Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (1989) (part 1 of 12)
Of all the attractions at the Bad Movie Hell Fairgrounds, movies with singing have to be close to the most painful. I’m talking about movies where a character picks up a guitar (or a harmonica or an auto-harp or whatever) and stops the movie dead in its tracks while he or she earnestly performs album-filler-quality songs written by the director’s brother in their excruciating entirety, leaving the bored audience to mentally compose grocery lists or plan elaborate weddings for their cats, until the movie proper starts up again.
And here’s the best part: the creators, having excreted these turd-nuggets of musical entertainment, are always generous in depositing them copiously throughout the movie. If you ever see a guy sit down and start to croon his way all the way through a song that bears the same relevance to the movie’s plot as, say, any random five minutes of Diff’rent Strokes, you know—lucky you—that you’re going to be treated to more of the same at least seven or eight more times before the end credits roll (at which point, to cap your good fortune, you’ll get a reprise of every single one of them). And sometimes, these successive musical interludes will actually feature songs that are marginally different from one another in lyrics, chord progressions, or both.
The end result is a movie that not only assaults you with bad acting, awful direction, appalling dialogue, and crummy editing, but furnishes the extra added benefit of searing terrible songs deep into your gray matter, there to be stumbled upon when you’re least deserving of musical torture, and played in an endless loop so unbearable that you’ll kill to track down a tape of the old Doris Day Show just to get your head-radio stuck on “Que Sera, Sera” instead.
With so many senses assaulted, the only way these movies could be worse is if Smell-O-Rama had caught on, and you were able to catch a whiff of just how badly the performer stank (in all possible senses of the word).
It can be argued that the modern apotheosis of the singing movie genre is Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, one of the few sequels ever made to a movie that bombed in the theaters (the original film eventually made a few bucks on video and cable). A paint-by-numbers dead zone of a rock-and-roll movie, Eddie II resurrects a third-rate ’60s rock star from a watery grave, and forces him to perform even worse songs than before with an even less talented band.
Toward this dubious end, the producers rehired Michael Paré (whose über-buffness in the sequel gives away the fact that Paré has had nothing better to do than hit the gym since Eddie and the Cruisers tanked six years previous), and surrounded him with an all-Canadian cast of unknowns who richly deserved to stay that way. In addition, they scraped together a soundtrack worth of songs that John Cafferty apparently wrote by sticking blank score paper in the bottom of his birdcage and then arranging the results. The new songs are leavened with the “hits” from the first film, which are played repeatedly at the slightest lull in the plot. Since that plot, as you’ll see, is one big lull, that means you’ll be hearing a lot of (for example) the lyrically anorexic rock-anthem-lite “On the Dark Side” and other selections from the born-to-be-99-cents Eddie and the Cruisers soundtrack.
Everyone wants their sequel to outdo the original, and on that score Eddie II delivered. As a follow-up to a flop, Eddie II easily surpassed its predecessor in box-office sucking. It was in theatrical release for one (1) week in August 1989, raking in a little over half a million dollars gross—which sounds like a decent chunk of change, until you realize that’s about a grand per theater. Does that even cover the cost of turning on the machine that drools yellow grease onto your popcorn? So, like Eddie, it died, was resurrected on video, then died again, and I’m sure all involved prayed that every print had forever disappeared from the face of the earth.
Well, those prayers didn’t work for the Roger Corman Fantastic Four, and they sure didn’t work for Eddie II. In the fall of 2005, some wacko Canadian releasing company with the inventive name of Motion Picture Distribution LP got hold of a copy and put it out on DVD—but only in Canada. As in, you could buy it from Amazon.ca, but not from Amazon.com. And when I say “got hold of a copy”, I mean the print they used for this version looks like it spent a summer in Tony Malanowski’s trunk. The quality of the transfer makes me think it was done on a mimeograph machine. The beginning wobbles and jumps more than a Bill Clinton policy paper, and I believe that Albert’s copy of William Shatner’s Alexander pilot might be of superior quality. DVD extras, you ask? Hahahahaha I laugh in your face.
Since this is Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, it might help to know a little about 1983’s Eddie and the Cruisers I: Eddie Bites It. Unlike the sequel, which rests almost entirely on Michael Paré’s rough-and-ready thespian abilities, in the first film Eddie was an enigma with only twelve lines of dialogue. Consequently, the dramatic burden was carried by real actors like Tom Berenger and Ellen Barkin (both glaringly absent in the follow-up).
The first film is told largely in flashback as a reporter (Barkin) tries to track down the lost, unreleased second album by the Cruisers, a supposedly semi-legendary ’60s rock band. So she talks to old band members, music executives, and so on, and gradually pieces together a movie in a technique that wants to recall Citizen Kane, but feels more like Trail of the Pink Panther.
Essentially, the plot boils down to the following memorable exchange between Eddie and his bass player, Sal, which occurs after Eddie gives their record company some overblown rock opera instead of the passel of hit singles they’d asked for:
| Eddie Wilson: I want something great. I want something that’s never been done before!
Sal Amato: Why? We ain’t great. We’re just some guys from Jersey.
Despite Sal’s spot-on assessment of the Cruisers’ place in the overall scheme of things, Eddie blows his stack, and the band’s crisis culminates with Eddie’s mysterious and apparently fatal auto accident. The twist ending, however, shows Eddie still alive and watching clips of himself on storefront TVs. As the credits roll, we realize we’ve been had: Eddie quit the biz and staged his own death not because he was too great for the philistine record producers to understand, and not because he was ahead of his time, but because his label said no to his vanity project. So he had a temper tantrum and took his ball and went home like the surly grouch he was.
Anyway, end of part one. History became legend, legend became myth, and pretty soon nobody cared about Eddie Wilson even more than they had never cared about him in the first place.
The sequel opens with a fade-up onto a scrawled note that, from the handwriting, looks like it was copied out by the director’s eight year old son five minutes before filming. It’s accompanied by the soon-to-be oh-so-familiar repetitive piano intro to (guess what!) “On the Dark Side”. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be calling it “ODS” (which is all too appropriate, since it’s going to be the audience that ODs on the song).
The note itself is a beyond-the-grave message from our favorite dead rock star: “I want to be remembered for the music or not at all. Eddie Wilson ’64.” Awesome, we get to choose? I’ll take the second one, please. And why did he date it? Was he signing someone’s yearbook? “We’re free, dude! I want to be remembered for the music or not at all! PARTY ON!”
“ODS” takes over as we cut to an old film of Eddie Wilson back in the day performing the wretched song, shown as a rectangle in the middle of the screen. (Wait, did I rent Star Trek III: Teen Spock Gets Laid by mistake?)
The reverb on Eddie’s mic, by the way, is set at like 7 on the Richter scale. Seriously, there’s so much echo it sounds like he’s singing in the Dwarf halls of Khazad-dum. The echo might explain why Eddie tilts his head all over the place between phrases like he’s hearing yodelers shouting “Ricola!” down the Swiss Alps.
Hilariously, as Young Eddie sings “slip to the dark side, cross that line” he pulls way back from the microphone, but the mic keeps singing anyway. I guess it’s heard this tune so much, it already knows the words.
Cut to a bunch of hardhats wandering into a bar on their lunch break, and for some reason it has a hundred TV sets and “ODS” is playing on every damn one of them. So whereas here in the States, construction workers go to sports bars, it seems in Canada they go to music video bars. Good to know.
Anyway, Buff Mustache Guy, John Madden Guy, and Pudgy Mustache Guy plop down on stools. John Madden Guy tells “Joe” (Buff Mustache Guy) to drink up, because they’ve only got a half-hour for lunch, but Buff Mustache Guy is suddenly transfixed by TV’s Eddie Wilson. Either that, or he’s slipped into a catatonic stupor. It’s really hard to tell. (By the way, what’s showing on the TVs in the wide shots, as opposed to the inserts, is totally not matching the audio. As in, you’re hearing an instrumental break, and watching Eddie sing. Continuity? Hello?)
The song fades out and we get “Rock TV News” veejay Martha Quinn [!] out-troing this clip from Eddie and the Cruisers I: Eddie Got Fingered like it was actually a video she was showing or something. Ah, Martha Quinn. You know, I remember a time, back in, oh, the Middle Ages, when MTV showed these things called music videos. No, it’s true. And in the beginning they had these five veejays they apparently grabbed at random out of the check-out line at the Gap: the Black Guy, the Guy with the Hair, the Other Guy with the Hair, the Blonde Chick, and Martha Quinn. The “Darling of MTV”, Martha had all the sex appeal of a Muppet version of Courteney Cox. And, as she’s about to prove here, line readings flatter than Kate Moss.
Anyway, Martha backs out of the “video” with “That was a long time ago, right, kids?” She reminds us that Eddie died in 1964, a time largely before the advent of the music video. (And even allowing that there’s rock concert and variety show footage from the early ’60s, the actual performance that we just saw in a clip from the first movie was a small venue gig, which I have a hard time believing was filmed for posterity.)
She goes on to tell us a little about poor, dead Eddie and then lays a whopper on us: Despite the fact that Eddie Wilson went car-diving in the Raritan River over two decades ago after putting out exactly one album, interest in him has resurged enough recently that there’s going to be an “Eddie Wilson Look-Alike Contest” [!] in New York, that very night. And it’ll be an event so big it’ll be carried live on “Rock TV News”.
And if you think that’s stupid, you should see the contestants’ headshots that are flashed on screen. Seriously, they look so unlike Eddie Wilson, that they could just as easily be contestants in an “Eddie Wilson” Is the Sound My Butt Makes When I Pass Gas contest. (I bet they’ll have one of those, too.) Personally, a “look-alike contest” strikes me as the lamest record promotion idea since those cardboard Archies 45s they used to have on the backs of cereal boxes for you to cut out and ruin your phonograph needles on. But amazingly enough, the existence of such a contest will prove to be a plot point—though, I hasten to add, in the dumbest way imaginable.
By now, Martha Quinn is totally freaking out our hero, Joe Mustache. Wait, I recognize him! It’s the late, lamented Eddie Wilson! As we find out later, Eddie has adopted a new name: Joe West. He’s been working in the construction trade north of the border for some time, possibly ever since he “died” (the movie is not the slightest bit interested in what Eddie has been up to for over two decades). He’s given up his dreams of fame and become an “ordinary Joe” (get it?). Eddie/Joe has also apparently enrolled in the Clark Kent Correspondence School course on Gossamer-Thin Secret Identity Disguises: He seems to have concluded that no one will recognize him as a dead rock star if he… grows a mustache. Sure, that should do it. Too bad Dead Elvis never thought of that. The funny thing about this, though, is that it turns out Eddie’s pretty accurately pegged the intelligence level of everyone else in this movie. (This whole scene illustrates, by the way, our film’s commitment to the time-honored and inviolable Hey! Turn on the TV! Rule: if you’re a movie character, everything on television is about you.)