Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE SUMMER: Mischief (1985)

“Why are you so interested in my sex life?”

Mischief, 1985 (Doug McKeon) 20th Century Fox

On a beautiful day in 1956, Jonathan Bellah (Doug McKeon) took the car out for a drive in town. Enter Marilyn McCauley (Kelly Preston) walking down the street. Jonathan couldn’t keep his eyes off her, so he swerved and hit a fire hydrant. So begins Mischief, In the tradition of American Graffiti, Porky’s, and The Hollywood Knights, this is a “baby-boomer” teen sex comedy and, refreshingly, the film is made with great production values, and vintage cars and costumes. In under five minutes, we have two vehicular accidents. This town is a death-trap! The new arrival in town, Gene (Chris Nash), on his motorcycle, is nearly side-swiped by Kenny (D.W. Brown) and his girl, Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart).

Jonathan befriends Gene and they talk about chicks and cars while shooting hoops. Gene claims to have been kicked out of school for having sex with two girls (at the same time?) and all of a sudden, he’s a god to the other kid. Later that night, they go to the town fair. Gene, being a “loner” (a rebel, I guess) catches Bunny’s eye, meanwhile, Jonathan is hopelessly in love with Kelly Preston, even though she’s way out of his league. Gene gives Jonathan pointers on how to trap Kelly, or at least corner her for a kiss.

Think of it as a marriage of convenience. Ordinarily, I don’t think these two would be friends, but since Gene is new in town and Jonathan strikes up a friendship with him, we have a movie. Some of this is really silly, such as Jonathan repeatedly dropping his pencil so he can pick it up and get a look at Kelly’s panties and then subsequent efforts to conceal his erection in the middle of class. While following Kelly on his bike, Jonathan flips over the hood of a car and crashes on the pavement. I’m convinced Mischief is a movie about vehicular accidents! Kelly rushes to his aid and wipes the blood from his face. He manages to cop a feel on her breast. Rather than horrifying her, she is amused. This wouldn’t be a teen sex comedy without unrequited love, and I don’t mean Jonathan. A girl more suited to his speed, Rosalie (Jami Gertz) stalks Jonathan everywhere he goes. It’s obvious the filmmakers want Kelly to be the “beauty queen” so they do everything they can to make Jami unattractive, giving her glasses and braces, but it doesn’t work.

Kelly asks Gene out on a double date at the drive-in where they see Rebel Without a Cause. Jonathan goes along, hoping he can spend time with Kelly, but his date Catherine seems oblivious to this. This is a bit of a jumble. Bunny likes Gene. Jonathan likes Kelly, and poor Jami is left out in the cold. Kenny challenges Gene to a game of chicken. He’s an idiot, but I think Gene is the clear winner. After losing, Kenny starts a fight with Gene. Are you kidding me? After his car is impounded and towed, Bunny breaks up with Kenny, and Gene’s father (Terry O’Quinn) brutalizes his son in front of everybody. Later, they go drunk motorcycle driving and get stopped by a cop who takes pity on them and tells them to walk their bike home. This really is a movie! Gene and Bunny fall in love, and Jonathan and Kelly spend time together. Too many good things are happening to our heroes! Surely, the film’s two primary antagonists, Kenny and Gene’s father, will provide some much-needed conflict?

Kelly tells Jonathan her parents will be out-of-town for the weekend, so he sees this as his chance to finally lose his virginity. This is too good to be true. Once they get through the fifteen layers of undergarments required back in those days, they get into bed, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have a condom so he bargains with her about how far he can put it in and promises he’ll take it out. You don’t see these kinds of scenes in most movies, and certainly not teen sex comedies. Mischief is certainly in a class of its own. There is sex, but there are also consequences. There are the requisite tests of bravado and machismo, but the heart of Mischief is the loss of innocence and the birth of youthful wisdom, and it actually comes through in the storytelling.

The first time I remembered seeing Kelly Preston in a movie, it was John Carpenter’s Christine. Oddly enough, she was the Jami Gertz of that movie — a girl John Stockwell pretty much ignores in favor of Alexandra Paul. Later in 1985, she appeared in Secret Admirer. She had a memorable role in John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-Up. She married John Travolta (with whom she had three children) after the two starred in The Experts in 1989. In movies thereafter, she was usually relegated to playing humorless wives and ex-girlfriends (most notably in Jerry Maguire), occasionally showing up with bit parts in movies like From Dusk Till Dawn. She died on July 12, 2020, after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

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