Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the River with Otter, Flounder and Pee-Wee With Nary a Paddle in Sight :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Robert Butler's Up the Creek (1984)

Opening on a fairly active Sunday morning at what's left of Lepetomaine University after a wild Saturday night, four miscreants are forcefully rounded up by campus security for an audience with Dean Birch. Apparently, since the only thing any student at good ol' "Lobotomy U" has ever won was an early parole, the Dean (Jonathan "Higgins" Hillerman) wants a Victory with a capital "V" for his Alma Mater in the upcoming Intercollegiate Whitewater Raft Race. And so, Bob McGraw (Tim "Otter" Matheson), a career student with more than twelve years of higher learning under his belt with just as many major and University changes to boot, lovelorn Max (Dan "Pee-Wee" Monahan), who can never get a date, Gonzer (Stephen "Flounder" Furst), a gluttonous halfwit, and Irwin (Sandy Helberg), a nerdy dork with a penchant for hard liquor, have been chosen for this honor because they have nothing left to lose. (They aren't at the bottom of the list, purports the Dean, but they ARE the bottom of the list.) And to sweeten the pot, Birch offers them all degrees, in any subject, if they can somehow manage a win.

Thus, with the set-up neatly tucked away in a helluva hurry, our boozed-up quartet of perennial losers, accompanied by Bob's wonder dog, Chuck, head to the river. At a pit-stop along the way, however, our plot thickens a bit when Bob falls for Heather (Runyon), who just bounced her former boyfriend, Rex (East), head preppie of Ivy University. Meanwhile, Rex and his cronies (-- who all appear to be clones of Vincent Van Patten), are in cahoots with Tozer (Sikking), a crooked Ivy alum, who just so happens to be the sponsor of the raft race. Armed with torpedoes and oars that double as harpoons, any vessel they can't disable Tozer vows to disqualify, meaning victory is all but assured for the Mighty Crimson of Ivy U.

Still, the early favorites to win are the cadets of Washington Military Institute, led by the *ahem* inspired Captain Braverman (Novak). That is, they were the favorites until Bob accidentally interrupts Braverman’s own sabotage attempts, which gets WMI disqualified. Thus, with the start of the race fast approaching, while Bob is a moving target from many scopes, Max strikes out (-- a lot), Gonzer eats (-- a lot) and Irwin drinks (-- a lot). Alas, after Bob and Heather slip into something more comfortable (-- namely, each other), Rex and the Van Pattens come calling, catching them post-flagrante delicto, and pound our hero into mush ... Man, poor Otter. Does this happen to him in every movie?

Do you ever find yourself yearning for those halcyon days of the early 1980's and all those teen sex comedies? Ones like Loose Screws, Spring Break, and Harbodies, where drinking was encouraged, pot smoking was hysterical, wet t-shirt contests spontaneously erupted with an alarming frequency, while every guy tried to screw anything that moved? You know, the ones you wanted to see while your folks dragged you kicking and screaming to Ordinary People ... Yeah, those. Robert Butler's Up the Creek is one such film. Financed by Sam Arkoff's son, Louis, this wild yarn of boobs, beer, and a whitewater raft race was, at the ripe old age of 13 and half, the very first R-rated film I managed to bluff my way into. Don’t tell my mom, okay? She still doesn't realize I've never actually seen Splash.

Released in 1984, Up the Creek kinda brought up the rear for this kind of romp, as these horizontal-bop-fueled comedies tended to cycle around on the same schedule as their boon companion, the horizontal-bop-fueled slasher movie. For the cast, Arkoff plucked a couple of leftovers from Animal House, ground zero for this kind of thing, and a guy from Porky's, which Bob Clark moved inland after John Landis, Belushi and co. established such a firm beachhead. True, this cast of genre veterans were a little long in the tooth to be doing this kind of flick by the time it was made, but they all appear to be having a total blast as they run through the paces one last time -- especially Furst, who finally got to ditch Flounder and play Bluto for at least one film. In fact, everybody appears so comfortable that Up the Creek comes about [-this-] close to crossing the self-awareness threshold and stumble into self-parody.

For those who grew up with their VCR's in the 1980's, Up the Creek p'rolly won't offer anything you haven't seen before, but I think there are enough tweaks and gonzo-performances to keep you entertained as Bob recovers from his beat-down in time for the start of the big, two-day race. See, only the first five teams that make it to a certain checkpoint will be allowed to race the next day, and, somehow, despite the spectacularly failed efforts of Wile E. Braverman, and even though their raft was blown out of the water and sunk on two separate occasions by Rex, our gang of misfits manages to get the last flag -- thanks to Chuck.

Ah, but in true slobs vs. the snobs fashion, later that night, our boys sneak into the Ivy camp, looking for a little payback, and destroy it rather ludicrously. But during the confusion, Irwin is captured by Braverman's rogue cadets and staked out as bait for the others. For, after all that head trauma accrued throughout the day of back-firing retaliations, the good Captain is now a few cans short of a six-pack; evidenced by his logic that there can be no winner of this race if there is no course, explaining why he just ordered his men to blow the river up. And he has enough C-4 to do it!

Meanwhile, Chuck manages to find Irwin and leads the others, after a nifty game of charades, to his eventual rescue. But our heroes barely make it back to their raft before the river goes boom. Caught in the divergent flash-flood, our heroes are soon swept away by the angry torrent ... Is this the end of the boys of Lobotomy U? Well, I wouldn't bet on it...

Yeah, I do love this movie so, and probably more than I should, but, eh. [That's me shrugging right now.] Also of note, Up the Creek also falls into the 1980's fad of having its name covered in the theme song. This time, courtesy of Cheap Trick.

Video courtesy of cheaptrick's channel.

Stranded in VHS purgatory for years and years, Up the Creek has finally made the digital jump, available though MGM's Limited Edition Collection, meaning it's a made-on-demand DVD-R, like the Warner Archive discs. And like the Warner Archives, $20 is still too much to pay for this kind of no-frills return in my humble opinion. But, sometimes, nostalgia can be a bitch that tends to stomp a mudhole in logic, leaving it goobered up and stranded -- hell, no need to spell it out, you know where, without a paddle.

Up the Creek (1984) Orion Pictures / EP: Louis S. Arkoff, Samuel Z. Arkoff / P: Michael L. Meltzer, Fred Baum / D: Robert Butler / W: Jim Kouf / C: James Glennon / E: Bill Butler / M: William Goldstein / S: Tim Matheson, Stephen Furst, Dan Monahan, Sandy Helberg, Jennifer Runyon, Jeff East, Blaine Novak, James B. Sikking

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