Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Stoned Age (1994) (Including New Interview with Director James Melkonian)

What better film to revisit on 4/20 than 1994's The Stoned Age, a comedy set in the 1970's dedicated to the proposition that even routine deadbeats can find a night of misadventure if the stars are properly aligned? Today, Chronological Snobbery is proud to present its review and analysis of that film, as well as an original interview with its director, James Melkonian.

Written by Melkonian and Rich Wilkes, and directed by Melkonian (who would later write and direct 1995's The Jerky Boys flick), the film is a low budget look at high school life in the late 1970s and the social dilemmas confronted by those in that world. Perhaps its most important lesson: Beware of lasers striking you at Blue Oyster Cult rock shows. Released one year after Dazed and Confused, The Stoned Age still has a nice charm to it, in that way that some indie flicks of the early 1990s still do, despite the passage of so many years.

Above: The film's protagonists, Hubbs and Joe.

The plot: Hubbs (Bradford Tatum) and Joe (Michael Kopelow) are two burnouts looking for something to do on a weekend night. They ride around in Hubbs' vehicle, dubbed the "Blue Torpedo," which has a large flying eyeball painted on its side. Armed with only a bag of "skankweed" and a huge bottle of Schnapps ("The Schnappster!"), they scour the town for parties and chicks. An alpha-male burnout bully, Hubbs takes for granted his friendship with Joe, who is often the object of insults by Hubbs. Joe, for his part, is a far more sensitive soul, especially after a bizarre experience he had at a recent Blue Oyster Cult concert. It appears that during the solo of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," a laser shone directly upon him, at which point "everything got kind of weird" when he had a vision of a "huge gnarly eyeball." Yikes.

Above: Joe is hit by a laser at the Blue Oyster Cult show.

The cardinal sin in this world is to be a "worm," namely, one who pilfers from another the opportunity to pursue "chicks." You see, information about the existence and location of single females is great currency. Rumor gets out that Crump's Brother (known by no other name in the film), recently released from jail, has located "some chicks." Tack (Clifton Collins, Jr.), an acne-plagued deadbeat, wanders off with this information, but ultimately alerts Hubbs and Joe, who ditch Tack and make their way to the home where the chicks are staying, which happens to be near "the old Frankie Avalon home," a convenient landmark. This irks Tack, who spends the rest of the film attempting to regain possession of the chicks.

Hubbs and Joe find the two chicks: the blonde Lanie (Renee Griffin), who multiple characters comment looks like the girl on a Scorpions album cover, and the dour brunette Jill (China Kantner) who is, at best, unappreciative of the presence of the two deadbeats at her father's home. Madcap hijinks ensue as Hubbs and Joe first attempt to buy liquor for Lanie, who is apparently accustomed to more adventurous suitors than they. Then, the four of them trek across town to a party held at the home of jock Jimmy Muldoon (Jake Busey), who admits Lanie and Jill but bars Hubbs and Joe from the party. When that affair is busted by the cops, the foursome escape back to the girls' home, only to be besieged by Tack and his cadre of beer swilling friends, and later, the very angry Crump's Brother who, it turns out, only claims the chicks because he saw them first and not because he actually knew them.

And then, after all that, Jill's father arrives. Hubbs and Joe can't catch a break.

Above: Lanie (Renee Griffin) opens the door and scowls at Hubbs and Joe.

Hubbs spends much of the film attempting to woo the traditionally hot Lanie, who ultimately accepts his bedroom advances. (Nudity alert!) Joe also spends much of the film pursuing Lanie, who rejects him, but who also causes him to realize that sometimes the girl who doesn't look like she belongs on a heavy metal album cover is the right one. He also owes this epiphany to his being hit by the laser, an experience Joe revisits often during the film. The bookish and demure Jill, initially stand-offish, warms up to Joe, and by the end of the film, they realize their mutual attraction for each other. (Joe scores major points by praising her intelligence when standing up to Jill's angry father, who seems to wish his daughter was more like Lanie.).

Above: Hubbs and Joe.

Located via his Facebook account, Melkonian was kind enough to submit to a brief email interview about the film and his experiences in bringing it to life.

1) Looking back from 2010, what do you think of 1994's The Stoned Age and its place in film history?
It is hard to say what place The Stoned Age has in film history. To me, I like to think it is in league with films like American Graffitti or Dazed And Confused, but since it was made for so small a budget and never really promoted, it is hard to say how many people even know the film. I honestly think it does a good job of capturing and satirizing the attitudes of a certain time period and subculture, and is actually funny, which makes it worthy of some note. The fact that it has a loyal albeit small following even 16 years later makes me think that it does deserve a place along with those other films.
2) What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film?
The tough thing was trying to get it made at all as an R rated teen comedy and with me as a first time director. My writing partner (Rich Wilkes) and I had a lot of interest from studios for the script, but since it was before American Pie or Superbad had cleared the way for R rated teen comedies, the studios wanted to make it a PG. So, we ended up making the film for a tiny budget so that we could do it with all the language, sex and drug references which were important to capture that world authentically.
3) I've read that although the year the film is set is not stated, you had 1978 in mind. Thus, it's been sixteen years since the film was released in 1994, and the film was set sixteen years before that. What do you think became of the characters shown in the film?
Hah! In some ways to me the characters seem so much part of the world of that time and the film, it's hard for me to imagine what they might being doing today. I would assume Joe, Hubbs and Jill would have ended up okay and been productive members of society like many of us who might have been rowdy in our youth. Things may not have gone so well for Tack and Lanie, but I hope they turned out okay. The 70s were an odd time to grow up with all of the drugs and debauchery, but most people I know no matter how off the deep end they were back then turned out okay.
Until a few days ago, when I began preparations for this post, I had not seen this movie since 2000. (Get this: The film can be streamed on Netflix.). It has a some amusing moments and catchphrases, and there is always a charm to a film made at this budgetary level. Much of the humor and fun comes from the characters themselves, their exploits, social etiquette, and slang. (A favorite moment: One character is almost offended when offered a regular sized can of the fictitious beer, Ox 45, because it is not a "tall."). For a low budget flick with a cast of unknowns, it works, and sometimes, even just the characters repeating phrases like "Tack's Chicks," "Crump's Brother's Chicks," or variations of the insult "worm" are enough to provoke a laugh.

For a film called The Stoned Age, there isn't much marijuana. Joe has a bag of "skankweed" with which he attempts to seduce Lanie in a hot tub, although she rejects it for its poor quality. Joe ultimately smokes it with Lanie, but despite it's title, the film is not really a pot comedy.

Above: Tack (Clifton Collins, Jr.) tries to find transportation to the chicks.

So, what became of the cast? As the blogger Darsh has noted at the HappyOtter blog, few of the actors and actresses in the film achieved any level of success after 1994; only Clifton Collins, Jr. truly remains active in the profession. For a film set in the 1970s, it's odd that there were no references to Jefferson Airplane, especially since Jill was played by China Kantner, the daughter of singer Grace Slick and vocalist Paul Kantner. (In fact, an infant China Kantner appeared on the cover of the 1971 LP Sunfighter by Slick and Paul Kantner, who were doing a solo effort away from Jefferson Airplane.). Social media alert: Michael Kopelow, who played Joe, has a MySpace Profile and plays in the band, Captain Pants. And finally, behold, the trailer for the film:


Abbytron said...

I had no idea the girl who played as Jill was Grace Slick and Paul Kanter's daughter. "The Stoned Age" is a really good film, and was the first place I ever hear the term Schnapps. Good times.

Abbytron said...

Haha, typing in the morning is hard.

Anonymous said...

Renting this movie qualifies as a misadventure in my youth. It was late on a Saturday or Friday night and after having done the routine suburban loop around strip malls and other kids doing loops around suburbs and strip malls my best friend and I checked this out at the video store.

Perhaps we were lured by the "Better than Dazed and Confused" shill quote, or perhaps because the nubile on the cover was doing something a bit more provocative than Milla Jovovich was doing on the cover of D&C, I don't know, but we watched this.

It was painful. This movie is surely one of Pinhead's implements of torture designed to rip souls apart.

The initial conceit is charming and oddball, the laser contact at the Blue Öyster Cult show (Buck Dharma does have power). But the movie rapidly degenerates into catchphrases (that lo, so many years on I still remember) such as "Shut up, Tack" and "The Schnappster."

You were right to point out that Hubbs was a monumental dick. Pretty quickly we decided we didn't like him and the rest of the movie he was annoying and douchey. His character had no growth.

Similarly annoying and douchey was the comedic "relief" of Tack. I think a fitting punishment would be for Tack and Hubbs to be set on an island together Huis Clos style.

Only Joe was remotely likable.

The barf under the cushion was a puerile gag. I know it is probably funny after a few drinks and you imagine that it happened for reals this one time, but on celluloid it just was gross (not funny) and then kinda asinine (what, dad has no nostrils wherewith to smell the reek of schnappster-infused sick?).

The director hits that "Dazed and Confused" or "American Graffiti" belong in a certain class of teen movie. This is true, because there is a sense of nostalgia and growth at the end of each of those.

As "Tuesday's Gone" plays and Mitch gets his "one free pass" from Mom after a night out under the moontower with girls in bell bottoms (Parker. Posey) we know that this night, like the day in detention for the Breakfast club, is transcendent, rare; it is a night where banality seemed the ne plus ultra of existence, and the knowledge that perhaps someday you would recognize it as banal was already planted.

Or, as the crawl of Modesto-Francisco of "American Graffiti" ends we know that the cars, the girl in the thunderbird, going off to college, and that plane out of this place will change there lives, there's the sense that maybe this was the best night of a phase of life that would never be caught.

The heart weeps a little, and we all recognize the fleetingness of friends and happiness.

"The Stoned Age" doesn't deliver this. It uses a historical context to tell the same fart jokes and chick-chasing banality that you can see in American Pie 2-99, the Van Wilder sequels, etc.

gfen said...

i have far fonder memories of this than i do of dazed and confused.

i watched it at some point when it was repeated multiple times a night on cinemax or some shit, and now i fully intend to stream the fuck out of it and thrill tot he gnarly eyeball.

that, my friends, is somethign that has made into the lexicon of sub-mainstream alt culture. you get someone who knows the gnarly eyeball, and its on.

also, i have fond memories of china kanter being smoking hot, but i could be getting confused with her stint on suck-ascendant-mtv.

Anonymous said...

The only place that threw me was "The El Paso Barbeque" behind Tack when Connolly spits the loogie on his face as they are driving.

I couldn't figure that out cause I have no memory of a BBQ joint by that name in the South Bay from that time, maybe I am wrong as that was a stoned age for me when that film was made.

Anyway, does anyone know-was it this place in Tarzana?


Maybe it was a chain and there was one somewhere down there, if so--where the hell was it?

The movie is a classic BTW

kopp said...

el paso bbq was a resturant in tarzana that i think had been closed down for a while. i remember seeing them filming it all over, liquor world, michaels even my familys muffler shop can be seen in the movie, all ventura blvd. love this movie

kopp said...

el paso bbq was a resturant in encino /tarzana that i think had been closed down for a while. i remember seeing them filming it all over, liquor world, michaels even my familys muffler shop can be seen in the movie, all ventura blvd. love this movie

Harrison said...

This movie made the rounds on pay TV in the late-90s and it seemed like it was always on late at night. I watched it twice - always catching it midway through - and loved it just because it seemed so specifically tuned into this micro, microcosm of society.

I've seen it twice since those days and it still holds up well.

But it is a tough movie to find the title for if you can't remember it. I spent a lot of time Googling "eyeball car."

I'd love to see a sequel.

SlackerInc said...

I consider myself a movie snob for the most part. My favorite films tend to be critically acclaimed dramas, foreign films, etc. But I'm fond of a couple of the better John Hughes teen movies, and I would actually consider this better than those. Anyone who thinks this movie is just a lowbrow "dumb comedy" isn't paying attention at all. There are some goofy jokes, but the characterization is actually amazingly nuanced. This is a thoughtful, smart film masquerading as a B-movie.

Crumps Brother said...


Crumps Brother said...

Wow!!! Someone who gets what makes this movie great. Great comment by the way.

Sam Weisberg said...

22 years after watching it, i still remember not only the movie's greatest line but one of the funniest lines EVER (the movie itself is OK, but this one line almost makes great): when Joe and Jill are discussing Don't Fear the Reaper she says: "Yeah, it's a love song...and it doesn't even have the word 'poontang' in it!" Genius. Utterly genius. If only the whole movie was on that level!

EricBourland said...

It's a subtle, very funny film. Underrated. A charming movie with a great soundtrack. Evokes some fine nostalgia. They don't, and probably can't, make them like this anymore.