Tribute #4: Losin’ It (1983)


A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

Losin’ It is the Superbad of the 80’s, but without the heart. Like the 2007 Judd Apatow hit, it is a teen buddy movie/sex comedy that was made to appeal to a similar age group. But there is something missing in Losin’ It – we never get the feeling of empathy for any of these characters. Instead we look down on them for their mischievous actions, their unfunny remarks, and their sheer carelessness about life. If the characters weren’t so selfish, this film would have been the fun romp it sold itself as being, but instead we are left with pin-pointing every one of their deficiencies. Said deficiencies are mostly caused by the pedestrian script (it is debatable that this word should be in quotes) written by Bill L. Norton. It is full of blabber and empty remarks that have become all too familiar these days in Van Wilder movies.

The worst part of the script is its attempt to be funny no matter what. It is an honorable proposition, but in the film nothing truly holds-up as funny. The film contains a lot more stupid-funny moments than clever-funny scenes and lines; so much so that at some point it even gets boring and the ‘jokes’ get tiresome. Yet the film is not a total wash, because it provides a great opportunity to witness immensely talented people lower themselves in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Breaking Away. These talented people contain such names like current A-lister Tom Cruise, the amazing actor Jackie Earle Haley, Into the Blue/Turistas director John Stockwell, legendary actress Shelley Long, and 8 Mile director Curtis Hanson.

All these names should not be faulted for the downfall of this film, they should only be hailed for the rare times they lift the film out of the ditches. The film is simply a story of four friends – the shy, closed-up Woody (Tom Cruise), the oversexed Dave (Jackie Earle Haley), the trouble making Spider (John Stocwell), and Dave’s witty brother Wendell (John Navin Jr.) – who decide to go to Tijuana to drink alcohol, party it up, and finally lose their virginities. They are accompanied by a relatively older woman (Shelley Long) who promises them a good time, but is with them for a different reason.

While director Curtis Hanson can’t do much about the silly parts of the film, he tries to dramatize the end of the film, especially scenes that involve Woody and Spider – the characters that while as one-dimensional as the other two, are the ones that seemingly have the least growing to do. The others, especially Haley’s Dave, are one joke caricatures that are there to counter-balance the complexity of Woody and Spider. It is surprising that fans of the film claim that the actions of Woody and Spider are too dramatic and don’t fit in the film, but I want to argue that they are what makes the film worthwhile. In the end these two characters are changed, for better or for worse, and that change represents the closest thing to a character arch in the whole film.

The acting is pretty good, especially for an 80’s movie. Cruise shows he is skilled in both comedy and drama in what is his first leading role. His character is pleasant and we are thankful he is the main one. Jackie Earle Haley does what he is called on to do – be obnoxious – and he is successful. He does go over the top , and the lines are not funny enough, but that isn’t really his fault. John Stockwell is the bad-ass Spider and he demonstrates the most force of all, sneering and cursing his way through a performance that is both provocative and cliched. John Navin Jr is clever and has great delivery. And as far as Shelley Long is concerned, she shows shades of her future self here, and her character is mysterious.

It is too bad that the film is technically pitiable. The Tijuanan setting is utilized well, as far as production design is concerned, but that is where the good part ends. The cinematography by Gil Taylor does not deserve mentioning. Even the scenes that contain naked women are easily forgotten, because of the boring photography. The editing is better – at least the scenes are in the order they should be. The worst part of the technical aspects is the sorry score by Ken Wannberg. If you are wondering what it sounds like, pick-up any John Williams 80’s score and imagine it had none of the creativity. That should get you pretty close.

Overall, Losin It is not good enough to spend time or money on. As an incidental watch on the AMC channel, it definitely fits, but it is important to note that the film never strives for more than being a sex romp comedy, even with Curtis Hanson’s attempts at invoking some dramatical elements. I can only recommend you see this film if you want to witness some famous names as you may never will again. Jackie Earle Haley especially, though he might do a comedic part again (unlikely after his turn in Little Children).

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