Thursday, June 9, 2011

Comedy Cataclysm: RACQUET (1979)

Never let it be said that I am not one for empathy. Tom endured the dreadful 70s comedy SWAP MEET (1979) a few weeks back and I must have subconsciously felt bad for him as I sought out RACQUET, an even more abysmal comedic offering from the same year.  If swap meets get your 70s nostalgia rolling, then RACQUET will send it into overdrive with its focus on the swap meet for rich folks – tennis!  With visions of hilarious hi-jinks thanks to the Jack Davis style poster, I thought I was going to get the story of an irrepressible rebel ruffling feathers at a stuffy country club. Instead, I got a vanity project for perennial game show host Bert Convy that casts him as stud muffin that is not only desirable to all women, but is able to hold his own with world tennis champ Björn Borg on the tennis court.  If this movie was an eBay seller, I’d leave negative feedback about false advertising.    

Following a catchy theme that declares “there’s nothing like a slam to make you feel like a man,” we are introduced to tennis vet Tommy Everett (Convy).  An aging pro who teaches at a country club, Tommy finds out his boss Charlie (Bobby Riggs, still cashing in on his “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match with Billie Jean King 6 years later) is looking to replace him with 22-year-old Joe.  This puts Tommy into action and he figures he can start up his own tennis club.  He finds the ideal house in Beverly Hills, but the snobby realtor Miss Baxter (Susan Tyrell) wants $200,000 upfront. That is no problem as Tommy has a side business – humping the horny housewives of the Hills under the guise of “tennis lessons.”  His main client is role play loving Leslie Sargent (Edie Adams).  Their first onscreen session has him as the Bionic Man and her as the Bionic Woman (how contemporary).  The gag here is that Tommy says he has a “Bionic peeper” which causes them to have a Bionic orgasm that shoots them to the ceiling in slow motion (see pic). Sadly, they don’t use the familiar Bionic leap sound.  The session ends with her saying “I think I liked you better as Hitler” and promising Tommy the cash for his tennis club from her husband Arthur (Phil Silvers).  To make matters worse, Mrs. Sargent’s 17-year-old niece Melissa (Kitty Ruth) is spending the summer with them and she just finds Tommy dreamy.

Anyway, professional gigolo Tommy seems to have it all going his way until he gets booked for a tennis lesson by Mrs. Monica Gordon (Lynda Day George). Seems she is an old flame, recently divorced and the only lady really looking for tennis lessons from Tommy.  Well, you know he is going to work that irresistible charm and woe, er, woo her back even though she “doesn’t want to get hurt again.”  That is what picnic montages are for baby and soon the couple is back in love.  Even though he has feelings for Monica, Tommy can’t resist that two hundred thou that Leslie dangles in front of him.  With her husband heading out of town on business, Tommy heads over for a game of Anthony and Cleopatra, but not before the cab driver warns him there is a sex maniac on the loose wearing only underwear and carrying a tennis racquet (can you see where this is heading?).  Post-session Leslie goes out for some cigarettes and – wouldn’t you know it – Mr. Sargent comes home early.  He even has the same cab driver who warns him about the sex maniac on the prowl (for the slower audience members apparently).  Mr. Sargent mistakes Tommy in bed for his wife and slips into something more comfortable so he can get his freak on.  More specifically, he dons a turkey costume and proceeds to run around the room gobbling in what surely has to be the low point of Silvers’ career.  Tommy sneaks out of a window in the nick of time.  Meanwhile, Leslie arrives back, jumps into bed in a Wonder Woman costume, discovers her husband and says, “Arthur, you turkey!”  Wah, wah, waaaahhhh!

But don’t you dare think the hilarity has ended there!  Tommy is quickly whisked off the street by some black guys who want to steal his wallet.  He tries to reason with them by saying, “Wait. Listen, you guys don't have to rip me off. I'm a soul brother. Yes, see my curly hair? I speak your language. Alright! Far out! Outta sight! Mutherfucker!” This goes over so well that they drop him off on Hollywood boulevard in – wait for it – his underwear.  Gee, I wonder if some cops will…too late!  They spot him and immediately think he is the sex maniac on the loose, despite not having a tennis racquet. This results in a convoluted chase that ends with Tommy at the mercy of some drag queens before he is saved by the teenager Melissa, who then takes him to a disco.  The next morning the same cops (they working 24 hour shift back then?) spot him again and Tommy steals a “just married” car with a couple actively screwing in the back.  This leads to a car chase that ends with Tommy smashing into an Italian wedding party, which naturally leads to a food fight.  The girl in the backseat pops up from her sexy time to see the wedding party and exclaims, “Oh my god, it's my mama, my papa…and my husband!” Wah, wah, waaaahhhh!

Now don’t you double dare think the hilarity has ended there!  Mrs. Sargent gets wind of Tommy having flirted with her niece and refuses to give him the money now (using the old “I was going to give you the check tonight” routine). Monica offers to give Tommy the money he needs for his tennis club.  Of course, he is a man and he “wants to do it my own way.”  Dumbass.  This allows for Tommy’s other client Mrs. Kaufman (Dorothy Konrad) to make her move. See, she’s been hearing gossip about Tommy’s extra curricular activities and, like all ladies, wants a piece of that ball boy. So she whisks Tommy off to Las Vegas for business but when she tries to put the moves on him, he recoils in fear.  Why would professional lothario Tommy refuse money-for-sex? Well, she is fat!  Oh folks, this is comedy right here. Anyway, Tommy has somehow discovered what he is doing is wrong and heads back to the loving arms of Monica back in California.  Good luck with that relationship kids. Oh, I forgot to mention, somewhere in the middle of all that he manages to play in a tennis tournament where he loses to but holds his own with the world’s no. 1 tennis player, Björn Borg.

Okay, I think I have officially put more work into writing about RACQUET than the actual screenwriters did.  But even my words can’t describe how bad and unfunny this film is. First off, you have to realize Bert Convy is the lead.  Convy was best known for hosting a billion game shows so casting him as the lead in comedy is absurd.  That would be like giving Pat Sajak his own talk show.  It ain’t gonna work.  But they take it a step further by playing him as a sex god to women.  Uh, even to my heterosexual eyes this guy is no panty dropper.  He’s always looked like the missing Brady son to me.  Even worse is having the 46-year-old hold his own with Borg, the world’s no. 1 tennis player at the time.  Their match turns into a hilarious affair that would make Leni Riefenstahl proud as director David Winters focuses on Convy’s hamstrings in slo-mo.  Now I’m all for the suspension of disbelief in movies, but I can guarantee you that Convy said to Hollywood friends, “Eh, he was okay.  I could have beat him.”  Borg was definitely in the wrong era when it came to sports star crossovers.

Director Winters, who would later do THE LAST HORROR FILM (1982) and THRASHIN’ (1986), seems to have no idea how to do comedy.  I knew I was in trouble when the first 5 minutes has a fat lady walking and they shoot her butt while inserting thumping sounds with each step. If Winters hadn’t co-founded 90s cheese staple A.I.P. (Action International Pictures), I would be really pissed at him. Even more amusing is this Box Office magazine piece about Convy wanting good, fun family flicks on the market.  He says one rewrite of the RACQUET script was “just trashy and terrible.”  So they gave it over to the man himself and he rewrote it.  His final, star approved product brought forth a film with a dozen “shits” and one “wanna fuck” in the first ten minutes.  Ah, classy.  I would have preferred “trashy and terrible” cuz maybe I would have gotten a topless tennis scene.  I also love that Convy has a plot point of trying to get it on with a 17-yeary-old.  I’m sure Chris Hansen sat in the theater enraged…like the rest of the audience for other reasons.

About the only enjoyment I got from this “comedy” is the aforementioned catchy theme sung by Guy Finley (linked below). Finley actually left the music business in 1979 because he felt his life was empty and moved to India to become a mystic guru. Hmmm, empty life…l979…hey, that is when RACQUET came out.  This film is so freakin’ bad that it drove a guy halfway across the globe to escape it. That has to be it.  Either that or he got a threatening note from Randy Newman saying, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

Box Office review, June 18, 1979:

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