Directed By: Floyd Mutrux
Starring: Tony Danza, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Wuhl
Tag line: "At last, a motion picture that moons a man on the land"
Trivia: "Tubby's Drive In" was actually an A&W Root beer that was closed down
If you judge a comedy by how many times it makes you laugh, then 1980’s The Hollywood Knights is a definite winner. I recorded this movie off of cable when I was in high school, and watched it on a regular basis with my father and brother. We cracked up every time we saw it. But if it is story and a cohesive flow you’re after, you’ll want to stay as far away from this film as possible. While The Hollywood Knights does, indeed, have some hilarious individual scenes, as a movie it’s a goddamn mess.
It’s Halloween night, 1965, and Tubby’s Drive-In Restaurant, the unofficial headquarters of a car gang known as the Hollywood Knights, is about to close its doors for good. But if the Knight’s designated prankster Newbomb Turk (Robert Wuhl) has his way, Tubby’s farewell will be one he and his friends will remember forever. Taking aim at: 1. the Homeowners Association, which, headed up by Jacqueline Freedman (Leigh French) and her assistant / lover Nevans (Richard Schaal), is responsible for shutting down Tubby’s; and 2. the local high school, where Mrs. Freedman’s cuckolded husband Jack (Garry Goodrow) is principle, Newbomb and a few of his cohorts embark on an evening of hi-jinx that will have these authority figures seeing red for months to come. The Knights will have to watch out, though, because patrolmen Bimbeau (Gailard Sartain) and Clark (Sandy Helberg) are keeping a watchful eye on them, and are just itching for a reason to throw the Knights into the slammer.
In addition to his packed schedule of practical jokes, Newbomb is also in charge of the initiation of four new Knights (played by Michael Binder, Joey Camen, Daniel Davies and Duane LaDage), who, if they’re to have any chance of joining the gang, must make their way through Watts (on foot), then get the DJ at a local radio station to dedicate a song to Tubby’s. To make their task even more difficult, Newbomb has the four strip down to their birthday suits and hands each of them a car tire, telling them that they (as well as the tires) must be back at Tubby’s no later than 2 a.m. (closing time).
Not all of the Knights are taking part in the evening’s festivities; Jimmy Shine (Garry Graham) has joined the army, and is scheduled to report for basic training the next day. To send him off in style, his best friend (and fellow Knight) Duke (Tony Danza), as well as their good pal, a mechanic named Smitty (James Jeter), have a surprise in store for Jimmy that he’ll never forget. Duke also has some problems of his own, most of which involve his girlfriend Suzie (Michelle Pfieffer), a waitress at Tubby’s who wants to be an actress. Suzie has a screen test the next day, and Duke can’t decide if he’s afraid she’ll fail the audition or that she’ll become a big star and leave him behind.
With its classic cars and a soundtrack featuring groups like The Beach Boys and The Drifters, The Hollywood Knights was clearly inspired by American Graffiti, though the humor ventures further into gross-out territory than George Lucas’ film ever did. Some of Newbomb’s pranks are fairly straightforward (he lights a bag of dog shit on fire and leaves it on Mrs. Freedman’s porch), while others are truly inspired; along with a crude (in more ways than one) rendition of the song “Volare”, which he performs at the school’s talent show, Newbomb and company “spike” the punch for the Halloween dance… by pissing in it! This is merely a sampling of the chaos that Newbomb Turk unleashes, and Robert Wuhl (making his screen debut) is damn funny in the part. Also good is Fran Drescher as Newbomb’s sometimes-girlfriend Sally and Stuart Pankin as band nerd Dudley Laywicker, the butt of several jokes who, by the film’s end, has joined forces with the Knights (Pankin’s performance is often over-the-top, yet his portrayal fits the character nicely).
Alas, a few hilarious moments does not a film make. In fact, The Hollywood Knights isn’t so much a movie as it is a hodgepodge of scattered gags. While Newbomb Turk is, indeed, a legendary prankster, he’s also a magician, able to transport himself from the school, to Tubby’s, to the dance, to Watts, then back to the school again in what seems like the blink of an eye (the guy is literally everywhere, leaving us to wonder how he gets around so quickly). Even worse than the continuity are the so-called “serious” scenes that pop up from time to time; the tense romance between Tony Danza and Michelle Pfieffer is almost laughably crowbarred into the movie, a failed attempt to add some drama where none is needed (the side story about Jimmy going to Vietnam is more effective, but doesn’t get enough screen time to fully develop). As for the pledges, they’re forgotten for a fair majority of the film, though they do have some humorous encounters while making their way through Watts (like when they decide to wrap themselves in some bed sheets, leading a few residents to believe the Klan has come to town).
Ultimately, The Hollywood Knights is not a movie I can recommend. Hell, like I said above, it’s barely a “movie” at all! But with a handful of uproariously funny scenes, it’s also hard to tell you to stay away from it completely.