Summer Rental

August 9, 1985

I don’t review that many straight ahead comedies, but I admit sometimes there’s something kinda comforting about watching a mediocre one from when I was younger. I thought maybe I’d seen this one at the time, but if so it didn’t seem familiar. But it’s not the kind of movie you necessarily remember for 35 years.

It’s the story of Jack Chester (John Candy, THE SILENT PARTNER), an overworked air traffic controller – pushing tin, you know – who has a bad day on the job and is compelled by his boss to use the five weeks of vacation he has saved up. So he packs up the family – his wife Sandy (Karen Austin, S.O.B.), teenage daughter Jennifer (Kerri Green, who had only been in THE GOONIES), younger son Bobby (Joey Lawrence, Gimme a Break!) and toddler Laurie (Aubrey Jene, didn’t take up acting) – and heads for the beach town of Citrus Grove, Florida.

It was kind of fun watching it with no memory of its contents, or even its premise, because it actually took me a bit to figure out where it was headed. Okay, so they’re staying at a pretty fancy place, what is the tension gonna be here? It seems like the rich neighbors are pretty snooty, must be a conflict with them. I figured it out at dinner time when they go to a lobster restaurant with a long wait – this really captures the cumbersome feeling of family vacations – and Bobby comments on all the photos of this guy Al Pellet, who has won the regatta seven times in a row. Even before I realized the guy in the photos was Richard Crenna (BODY HEAT) I thought “Wait, this is a boat racing movie?”

It takes a while to get to that, well after Al and Jack fight over a table and the Chesters have to go to have dinner at a dive bar that I guess is built onto an old ship, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I did immediately guess the hook-handed pirate-talking owner of the establishment, Scully (Rip Torn, CITY HEAT), was gonna have to be his boating mentor. Eventually.

Since I mainly know Crenna as Colonel Trautman, it’s funny to see him playing a really broad goofball villain, a guy that delights in being a snobby, petty asshole and lord over everybody like they should give a shit about his sail boat excellence. It’s not a slow boil – he flips out in his introductory scene, when Jack accuses him of stealing his table. “Oh, is this your table?” Al asks, banging on the table, and soon is asking “Is this your wife?” as he starts shoving his own wife for some reason.

Candy was known from SCTV and many smaller parts in things like 1941 and THE BLUES BROTHERS. But SPLASH had been somewhat of a breakout for him, and here he finally had a starring role. He was very good at this mild but relatable type of comedy where he keeps getting the shit end of every stick, and tries to stay positive about it. His buffoonery is mostly innocent than Clark Griswold’s – he’s generally not an asshole. There are jokes about a horrible sunburn, a long slapstick scene about walking through a crowded area accidentally leaking cooler water over everybody, plus one I should’ve seen coming where they find out they’ve been staying in the wrong house. I thought that scene was pretty funny – a long drawn out awkwardness as Jack carries everything out while making small talk with the owners to avoid acknowledgment of his humiliation. The wife (Saundra Dunson-Franks, THE LAST MOVIE STAR) politely responds, while the husband (Dick Anthony Williams, UPTIGHT, THE LOST MAN, MO’ BETTER BLUES, BLOOD AND BONE) fumes.

You also got your extended comic tangents, like the next door neighbor (Lois Hamilton, INVITATION TO HELL) who invites him over for iced tea and then takes off her bikini top to ask his opinion on her recent boob job. He thinks this is going to get him killed by her husband (Carmine Caridi, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK), but it turns out she does this all the time, and he just wants Jack to tell her they look good so she’ll feel better about herself.

That scene goes right into another little sketch based on the premise that while he stepped out somebody went into his cabin to use the bathroom and next thing you know everybody else was inviting themselves in. It’s just like mother! When he comes back it’s like a scene from mother!, the place completely filled with entitled intruders, including a guy sprawled out on his bed refusing to leave because “I’m tryin to watch The Smurfs.”

There’s some kind of sweet fatherhood stuff, especially a scene where his daughter gives him kind of a pep talk. The sailing comes from an attempt to bond with his son, after he remembers it as one thing he was actually good at when he was young. But he crashes his rental boat into fancypants Al Pellet, starting a real feud that escalates until Jack decides to make a crazy bet on the regatta. The pretty cool underdog conceit is that no, he’s not some rich dude with a boat, but he convinces the crusty old bartender Scully they can refurbish his restaurant ship and enter it in the race.

In addition to the Chester family, the crew includes Scully’s weirdo buddies Angus (Richard Herd, SCHIZOID), who’s practically a live action Groundskeeper Willie, Cortez (Santos Morales, THE EXTERMINATOR) and Yorku (Harry Yorku, VICE VERSA).

John Larroquette (CAT PEOPLE) has a weird role as a charming rich dude named Don who runs into Sandy and the kids at the movies, pays for their tickets and invites them to go out on his boat, where they have a great time and his son and Jennifer are obviously smitten with each other. It seems like there will be tension, because Sandy already seems to be out of Jack’s league, and he’s too distracted to notice this dude is kind of stealing her and his family from him… except nothing comes of it, other than Don being in the audience cheering for them at the regatta. I wonder if there was originally a thing where Don makes a move and she’s tempted but realizes she loves her husband and Don honorably concedes and becomes friends and they realized this was way too much for a movie like this and cut it out? His part definitely seems abbreviated.

Following the precedent of my DAY OF THE DEAD review, I had to figure out what movies were supposed to be playing at this Florida theater (the Beach Theatre of Saint Pete Beach, Florida, still standing but not in operation, judging by the Google Street View).

This time there are more posters, and they’re all Paramount releases, but they’re easy to make out, no research necessary. FOOTLOOSE and TOP SECRET! are the posters on the outside of the theater. Those were released in February and June of 1984. In the small lobby we can see another FOOTLOOSE, plus UNCOMMON VALOR (December 16, 1983), FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (March 22, 1985), DRAGONSLAYER (June 26, 1981) and AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL (December 10, 1982). The building doesn’t look like it could’ve fit very many screens, so I doubt all of these movies were still playing. But I guess it’s possible that people here only care about the beach and aren’t gonna notice that there’s a four year old not-that-great dragon movie still playing.

This is overall a competent piece of middle of the road filmmaking, but there’s an above average amount of ADR jokes, hearing conversations while we just see the car driving or the outside of the house or something. And there’s one straight up bizarre moment when little Laurie asks, “Mommy, can I play in the basement with Yorku?” and it’s clearly dubbed by an adult doing a kid voice, like an old GAMERA. If you can get past the voice it’s still the most off-putting part of the movie because… I mean, Yorku is this old weirdo and I think there’s an implication that they might not want the kid to be alone with him? I mean, what else would the joke be? (We later see her innocently combing his hair. It’s fine.)

And setting that aside, Yorku is still intriguing because it’s unclear if he’s an employee of the bar or just a drunk who hangs out there, and he’s one of those oddball characters who seems like he might be an actual weirdo just being himself, which is supported by them calling him by his actual name (though the credits call him “Pirate Musician”). It turns out he’s only in two other movies, one of them released one week after this one, and he doesn’t seem to be a musician or anything. Just a mystery. Luckily I found this interesting tidbit from a lady who went to see SUMMER RENTAL and thought oh shit, that’s Harry-san from Aikido class! She seems to have already viewed him as a legendary figure.

I will say two nice things about the end of the movie. One, I like the implausible touch that he’s able to win (spoiler) using a random piece of air traffic control knowledge. Two, it’s what I call a “That’ll do, pig” ending – not that it’s in any way moving like the ending of BABE, but it uses that method of immediately ending after they win the race (spoiler) instead of pretending like we need to spend a couple minutes winding down after that.

According to Wikipedia, SUMMER RENTAL was filmed from March 18, 1985 to May 15, 1985 (fast turnaround!), so the Jason movie is the one that would’ve been most likely to really be playing at the time. I’m gonna guess that is not the movie Sandy brought the kids to. Upon further examination, I see that FOOTLOOSE is marked as now playing, and TOP SECRET! coming soon. So she didn’t have the same experience my mom had of contemplating making us leave after the baby cow sucks the guy’s dick.

SUMMER RENTAL is directed by Carl Reiner (between ALL OF ME and SUMMER SCHOOL), written by TV writer Jeremy Stevens (The Diahann Carroll Show, The Electric Company, Fernwood Tonight, The Richard Pryor Show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, Thicke of the Night) and Mark Reisman (just Thicke of the Night). It was produced by George Shapiro (Andy Kaufman’s manager who was played by Danny Devito in MAN ON THE MOON). But the idea came from executive producer Bernie Brillstein, based on his experiences as a heavy man taking a family vacation to California. (I don’t know if he entered a boat race.)

The movie opened at #2, a little above PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. But it ultimately made less money and, I’m gonna go ahead and guess, less of an impact on humanity. It gave me a few minor chuckles, though. I didn’t really expect more than that.


Summer of 1985 connections:

John Candy of course already co-starred in BREWSTER’S MILLIONS and had a cameo in FOLLOW THAT BIRD, Kerri Green was Andy in THE GOONIES, Richard Crenna was Colonel Trautman in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, and Carmine Caridi was in BREWSTERS MILLIONS. Alan Silvestri knocked out the scores for both this and BACK TO THE FUTURE. This one is more of a smooth TOOTSIE type vibe with some steel drums, which represents beach. Cinematographer Ric Waite also did BREWSTER’S MILLIONS.

Like NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION it has a part where the tourist family ordering food and not knowing that in the kitchen they just heat up a frozen meal for them. The joke is a little different, though, because here its observably a dive, whereas in EUROPEAN VACATION it was supposedly fancy French cuisine (I was unsure if this joke was that such a thing is a fraud or that they didn’t want to cook their regular food for these American assholes).

It follows the trend of having a major artist provide an original song – “Turning Around” by Jimmy Buffett. It’s used during a boat-fixing montage and the end credits.

Pop Culture:

Jennifer is constantly listening to headphones, and the two times we get to hear what she’s listening to it’s “Axel F Theme” and “Footloose.” Like I told you, movie theme songs were popular in those days. That actually seems accurate.

Jack and Scully get in a drunken who-would-win-in-a-fight argument in which Scully claims that “Jimmy Cagney will disintegrate your Sylvester Stallone.” He also drunkenly sings the theme from Love Boat.

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