Monday, December 26, 2022

#2,885. Over the Edge (1979) - Jonathan Kaplan Triple Feature


Jonathan Kaplan’s teen drama Over the Edge marked the screen debut of Matt Dillon, here playing the type of street-savvy, hard-nosed character that would define his early career, whether he was the hero (The Outsiders) or villain (My Bodyguard).

Yet as good as Dillon is, what stayed with after watching this 1979 film was my reaction to its story, which was not the reaction I was anticipating. Set in the brand new, isolated suburban community of New Granada, Over the Edge approaches juvenile delinquency and teen violence not as a problem that needs to be dealt with, but (in this case, anyway) the natural progression of what occurs when parents, to make a better life for themselves and their families, fail to consider the effect it will have on their kids. Cut off from the world, these youngsters have nothing to do, and stirring up trouble is their way of dealing with the sheer boredom of it all.

Carl Willat (Michael Kramer), one of the many teens residing in New Grenada, comes from a good home. His father (Andy Romano) owns a successful car dealership, and his mother (Ellen Geer) loves Carl unconditionally. Yet, despite a seemingly stable home life, Carl has fallen in with a crowd of “troublemakers”, including Richie White (Dillon), Claude (Tom Fergus), and Cory (Pamela Ludwig), on whom Carl has a crush.

Carl’s father is particularly annoyed at his son’s behavior, which includes being hauled to the police station with Richie by Sgt. Doberman (Harry Northup), who is convinced the two shot a BB gun into the window of his squad car (it was actually done by another teen, Mark Perry, played by Vincent Spano).

Though forbidden to hang out with Riche and the others, Carl and his friends continue to stir up trouble, attending an after-hours party and firing a gun that Cory and her friend Abby (Kim Kliner) swiped from a nearby house.

When the vandalism and lawlessness costs the community some possible investors, who were looking to put up a strip mall, homeowners association president Jerry Cole (Richard Jamison) and Sgt. Doberman enact a curfew, and even go so far as to shut down the local rec center run by Julia (Julia Pomeroy), the only place where the kids can blow off a little steam.

But it’s a sudden and unexpected tragedy that will push the teens “over the edge”, causing them to lash out in a way nobody would have dreamed possible.

Kramer and especially Dillon deliver strong performances as kids dealing with the monotony of their secluded community as best they can. The rec center where they and their friends hang out is nothing more than a makeshift garage with a few games for them to play. Yet it is always overcrowded; every kid is there just about every day because it’s all they have.

They are continually harassed by the police. In one very tense scene, Sgt. Doberman strolls into the rec center and, ignoring Julia’s protests, arrests Claude for drug possession, causing a near-riot when he tries to lead his new prisoner out of the center and into his squad car.

Kaplan and screenwriters Charles Haas and Tim Hunter do a fine job bringing us not only into the world of these teens, but their mindset as well. They are restless and fed up, and mayhem is all they have to keep from losing their minds. Even a glimmer of hope, the promise of a movie theater and skating rink, is taken from them when the homeowners association decides to use that land for the potential strip mall instead!

Being a father of two adult kids, I’m now of an age where, if I’m not siding with the parents in Over the Edge, I should at least commiserate with them. And I do, to a degree. But their lack of understanding when it comes to their kids’ so-called delinquency frustrated the hell out of me. Carl’s parents do eventually come around (spurred on by Carl running away from home and hiding out for days in a partially-constructed home he and the other kids use as a hangout), and his father even speaks up at a hastily called parents meeting, to address the growing problem. But by then, it’s too late. The kids have reached their breaking point, and put in motion an elaborate and even dangerous plan to get back at the adults once and for all.

As I said, I understood the parents to a degree, but I was team kids all the way, and actually rooted for them during the film’s shocking conclusion.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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