The Peanut Butter Solution (1985) — New solutions create new problems

“Quiet, or I’ll put you in the net!”

Sitting Duck’s rating: Only three downs and now this. What is your problem, Canada?

Sitting Duck’s review: Like any other peoples, the Canadians have their share of hits and misses when it comes to creative endeavors. I have fond memories of Gordon Korman’s Macdonald Hall books, and The Red Green Show is a rare instance of Men Being Men comedy done well. But our northern brethren and sisteren have brought forth worse abominations than the For Better or For Worse comic strip (though not by much).

It all started back in the late 1960s, when the Canadian Parliament decided it would be a swell idea to offer subsidies for filmmakers, with the usual justification of economic stimulus. As a result, a veritable horde of two-bit auteur wannabees and tax evading producers descended upon the Great White North and unleased an avalanche of dubious cinematic product.

One of the many, many questionable flicks to sprout in the environment created by this problematic legislation was The Peanut Butter Solution. I first encountered this thanks to the podcast Reels of Justice putting it on trial, with MST3K’s own Deanna Rooney (Dr. Donna St. Phibes) defending it. It was ultimately found not guilty of being a bad movie, despite the compelling evidence offered by That Scene. I’ll go into the details later, but it is the sort of scene that makes you doubt the filmmakers have any concept of good taste or basic human decency. Probably the closest analogy would be That Scene from Troll 2. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about there, I envy you innocence.

So the question is has this movie been unfairly slandered and had its good name restored thanks to its day in court? Or is Deanna Rooney in truth a Mob-financed attorney who has aided a vicious felon in evading justice so that it can terrorize unsuspecting kids logging on to Tubi with the false lure of a children’s movie tag? Only one way to find out, if you dare.

Michael Baskin (Matthew Mackay) is a typical 11-year-old Canadian saddled with an annoying older sister (Alison Podbrey) and a flaky artist father (an ironically hirsute Michael Hogan, nearly twenty years before Battlestar Galactica). One day, he and his friend Connie (Siluck Saysanasy of Degrassi) go off to explore an abandoned mansion that had burned down the previous night. During their excursion, Michael encounters the ghosts of two vagrants who died in the fire (Helen Hughes and Griffith Brewer), an experience that terrifies him.

Now you might expect that he’d just end up with a stinky pair of underpants. Gross and humiliating, but nothing a quick wash and a fresh set of briefs can’t fix. But it’s much worse than that, as all of his hair ends up falling out. Children being the vicious sociopaths they are, his peers at school subject him to mockery and derision.

Fortunately, the ghosts feel kind of bad about this and offer to help. They give him a recipe for a mixture of several odd ingredients that, when applied to his scalp, will cause his hair to quickly grow back. But it’s important that he get the ingredients in the right proportions. Finding the concoction too watery, Michael adds more peanut butter to thicken it up. He administers it and eventually his hair starts growing, and growing, and growing, and growing, and growing, and… well you get the idea.

Now we’re coming up to That Scene. So if you’re prone to getting The Vapors or are otherwise of a sensitive disposition, you might want to skip over the next couple of paragraphs or maybe just hit the Back button.

While Michael is cagey about telling anyone about the source of his hair growth, he does let Connie in on the secret. Connie gets the bright idea to administer the gunk on his own nards, and what can only be described as anti-hilarity ensues.

Oh, cut it out with the screaming already!

There’s also a hack art teacher who insists as being addressed as Signor (Michel Maillot) at the school who is like a villain straight out of a Roald Dahl book. For whatever reason he believes that Michael’s ever-growing hair can be used to make magic paintbrushes. We’re not talking about something that would grant a mediocre talent with the ability to produce a work at a higher skill level. No, these magic paintbrushes allow you to dunk them into random pots of paint and slap it on canvas like some demented monkey to produce paintings that rival those of the Masters. So he kidnaps Michael and a bunch of other kids and sets up a sweatshop that cranks out magic brushes to sell at twenty bucks a pop.

This is not the sort of movie I would have sought out on my own initiative. Had it not appeared in the Reels of Justice docket, I probably would have gone through life never being aware of its existence and have been happier for it. The first problem is that I’m not a big fan of child protagonists, and Michael is a prime example of why. Put simply, he’s a whiny little puke. Perhaps I’m too far removed from my childhood to appreciate how dire youthful anxieties would appear from that perspective. He’s a still a puke, though. I have more sympathy for his sister, who is shown be saddled with responsibilities (such as managing the household finances) well beyond what she should be dealing with at her age.

One scene that sticks to mind on account of its absurdity occurs when a wig Michael wears comes off and his baldness is revealed to the rest of the school. That they react with derisive laughter is no surprise. Much as some folks may wish to believe otherwise, children are perfectly capable of being horrible little turds. But then it crosses an event horizon of ludicrousness as the humiliated Michael dashes off and the other kids form a Freelance Shame Squad and chase him across town, yelling their juvenile taunts. It’s just too preposterous to take seriously.

However, the elephant in the room plotwise is the Signor’s scheme, which makes less sense the more you think about it. The obvious rejoinder is, “So don’t think about it!” But like a traffic accident, you can’t avert your gaze once you’ve spotted it.

First off, does he really expect to sell those brushes? Twenty bucks is a lot for a single paintbrush, even taking into account that it’s Canadian money. It’s hard to believe that a potential buyer would be willing to plunk down that much cash on an unproven product. But even if he were to sell enough to make the whole enterprise worthwhile, he’s just undercutting himself.

Not so deep down he’s a frustrated would-be artist with no real talent. So wouldn’t it benefit him more to keep the brushes to himself? That way, he has an exclusive hold on the ability to make high-quality paintings with these brushes. Then he could gain great acclaim as an artist and become a zillionaire. Sure, he’d know in his heart that he’s a fraud, but the Signor doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who would lose sleep over it. But by selling them to the general public, the market would be flooded with the paintings produced by these brushes and result in their value cratering. Unless that’s his intent (his motives are never made that clear) or the brushes have a limited shelf life, his current ploy does nothing but attract unwanted attention to him.

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis concerning children’s literature that can apply to children’s movies as well. The basic gist is that if you can’t enjoy it as an adult, then it probably wasn’t worth enjoying as a kid. I certainly didn’t care for this movie as an adult. And while I’ll concede that I liked some Gawdawful tripe during my misspent youth, I’m reasonably sure that, if I had watched The Peanut Butter Solution at that time, I would have hit the stop button before it concluded. The only reasons I can think of for checking it out are morbid curiosity or a chance to see Michael Hogan perform what may be his most un-Colonel Tigh-like role. You certainly won’t be going in for tasteful entertainment.

Ever-growing nard hair, dear Gawd.

Didja notice?

  • Skippy Peanut Butter reputedly paid good money for product placement in this movie.
  • Early Celine Dion in the soundtrack.
  • Only in Canada could that quack get a practice.
  • Gratuitous Brylcreem jingle
  • Stockholm syndrome rears its ugly head.
  • To paraphrase Crow T. Robot, “No matter how much the movie insists that there’s excitement, I must respectfully disagree with it.”

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