"I have to go. My planet needs me."
Not too long ago, Alec Baldwin mentioned in an interview that he was retiring from acting. His exact words were:
“I consider my entire movie career a complete failure. The goal of movie-making is to star in a film where your performance drives the film, and the film is either a soaring critical or commercial success, and I never had that.”
Could this really be true? Not about the retirement, I predict he’ll pull a Dan Aykroyd in no time. I mean could Baldwin be right about his career? The guy’s been a name forever; certainly he must have turned in at least one outstanding performance.
Well, we’re going to find out in a new Critical End! feature that Logan and I are calling Home School. A Home School will be a series of posts that takes a chronological look at a group of related films. This could be a bunch of sequels like the Friday the 13th films, or the catalog of a particular actor or director. By the end, we’ll have taken an interesting little journey, obtained some perspective on the subject matter, and likely filled in some gaps in our cinematic education. All from the comfort of our couches (hence “Home School”). This inaugural installment will explore the entirety of Alec Baldwin’s catalog in an attempt to test the actor’s own hypothesis that he’s never done anything worthwhile. Join us, won’t you?
Alec Baldwin Home School: Forever, Lulu (1987)
Not to be confused with the Melanie Griffith/Patrick Swayze movie of the same name, Forever, Lulu (AKA Crazy Streets) is the 1987 comedy that marks the feature film debut of one Alec Baldwin. According to IMDb, he’d been floating around TV since 1980, most notably on Knots Landing. But since that season isn’t on DVD yet, we’re going to keep things simple and start here. Joining Alec is Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, and Hanna Schygulla, who I’d never heard of, but is apparently an incredibly well known German actress. See? We’re learning things already.
Schygulla stars as Elaine, a wannabe author living in New York. Her sleazy manager won’t publish her novel because it’s not sexy enough, but she refuses to compromise her artistic vision, even though she’s down to her last nickel. She’s so destitute that she ends up taking a job writing the script for a porn movie just to make ends meet. Not a bad premise for a late 80s comedy. Except that’s apparently not the premise.
I guess she finishes the porn script off-camera, because it’s barely mentioned again. Instead, we get scene after scene of Elaine’s miserable existence. She sulks in her shitty apartment, gets grifted by a con artist, and complains about her love life to her annoying gal-pal sidekick who is NOT Debbie Harry. Occasionally, Debbie shows up in the periphery to stare knowingly and say absolutely nothing. It’s as if she’s in the talky introduction of a music video and she’s waiting for her cue to break into song.
Finally, more than 20 minutes in (and not a Baldwin in sight), Elaine grabs a gun and prepares to blow her brains out. Unfortunately, she’s interrupted by a phone call to go on a blind date. She agrees, but the date goes so poorly that she ends up running into the street, waving her gun in the air, and yelling about her crappy life. An approaching couple mistakenly thinks she’s mugging them, so they give her their coats and run. In the pockets, she finds a picture of Debbie Harry signed “Forever, Lulu” and a mysterious address. Now, the story begins!
There is no visual record of "Buck", so enjoy this picture of a young Baldwin posing for Young and Hairy Quarterly.
Well, kind of. First we get several more boring scenes of Elaine whining indecisively and parading around in her stolen mink coat. Some goon recognizes the coat (I think?) and tries to mug her, but she’s rescued handily by Buck, a strapping NYC cop portrayed by, you guessed it, Alec Baldwin. We’re 28 minutes in, but our hero has finally arrived to awkwardly hit on Elaine, get rejected, and then disappear again for most of the film.
Then a bunch of other crap happens. She goes to the address, witnesses a murder, and ends up stealing a briefcase full of money from the mob. So the mob’s looking for her and she’s got to decide what to do with the cash. It’s been like 45 minutes at this point, and I THINK this is now supposed to be the real premise of the film. Except all she does is sit around and brood some more before deciding to turn the case over to the cops.
Yep, no wacky Blank Check style spending spree, she just comes clean about the whole thing. But, she’s able to turn her story into a best-selling book! Now a famous author, she hobnobs with the rich and famous in another series of long, uneventful scenes. Meanwhile, gangsters halfheartedly try to kill her, and Debbie Harry continues to drop in to stand around silently. There’s also some oddly casual nudity from Schygulla, and an appearance by Wayne Knight as a shoe-licker in a fetish club. None of this actually advances the plot.
At about an hour and 15 minutes, the mobsters finally manage to capture Elaine and…I guess demand an apology? It’s pretty damn unclear what they actually want since she already told the police everything and doesn’t have the money anymore. Anyway, they’re about to kill her when Officer Baldwin makes his triumphant return and saves the day. In the process, the picture of Debbie Harry is splashed by some clearly-labeled Paul Newman salad dressing, which reveals a secret message!
The photo actually concealed the names of the city’s biggest drug dealers. Alec instantly recognizes the names, leading me to wonder why a list of already-known drug dealers would be at all valuable. At any rate, with the three thugs dead, clearly nobody will every bother Elaine again, so she and Alec celebrate by getting it on in the back of a dirty mob-owned fish market. In the last scene, Elaine finally runs into Debbie Harry, recognizes her as Lulu, kinda shrugs at the coincidence, and walks away.
Obviously, Alec Baldwin wasn’t yet a star, so I wasn’t that shocked that he plays a glorified bit part. But I gotta tell you, for a film with the tagline “Two outrageous women are turning New York City upside-down!” I expected a story with at least two women. Take a look at the DVD cover again. It’s a production shot from that final scene, the only notable time Debbie Harry actually interacts with Hanna Schygulla. If all those wistful glances were supposed to be significant enough to elevate Harry to co-star status, I guess that significance was lost on me. And I don’t buy that the best friend is the other woman either, as she’s mostly an afterthought.
Anyway, no one was expecting the first film in Baldwin’s catalog to validate his career, and it certainly doesn’t, but he escapes mostly unscathed. In a movie that manages to feel interminable at 85 minutes, Baldwin’s scenes are a welcome relief. This is partly because he has the good fortune of being in the few scenes that actually shove the plot forward. But it’s also due to Baldwin’s undeniable likability, a theme I’m pretty sure we’ll see repeated as we continue our voyage up his IMDb page. His performance is hammy and one-dimensional here, but you just can’t help enjoying it at least a little.
So that’s our first Home School. I promise they won’t all be so long. Next time, we’ll take a look at She’s Having a Baby, which provides a bigger role for Baldwin and a bit more opportunity for critique.
Movie Rating: 4 out of 10
Baldwin Rating: 5 out of 10
Biggest Takeaway: Hanna Schygulla is difficult to watch when clothed. Further study needed.
Quote for Your Facebook Status: “Have you ever made love to an older woman in a fish store?”