had would agree to do this for me, if I wanted to play a prank on someone.
If you’ve wondered why I’m not getting on with the plot, it’s because there’s really not much of one. After seeing Sheree J Wilson in a neighbouring condo, looking beautiful but sad, Joe and Bad Frat Guy #2 have a $1,000 bet to have sex with her, and the way that plays out is as pathetic and creepy as all these bets in all these movies have ever been, with exactly the same result (she finds out and hates them both). Wendell meets Nicole (Amanda Bearse, future sitcom second-banana par excellence) at a bar and it turns out she just wants a pathetic loser to make her Dad angry – oh, and her Dad is the Chief of Police, so when Wendell gets accidentally arrested for attempted rape, then the next day is invited to meet Nicole for lunch…hijinks!!
SIDEBAR: This lunch-date, and the subsequent disappearance of Wendell, happens a very short time before another “important” scene, at a party the Police Chief is holding at his home, because Nicole calls Mother and Joe in tears that he’s disappeared. Would you go for lunch to a restaurant an hour before hosting a large party? I feel like maybe the restaurant paid to be in this, and that’s the only way they could crowbar them in.
Anyway…we’ve got douchebags converting to the side of light, an unexpected visit from Wendell’s parents, Wendell finding love eventually, and all being well with the world. Plus, perhaps the worst soundtrack ever – as well as a bunch of songs which I hope were written specifically for this movie, there is a lot of Bananarama. Wow, Bananarama were terrible singers! As great a song as “Cruel Summer” is, if they’d done that on any talent TV show, the hosts would have been all “nice tune, terrible delivery, I’ll pass” (or whatever it is they say on those shows).
As I hope I’ve gotten across to you, this is a curious movie. When they arrive at the condo, the living room is completely unfurnished (yet the fridge is stocked with beer)…best guess, the production people found an apartment to film in but couldn’t get hold of any furniture? That sums up the entire movie, to me – it’s people wanting to make a movie to cash in on the trend of summer raunch, but not really having any other reason to. So much of it doesn’t make a bit of sense if you think about it for more than a few seconds, and for a raunch film, it’s surprisingly un-raunchy (lots of bare behinds of both genders, though, if that’s your cup of tea).
It’s safe to say that Tim Robbins doesn’t give much indication of the Oscar winner he would eventually become. The rest of the cast range from excellent (John Vernon as the Police Chief and Max Wright as Wendell’s dad are both old comedy hands), to okay (the women are all picked for acting ability, not nudity, which is a nice change) to awful (third billed Cameron Dye, as Joe; and Matt McCoy as Bad Frat Guy #1, both painfully generic). Oh, and Britt Ekland pops up for what I can only assume was “I’m in town and have half an hour to spare” circumstances.
There’s a funny bit here and there, and when Wendell calms down a bit and his performance is a bit less…annoying?…the film warms up. But it feels like half a film – not enough people, not enough furniture, not enough comedy, not enough anything.
Rating: thumbs down