Joe Dante fondly recalls teen-romance and the gimmick-happy fright-flicks of schlock-meisters like William Castle (THE TINGLER/’59; HOMICIDAL/’61) in this hit-and-miss coming-of-age comedy set during the scary days of the ‘62 Cuban Missile Crisis. (He'd have been about 16 at the time.) John Goodman & Cathy Moriarty are just great as a cash-strapped would-be mogul and his leading lady/factotum, and Dante neatly works in lots of affectionate cameos from B-pic vets in both the main story and in the hilarious film-within-a-film horror-spoof MANT – Half Man/Half Atomically Charged Ant!! (See bonus poster.) When the three lines of action (Preview Screening; Teen Dates; Nuclear Scare) all come together in the last act, the film turns into a comic fugue of the first order, but Dante has less success getting us there. Perhaps the teens are too darn generic, though that’s part of the gag. Perhaps, like MAD MEN, they get the period details right, but miss that ‘New Frontier’ spirit. (You can see a bit of what’s missing in a standout parody of a typical ‘60s Disney family comedy about a guy who’s not a shaggy dog or a monkey’s uncle, but a shopping cart. They’ve even managed to recreate the horrible ‘canned’ kiddie laughter those films pulled out of some temporarily Disneyfied Stepford Kids.) Don’t let the weak spots keep you away, spend some quality time spotting the fine period film posters on display at the theater when things get a little slow.
DOUBLE-BILL: Tim Burton’s ED WOOD/’94 covers a similar subject with a depth of response Dante wasn’t shooting for. A better match might be Robert Zemeckis’s I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND/’78, about The Beatles’ Stateside debut in ‘64 which is a treat all the way.