Friday, March 31, 2017

#2,328. Tomboy (1985)

Directed By: Herb Freed

Starring: Betsy Russell, Gerard Christopher, Kristi Somers

Tag line: "It's not just a man's world anymore"

Trivia: Kristi Somers wore her own dress in this film

Tomasina “Tommy” Boyd (Betsy Russell) isn’t just another pretty face. For one, she loves sports, and was quite the ballplayer in her younger days (the film opens with a flashback of Tommy hitting an inside-the-park home run during a little league game). Now all grown up, Tommy still plays basketball, but dedicates most of her time to her true passion: cars! See, Tommy is one hell of an auto mechanic (her boss Chester, played by Richard Erdman, says she’s the best he’s ever seen). Seville (Kristi Somers), Tommy’s closest friend, tries her damnedest to get Tommy to go to parties and act like a regular girl, but to no avail. That all changes, however, when Tommy meets her idol, race car driver Randy Starr (Gerald Christopher), who she’s had a crush on for years.

These days, Randy works for millionaire playboy Ernie Leeds Jr. (Eric Douglas), owner of what many insiders say is the fastest race car in the city. With Randy as his lead driver, Ernie hopes to win the Daytona 500. But instead of focusing on his career, Randy has been spending time with Tommy, and before long the two are an item. Their relationship hits the rocks, however, when Tommy tells Earl (Philip Sterling),the Leeds family’s top investor, that she’s built a car even faster than Ernie’s, and to prove it she challenges Randy (who says no girl can beat him on the track) to a race. Will Tommy’s big chance to show what she’s made of cause her to lose the only guy she’s ever loved?

If nothing else, I give 1985's Tomboy points for originality; not many ‘80s sex comedies featured an independent woman in the lead role, and while she may not be the best actress you’ll ever see, Betsy Russell is extremely likable as Tommy. In fact, aside from Tommy and her boss Chester, the rest of the characters in Tomboy aren’t worth a damn. Though a loyal friend, Seville is a gold digger, ready to hop into bed with any guy who can further her career, and for a time she even hooks up with Ernie Leeds Jr. in the hopes he’ll finance a TV pilot she wants to star in. There are moments when we like Randy, Tommy’s love interest, but he’s also a male chauvinist; minutes after Tommy shows up at a party at Ernie’s mansion, she walks in on Randy and his friends, who are watching a porno movie. Disgusted, Tommy storms out, and when Randy catches up to her, instead of apologizing, he tells Tommy she needs to learn some “social graces”.

Worst of all is Ernie Leeds Jr., who is such a prick in almost every scene that I kept hoping someone would knock some sense into him (preferably with a crowbar). At the party Tommy attends, Ernie isn’t so much the host as he is a pimp, setting pretty (and often topless) young women up with influential (and lecherous) middle-aged men. This, combined with the way he talks to his own girlfriend (he tosses insults at her while she’s doing his nails, for Christ’s sake), makes Ernie Leeds Jr. one of the most contemptible characters ever to grace this sort of film (and for an ‘80s sex comedy, that’s saying something).

The real problem with Tomboy, though, is its script; the movie meanders from one scene to the next, as if it was searching for a story to latch onto, but coming up empty. In one sequence, Tommy sits and watches Seville’s dance audition, then follows her into the shower afterwards, where Seville (naked, of course) insults her dance partner's manhood (as uncomfortable as the dialogue is in this scene, it’s nothing compared to the cringe-inducing payoff). A later sequence involving two leather-clad hoods in a sports car goes absolutely nowhere; and I have a feeling the whole point of the motorbike race between Tommy and Randy (which takes place early on at Ernie’s estate) was to get Betsy Russell’s top off (Tommy falls into the water, and quickly sheds her wet T-shirt). For a large portion of its runtime, Tomboy feels like a series of unrelated moments strung together to make a feature-length film, and it isn’t until the last 20 minutes or so that the movie finally finds its legs.

With its strong lead character and Betsy Russell’s almost cherubic performance, I really wanted to like Tomboy. But in the end, there simply wasn’t enough meat on its bones, and as a result I cannot recommend it.

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