Saturday 1 May 2010

Obscurity Files #4 - Pick-Up Artist

SLACKER Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgot. With Iron Man 2 out across most of the world this week, we thought it would be a good time to look at one of Robert Downey Jr's forgotten movies. Today it's The Pick-Up Artist

More after the jump...

Jack Jericho (Robert Downey Jr), a one-liner womaniser wanders the streets on New York City looking for his next conquest, with varying results. Meanwhile, Randy Jensen (Molly Ringwald) looks after her drunk gambler father whilst also holding down a tour guide job at the Natural History Museum. It's only a matter of time before their paths cross really. When the pair do finally meet, despite being attracted to Jack, Randy's got his number right from the off. He's just looking for his next lay and has his eyes set on her, but to Jack she's a girl who can give as good as she gets and that fascinates him.

This 1987 romantic comedy was one of Robert Downey Jr's (here credited as Robert Downey) first leading roles. He'd appeared in a couple of films such as Weird Science and some of his fathers films, but his most notable work was his one season run on Saturday Night Live. By 1987 Molly Ringwald had just finished her working relationship with John Hughes. She had very much become his muse, but was keen to take her career in a different direction.

Ironic really, as this is very much James Toback's attempt at making a John Hughes movie. Of course the whole thing is awash in 80'sness, and there's no real getting away from that, but Ringwald's character shares a lot of similar traits with her previous roles.Randy acts as a substitute wife to her drunk father (here played by Dennis Hopper), in much the same way as she did for Harry Dean Stanton in Pretty In Pink, sacrificing her own future to care for them. She’s also once again the smartest girl in the room, but unlucky in love. She may have left Shermer High School behind, but she's brought the angst with her.
Speaking of Directors and their muses, this was the first time RDJ worked with James Toback, who is now his most frequent collaborator. The two have worked on at least three other films together, and have both helped the other out at the lower points of their careers. By this point in his career Robert Downey Jr seems to have perfected his smartmouth charmer act, and gets a lot of opportunities to showcase it.

He is the source of comedy here, but when the tone changes, there's nothing he can do to save it. Gambling is a common component of Toback's films, and its inclusion here is where the film starts to go wrong. Of course every film has to have some conflict, but when the Mob shows up to collect payment from Randy's father, the course of the movie changes radically. At the start of the movie, Randy seems an upbeat if somewhat intensely driven individual, but her decision to risk it all in the Casinos of Atlantic City turns her into a rather desperate person, unaware of the real problems facing her. It's her fathers debt she's trying to clear, why is she not trying to get him to change? He’s the same drunk at the end of the movie as he is at the beginning.
As to why Jack would follow her to Atlantic City in romantic pursuit, i'm not sure. The journey to Atlantic City also ceases the John Hughes comparisons. The inclusion of the Mob (here personified by Harvey Keitel) is a bit of an exploitative move by Toback. Both their lives are suddenly in peril, but i don’t think we’re given enough time to care about Jack and Randy’s burgeoning relationship before this spanner is thrown in the works.

Robert Downey Jr is never less than charismatic on screen, but he and Molly Ringwald don't share an awful lot of chemistry. At times she comes across just bitchy; ungrateful at the young man who is trying to help her. She's not the prom queen anymore, but still wants special treatment.This move away from the values Ringwald had displayed in her films with John Hughes also occurred at the same time her career was disappearing into cinematic wilderness, just as Robert Downey Jr's career was about to hit its stride.

He is the only reason to watch this. Unfortunately that doesn't overshadow that it doesn't deliver on what it promises. I'd much rather have seen the movie that is set up in the first 5 minutes; RDJ being suave in the city and working as a true pick-up artist.

Save From Obscurity? NO

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