Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Night Shift: Hookers, Corpses, and The Fonz

Night Shift

I really love the 80s. I mean, what other decade can Shelley Long play a prostitute, and not be considered churlish. It's also the time for funny Michael Keaton, early Ron Howard, synthesizer music, and bizarre cameos of later-famous actors. Specifically, I'm here to talk about Night Shift, released in 1982. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Keaton in his first film role, and Henry Winkler in an amusing mid-Fonzie role. Co-starring Shelley Long and featuring a brief appearance of a young Kevin Costner as a frat boy, a very young Shannon Doherty, and enough corpses, hookers, pimps, and a disturbingly young Richard Belzer to fill some bizarre quota you didn't even know you had.

An oddly simple plot allows this movie to simply run around like a hyperactive toddler, following a relatively cohesive storyline, with surprisingly good pacing. Henry Winkler plays a decidedly anti-Fonzie milquetoast Chuck Lumley, a former Wall Street stockbroker who now works in a morgue to reduce stress. He gets moved to the Night Shift, and he just accepts it. He meets Bill "Blaze" Blazejowski (Keaton) a young, hip, exuberant crazy person just hired to work at the morgue. He almost immediately breaks the rules by using the hearse as an impromptu limo (and uses it to take a young Clint Howard to the prom). When Chuck finds his neighbor Belinda (Long) in the elevator, beaten up, he realizes that she's a prostitute whose pimp was killed in the opening scenes of the movie. Somehow, Bill convinces Chuck to become "nice pimps" to Belinda and a handful of other women. Needless to say, things get wacky, weird, crazy, and a little scary. Belinda's pimp's killers are looking for them, since they're muscling in on their racket with their stock options, benefits, and flex-plans or whatever. A shoot-out ensues, and eventually things turn out ok for everyone, except for the pimps, I guess.

Ok, I need to work on making my summaries a little more succinct. But I can't help it! This film is a classic in the Lady's household, and I'd never seen it up til a few weeks ago. I do have to say, Netflix has been a lifesaver lately.

I've always been a Ron Howard fan; a little trivia, the year before I was born (the year before this movie was released), my parents were in California visiting friends, and while out to dinner, they saw Ron Howard and his wife having dinner. They also had little baby Bryce Dallas with them, too. Anyway, good ol' Opie knows how to direct a movie, and he started to show his real chops with movies like Night Shift. Some of you out there may not know this, as well, but Michael Keaton was originally a purely comedic actor. In the 80s he gave us such gems as Beetlejuice and Johnny Dangerously. And now I realize that Night Shift fits that category as well. Henry Winkler is a great actor, as we see his transformation to hip, awesome, cool Fonzie into meek, antacid-popping Chuck. Of course, both Chuck and Bill learn some valuable life-lessons along the way.

I was never a fan of Shelley Long, though. Having her portray a heart-of-gold hooker doesn't do much to make her seem any cooler, either. She's a little Julie Hagerty to me, a little too waif-y and skinny and interesting looking to be pretty. Luckily, we don't see much of her anymore.

It's also interesting to note that Kevin Costner appears in this movie; he literally doesn't speak. He's a Frat Boy at a party that Bill decides to throw inside the morgue with the prostitutes. He also had a brief role in The Big Chill, released the next year, but his scenes were cut. Within ten years of Night Shift, he was literally directing, producing, and starring in an Oscar-winning movie. What the hell, Kevin Costner. If you can do that in less than a decade, why haven't I wanted to watch a movie you've made in longer than that? It's crazy.

Overall, this was kind of a rambling post. But the main point to take away is: It's funny. It's not ridiculous; well, it is a little, but in an oddly believable way. It's early enough in the 80s that it's not all hypercolor and neon and velcro Reeboks and whatnot, but it's not totally 70s anymore, either. The characters are interesting, fairly round, and easy to identify with. The premise is just outlandish enough to fit in with the era of Airplane!, Animal House, and the like, but real enough to not be some sort of bizarre spoof.

I liked this movie. I miss the comic days of Michael Keaton, the days that Kevin Costner didn't say anything, and the days that Shelley Long was a star. I miss nerdy Henry Winkler (he kind of reminded me of a less insane version of Henry's Barry Zuckerkorn character from Arrested Development. Ok, not really, I just wanted to remember Arrested Development for a minute). I think this post is getting so rambling because I'm watching part of the movie in my head as I write this. I liked it, and want to watch it again.

I recommend it. Go rent it. Find it, it's worth checking it out. And it's pretty low-key, so you can belong to a pretty cool exclusive club. I give it four start-up corporations featuring benefits, insurance, stock options, all for hookers out of five, or four strange senses of disbelief that Shelley Long could make a living as a prostitute out of five.

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