Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE SUMMER: Fraternity Vacation (1985)

“If you don’t let them go, I will never ever speak to you again … and I’ll marry a Democrat!”

Fraternity Vacation, 1985 (Tim Robbins) New World Pictures

It’s not fair to start off this latest iteration of summer teen sex comedy madness with such a superior example as 1985’s Fraternity Vacation. Nary would you find a movie made with this kind of quality and precision. The pedigree is impressive with a mixture of new and old faces including a young Tim Robbins, Stephen Geoffreys, Matt McCoy, and Barbara Crampton, balanced with Charles Rocket, Max Wright, and Britt Eckland (among others).

You would surmise from the first frames the movie is in black & white, but think of that as a Wizard of Oz homage, and if ever there was a landmass to compete with Oz’s madness, it would have to be California. The cinematography is quite impressive for a movie of this kind. I feel like I’m going to keep saying that throughout the review, but I must reiterate that Fraternity Vacation is a different kind of teen sex comedy. Best friends, “Mother” (Robbins), Joe (Cameron Dye), and Wendell (Geoffreys) go to Palm Springs for the summer. Why you might ask? Perhaps they’re looking for love, or they’re looking for consequence-free sex. Who knows?

Of course, we have jerks. McCoy (no surprise there) leads up that pack. There’s a fierce rivalry among these boys. They take a nice apartment with striking vertical blinds and no furniture in the living room, but they don’t care as long as they have beds, so they can presumably seduce comely young bikini-clad females. Wendell cramps “Mother” and Joe’s style by being the all-purpose klutz of the movie. In fact, it is his visage that adorns the movie poster. The boys manage to get two babes to come back with them to their rooms. The girls perform a classic striptease for them. I’m pretty sure you can google it.

Now that I think of it, this is probably a fantasy; at least until they overhear some talk of social disease between the girls (courtesy of smarmy McCoy). I fear things aren’t going to go well for them. McCoy, I don’t understand. He’s like a perverted accountant or something. The straights make a bet with the slobs that one of theirs can bag the pretty blonde Ashley (Sheree J. Wilson) on the other balcony before the slobs. The bet is contingent on audio or visual proof. And we have the premise!

Later, while club-hopping, Wendell strikes up a conversation with his Fright Night co-star Amanda Bearse. They make for a cute couple. He doesn’t seem all that interested in losing his virginity. Meanwhile, Joe obsesses over Ashley. They engage in poorly-thought-out childish theatrics to get the girl’s attention while Wendell lays rubber and rides horses with Amanda. The McCoys try their own tactics with Ashley, namely ’80s aerobics!

My only problem is that the girl doesn’t seem all that bright, and since we examine these types of movies through 2020 filters, the behavior on the part of the boys could be defined as predatory. Even Tim and his boy are not above this sort of behavior. As a 14-year-old, discovering this movie on satellite television, I didn’t have a problem with the content. When Joe tries to make a move, he’s suddenly overcome with guilt when she resists his advances. Interesting choice. Wendell is arrested after landing on an old woman’s balcony wearing only his underwear. Professional sour-puss John Vernon plays the no-nonsense Sheriff. He’s the cyclops of the movie; the image for young Wendell to overcome.

McCoy’s boy tries to get fresh with the girl, ostensibly during some yoga practice, but she knees him in the nuts. Wendell meets with Amanda’s parents. Her dad turns out to be … (drum roll) … John Vernon, which is pretty much what I figured would happen. Wendell surprisingly stands up for himself. He’s an outstanding young actor. Think of him as a much more talented version of “McLovin” from Superbad. Back to the premise. Both parties cheat in their bid to win the “Game of Ashley.” “Mother” and Joe doctor up some photographs and the McCoys make a fraudulent tape. It’s only then that Ashley discovers the plot.

The movie goes off the rails after that point; suddenly it becomes young people versus John Vernon. It seems like two movies were made and then joined at the hip, especially as the loose ends come flying together. I don’t know whether to fault the editing or storytelling. Director James Frawley made a name for himself as one of the chief creators of The Monkees television show then later as the director of The Muppet Movie. Barbara Crampton would become the Michelle Pfeiffer of Scream Queens. Amanda Bearse would become Al Bundy’s primary antagonist on Married With Children. Tim Robbins went on to become some kind of actor or something. I forget. He’s kind-of obscure.

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