Mischief (1985) — Crushes in the era of Brylcreem

“You may not be the biggest stud, Jonathan. But, at least you have a family.”

Justin’s rating: Hey Mister Sandman, give me a dream!

Justin’s review: I always find it a bit weird that there was a spate of ’80s movies set in the ’50s and ’60s, but I guess that’s no more strange to all of the ’80s-themed films that were made in the 2000s. I guess there’s always that nostalgia factor for filmmakers who want to share something from their youth. By the look of Mischief, these filmmakers were equally stupid for girls and cars.

Set in Ohio 1956, Mischief centers around the high school exploits of clumsy Jonathan (Doug McKean) and greaser Gene (Chris Nash), who meet and bond over chasing their respective crushes. Jonathan can barely talk to bombshell Marylin (Kelly Preston, Space Camp), while Gene pines after Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart, Night of the Comet), who is already dating a rich jerk. Gene gives Jonathan tips on being cool and connecting with women, while Jonathan… I guess he brings hero worship to this friendship. This situation is further complicated by Marylin’s attraction to Gene, Bunny’s boyfriend coming under the impression that Jonathan is the real threat, and a geeky girl who’s carrying a quiet torch for our blonde protagonist.

And while Gene is easy to peg as a one-note James Dean wannabe early on, an abusive home life and a clear desire to establish a positive relationship or two give his character a much-needed dimension. Jonathan isn’t quite a cherub himself; oftentimes he gets a little too creepy for his own good. The hope here is that both friends will end up balancing each other out.

Someone called Mischief “Norman Rockwell by the way of Porky’s,” and I can think of no better way to classify it. There’s a wonderful small town, back-in-the-day quality to it — similar to A Christmas Story — but there’s nothing childlike here. It’s all about teens handling their sexuality in the most embarrassing and awkward ways possible. It’s basically American Pie with sockhops, drive-ins, and drag races.

This tug-o-war between affable innocence and fumbling sleaze continues through most of the film. It’s messy and inconsistent, but that’s to be expected — it’s not like Mischief emerged from the ’80s a bonafide classic. It’s not quite as funny as I was hoping, and this film’s inability to stick the landing no doubt held it back.

Much younger me might’ve been interested in the sexcapades, but older me simply appreciates the work that went into making a quirky period piece. I also liked, as I did with American Pie, the focus on friendship and love above sex. It’s hard not to root for Jonathan and Gene, especially as it seems like the whole town is out to get them at times. At the very least, the 1950s vibe and the great classics soundtrack make Mischief pretty enjoyable. But I don’t think we have to go to the “very least” here.

Didja notice?

  • The awesome Star Wars fake-out at the beginning
  • Don’t scope out girls while you’re driving
  • Are carnival kissing booths still a thing? I’ve never seen one in real life.
  • The Intermission sign faked me out too
  • “Act sober and pull over to the curb!” Cue an instant bike crash.
  • The mannequin in the bed was funny

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