Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Rewind: Caveman (1981)

Ringo Starr - for it is he - grunts, tokes and bongos through that elephant’s graveyard of a genre - the comedy caveman caper.

Caveman (1981, Carl Gottlieb)

Starring: Ringo Starr, Dennis Quaid, Shelly Long, Jack Gifford, Evan C. Kim, Carl Lumbly, Barbara Bach, Xochitl del Rosario.

Tagline: ‘Back when you had to beat it before you could eat it…’ Erm…

Trailers: The Redheaded Gardener, The Professor and Mary-Anne, Nine Sisters

Cherrypick: 'Zug-zug!'

The assassination of bedridden vagabond John Lennon in 1980 affected the remaining Beatles in a variety of different ways. Soil-munching churl and walking Turin Shroud George Harrison gratefully took up an old college friend’s long standing offer to join him in a Mercantile Banking venture immersed in South East Asian mineral stripping; Paul McCartney immediately and allegedly sued for 50% of the column inches accrued by his co-ditty whittler’s untimely death; and Ringo? Ringo turned for succour in this hour of grief to his well-documented love of prehistoric percussion techniques to form the bedrock of what would eventually become 1981’s Caveman: It’s a monster beat and a Stone Age groove.
'They're gonna put me in the movies...'
Sporting the human race’s first acknowledged centre parting, Starr inhabits the bearskin of Atouk - a sort of Jurassic village idiot - in this Clan of the Cave Beatle that sees him grunt, toke and bongo his way around New Mexico on Harrison’s Handmade Films (aka Taxloss Productions) coin in that elephant’s graveyard of a genre - the comedy caveman caper.

Quite justly banished by his tribe for repeatedly attempting to dry hump the chief’s main squeeze while she’s asleep, Ringo hooks up with an agreeable but anthropologically dubious band of multicultural, polysexual outcasts - including Dennis Quaid and Diane from ‘Cheers’ - and sets about making a challenge for leadership of his old tribe. Or something.
A caveman, yesterday
It’s not really all that important, because the real skinny here is an excuse for the rickety construction of a barely coherent series of sub-Monkees style skits that invariably result in dinosaurs getting stoned, Quaid getting his kit off or Starr laying down some tasty beats with some outsized bone drumsticks while the rest of the cast scarf down the local mescal and get busy with some furious out-of-focus necking in the periphery of the frame. Nothing wrong with that, you cry; but alas the whole thing plays out about as funny as getting your wedding tackle caught in sentient - and for-some-reason-vengeful - farm machinery.

Given that in an inconsequential, almost flippant, bid for the even the thinnest veneer of veracity, the cast deliver the whole script solely via a guttural ‘Caveman Speak’, one might be forgiven for imagining that the films perceived shortcomings largely stem from difficulties in discerning the motivations and stated ambitions of the characters, but this is simply not the case: Like a monkey throwing shit at you at the zoo, you get the rough idea, and it’s horrible, yes, but you at least realise it’s nothing personal – they simply don’t know any better.
Caveman: 0.003%
It is a script, indeed, that can lay claim to have been drafted by some pretty heavy hitters. Writer-director Carl Gottlieb may be just one of the 482 people who claim to have written the screenplay for Jaws (others include Spielberg, book author Peter Benchley, John Milius (yawn), Ellen Degeneres, and the 1972 defensive line of the Green Bay Packers to name but a notable few), but it is inarguably his name splashed across that films credits. Co-writer Rudy de Luca, meanwhile, can count no less than the peerless High Anxiety uppermost amongst his triumphs. But, of course, everybody screws the pooch sometimes, and a closer inspection of their accomplishments reveals that not only did Gottlieb have a hand in Dan Aykroyd’s unseemly pimp requiem, Doctor Detroit, but that De Luca was one of the many lemons responsible for Mel Brooks’ astoundingly miscalculated Skid Row saga Life Stinks. Actually, did we say ‘Screw the pooch’? Make that ‘Even a blind squirrel finds the odd nut.’

On and on they grind Ringo’s motley crew, through Ice Ages, meteorite storms and endless raptor attacks, with no real clue as to what the original point may once have been. And if they don’t care any more, why should we? Much better to just sit back and bask in the special effects.
Obviously blown away by the tie-in merchandise that the toy company had produced to accompany their film/make low-income families lives a misery come Christmastime, the producers would seem to have ditched any consideration of rendering their dinosaurs in the Play-Doh marvels of stop-motion wizardry and decided it would be cheaper, easier and cheaper to just go with the toys instead. On strings, obviously. The result is curiously hypnotic, and culminates in a supremely outlandish final face-off that sees an amateurishly superimposed Ringo and Co. shaking their fists and hurling balsawood spears at the smooth, box-fresh belly of a marauding T. rex that quite clearly bears the embossed legend, ‘©Mattel Inc. Made in China. Pat. Pending.’

It is, like the rest of the film, a reminder that God is in the detail, and that whores will have their trinkets. Yes, whores will forever have their trinkets…

Bloody French...


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