Wednesday 8 February 2023

Never on Tuesday (1988)

Director: Adam Rifkin
Writer: Adam Rifkin
Stars: Claudia Christian, Andy Lauer and Peter Berg

Index: The First Thirty.

Here’s an unusual and little seen entry into Nicolas Cage’s filmography at a time when he made a few of those. Coming off Moonstruck, he ought to have been quite a draw, but Vampire’s Kiss was hardly a mainstream follow up and it doesn’t get too much more obscure than this.

Never on Sunday is absolutely packed to the rafters with talent, but it didn’t look like it at the time. The star is Claudia Christian, on the back of a magnificent sci-fi/action flick called The Hidden. Her co-stars were nobodies back in 1988 but somebodies today. Most of the name recognition, and there’s plenty of it, is buried without credits, because a lot of major actors flew out to Borrego Springs for a day each and a brief uncredited cameo, Cage included.

Clearly Adam Rifkin, another nobody at the time who would soon become somebody—he would write Mouse Hunt and Small Soldiers and direct Detroit Rock City—had very little budget to work with, but he found a clever way to use what he had. Two characters are driving from Ohio to California when they crash into the third. Neither car will start and so they’re all promptly stuck there, in the middle of the Californian desert, for the entire rest of the picture. Everyone else comes to them.

The two are Matt and Eddie, young men on a quest to conquer the beautiful women they’ll find in California. Matt’s the driver, played by Andrew Lauer, better known as Andy Lauer to fans of Caroline in the City, in which he portrays Charlie. Eddie is the passenger, in the form of Pete Berg, better known to Chicago Hope fans as Peter Berg, who plays Dr. Billy Kronk. Both are also directors, Berg in particular knocking out some major titles, like Battleship, Hancock and The Rundown. Lauer runs ReelAid, a non-profit called that produces low or no cost videos for other non-profits. Berg is the creator of Friday Night Lights for television.

At this point, Berg was debuting on film and Lauer only had one behind him, Blame It on the Night, playing Boy in Audience, so this was his debut in a primary role. Both feel new because the roles demand it. They were in their early twenties but they’re playing horny teenagers and they’re excellent at being na├»ve. Christian is shockingly the youngest of the three, albeit only just, because she seems so much mature than these idiot boys who crash into her car.

How much of what follows is real is open to debate. We shouldn’t question the crash itself, because Eddie’s proud of his hair and Matt has to play with it and so Eddie has to reciprocate and that knocks off Matt’s glasses and now he has to slam on the brakes to avoid the VW Bug that’s right in front of them. Which he can’t.

It could be that Tuesday isn’t even real, that being Claudia Christian’s character’s name. It’s not outside possibility that Matt and/or Eddie are about to die and the lives they wish they’d lived are flashing before their eyes. I don’t buy that, but it’s not dismissable as an idea.

Even if Tuesday is real, not everything that follows is real too, because both boys get their own fantasy scenes with Tuesday, both before and after they discover that she’s a lesbian, so isn’t ever going to be interested in them, even in the best of circumstances, which this isn’t.

However, a little arguing aside, they fall into a rather amicable framework very quickly, one in which Tuesday acts more like a friend they haven’t seen in years or some long lost cousin than the lady whose plans for a photoshoot in New York with her girlfriend are now broken. That isn’t remotely believable, so these scenes might be imaginary too, even if I’m wondering about who’s having them.

If we take it completely straight, which is an increasingly difficult task given the cameos to come, then it’s a quiet road but everyone on it is wild and wacky. Every one of them leaves us wondering what just happened, and that only in part because we recognise everyone.

Cage is first up, uncredited as a man in a red sports car. We see the car at 11:20, we see him at 11:40 and both are gone by 12:15. That’s less than a minute, even if it seems longer because Cage is in full on surrealist mode. I’m not sure if he’s trying to be Cyrano de Bergerac, with a long, pointed prosthetic nose, or Quasimodo, with a bizarre stoop and outrageous hair.

The voice isn’t either and I have absolutely no idea who he’s trying to be. Never mind his odd accent choice in Peggy Sue Got Married and Vampire’s Kiss, this is notably more outrageous. It’s a sort of wussy whisper, hints of surfer dude but only if said surfer dude is in such bad shape that he’s breathless just standing up. It’s quite the cameo.

At least he offers them a ride, but they don’t take it because they don’t know they need one yet. A scarily young Gilbert Gottfried doesn’t because he just runs through a sales pitch for a device that’s four brushes in one, ignoring every attempt they try to interrupt his spiel. He’s Lucky Larry Lupin and he’s memorable.

Charlie Sheen doesn’t just not give them a ride, he also robs them at knifepoint, slowly and methodically, one item at a time. Bizarre acting performance? “In the car!”

An almost unrecognisable Judd Nelson fails to help them too, though he’s a motorcycle cop. I’m not sure what he’s trying to do either, beyond be drunk on power. It feels like Rifkin didn’t tell any of these major actors what to do, beyond to be memorable and every one of them conjured up their own batshit crazy way to do that.

Eventually they get help, because the movie has to finish at some point and ninety minutes in seems like as good a time as any. The pair of backwoods hillbilly tow truck drivers, straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard, are Emilio Estevez and Cary Elwes, whose previous movies were Young Guns and The Princess Bride respectively.

What’s perhaps strangest is that I got a real kick out of this movie. I have more cash in my change jar than Rifkin had to spend here and it’s almost as widely seen, but he turned out a quirky picture full of memorable moments.

If you can find it, check it out and boggle at the cameos and the dated dialogue. Berg does a particularly solid job delivering deliberately tone deaf lines. “But why?” he responds when Tuesday tells them she’s a lesbian. He honestly thinks he can convert her, because it’s natural for gay people to turn straight, especially the women, but it’s not natural for straight people to turn gay.

Suddenly this film is topical again.

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