Exploiting our Archives: Control Nathan Rabin: National Lampoon's Last Resort
Well, folks, July, AKA Corey Feldman month here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, hasn’t even begun (I’m writing this on June 29th) and I am already wondering if I have made a terrible, terrible mistake. I am officially one Corey Feldman movie in, and already I feel like I may have reached my limit.
As part of Feld-month, I gave this site's Patreon patrons the opportunity to force me to see one of two atrocious-looking Feldman vehicles from the sad years (i.e any time after 1989): National Lampoon's Last Resort or South Beach Academy. You chose to afflict me with National Lampoon's Last Resort.
What I just suffered through is technically a comedy motion picture from 1994 starring the once-popular duo of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim from the formerly non-pathetic satirical institution known as National Lampoon, but it felt more like a vast ocean of sadness wanly masquerading as mirth.
I fear that the morbid fascination/obsession with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman that led me to spend part of the remaining time I have left on this planet watching all of National Lampoon’s Last Resort will prevent me from experiencing even the meager enjoyment theoretically enjoyed by people who might have watched the film when it came out after literally every other movie in the video store was rented out, and also probably saw it either on a dare or by accident.
Having read Feldman’s memoir Coreyography, I am acutely aware of the sad state the Coreys were in when they made the film. Though National Lampoon’s Last Resort is a beach movie, Haim’s character spends much of the film inexplicably wearing a flannel shirt, tee-shirt, sunglasses with yellow tinted lenses and enormous shorts (the 1990s were a real heyday for shorts that inexplicably used tons of fabric despite the whole point of shorts being the whole brevity thing) that make him look like he should be roadying for Mother Love Bone.
Feldman, meanwhile, dresses the way Feldman always dresses, because Feldman dresses for Feldman. Feldman doesn’t dress for the world. Feldman doesn’t change with the times. For Feldman, there’s no need to mess with any look that cannot be traced back to the King of Pop pre-Dangerous.
In this case, that means once again wearing a suit, tie and hat combination that alternately makes him look like a man who has been cos-playing Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video since the day it came out, or a late-period Blues Brother so dire he couldn’t even make the cut for the 73 new Blues Brothers featured in Blues Brothers 2000.
My wife is hyper-sensitive to heat, to the point where if she’s feeling hot and I’m wearing a jacket she’ll ask me to take it off. I don’t really understand that, but watching an ashen Corey Feldman spend scene after scene in the sun wearing a black suit or a modified black suit with the legs and arms cut off made me feel weirdly uncomfortable vicariously.
Knowing Feldman and Haim’s life story lends a tragic element to the movie. It’s hard to look at these two ghostly white men draped in layer upon layer of clothing in a beach movie and see anything other than two desperate addicts doing whatever they need to do to survive. As far as the desperate things addicts do to survive, starring in National Lampoon’s Last Resort isn’t quite as bad as holding up a video store or running a series of crack houses, like Killing Willis author Todd Bridges did after the end of Diff’ren Strokes, but even for talents as modest as Haim and Feldman, starring in National Lampoon’s Last Resort represents a form of creative prostitution.
A paycheck is a paycheck, and I am hesitant to judge people for what they do to stay out of the gutter, but compared to National Lampoon’s Last Resort, the gutter begins to seem like an appealing option.
In a career choice that doubled as a dual cry for help, the downward spiraling Feldman and Dave star as Sam and Dave, respectively. Feldman is a small-time hustler with a weakness for telling big whoppers. Haim’s character is introduced rocking a then-trendy virtual reality helmet, and early in the film introduces himself as “an angrily compulsive cyber-punk searching for electronic bliss!” but the movie almost instantly forgets about the whole virtual reality angle, possibly because even back then they somehow had a sense that despite all the hype, virtual reality wasn’t ever going to be a thing.
Looking to lay low for a while, Sam and Dave head out to Sam’s eccentric movie star uncle Rex Carver’s (Geoffrey Lewis) private resort island paradise under the ruse that that they’re scuba instructors, Navy S.E.A.L.s and C.I.A when they’re really just a coupe of dumbasses. Lewis is Juliette Lewis’ father, a Scientologist and a longtime Clint Eastwood sidekick. He’s a ubiquitous character actor of some note who plays Rex somewhat confusingly as a man who seems to labor under the delusion that he actually is a pirate or something.
Lewis exerts way too much effort in the role, in the sense that he exerts any energy at all. He should have conserved his life force for a “comedy” that isn’t doomed to make everyone alternately sad, angry and bored. Robert Mandan, a patrician face you’d probably recognize from his roles in Soap and Benson, wastes even more energy as the film’s over-the-top villain, Rex’s brother Hemlock. Hemlock is also Rex’s rival and a man out to steal his island out from under him.
The strident gimmick behind Hemlock’s character is that he is an actor who played villains who has decided to be a villain in real life. In each new scene, the actor is done up in some new iconically evil get-up, including such classic bad guys as Adolf Hitler and Dracula. It’s less a role that a sustained attack on the poor man’s dignity. I didn’t laugh at Mandan. I just felt sorry for him. No-one should end up in a movie like this, which is populated by professionals but is amateur hour all the way.
That extends to a shooting style that can only be described as “early David Lee Roth video” National Lampoon’s Last Resort is full of wacky sound effects, cartoon noises, its stars breaking the fourth wall and sped-up film a la The Benny Hill Show. To use a phrase the young people probably no longer use, if they ever did, National Lampoon’s Last Resort is “thirsty” for laughs but a dry, barren, comic wasteland.
The problem with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman as a comedy duo is that they are two sidekicks in search of a leading man. Haim is cute and charismatic enough to be a leading man except that he is a quintessential lightweight, the nutty, goofball pal of the hero rather than the hero himself.
As for Feldman, well, Feldman has spent the past three decades working out his issues with Michael Jackson via fashion, choreography and dance. Some people dress up like their hero Michael Jackson for Halloween. Feldman dresses like Michael Jackson every goddamn day of his life. There are very few lead roles that call for a man to dress distractingly like a ubiquitous pop star, particularly in a setting like a beach movie. In another setting, and in a film with any demonstrable wit, the fact that the leads seem dressed for an Antarctica winter despite chilling on the beach might be a funny sight gag. Instead, all I could think about was the leads’ multiple addictions.
National Lampoon’s Last Resort begins as an ugly, barely competent cheapie shot in some of the saddest rooms of 1994, in sets about as lovingly dressed as a crack den. I figured that when the action shifted to the beach and uncle Rex’s island, at least I would have the consolation of nice beach scenery. I was wrong. Judging from what’s onscreen, National Lampoon’s Last Resort was shot on a New Jersey beach in the fall, and they had to remove vast clumps of dead pigeons and syringes from the frame before they could start shooting every day. That’s the kind of beach vibe the movie gives off. It’s less Margaritaville than a lost circle of Hell.
National Lampoon’s Last Resort represents a sad marriage of convenience between two pop culture institutions that had seen better days: the two Coreys and National Lampoon. This is a film of astonishingly low ambition. The only gag of any scope is a last-act quest for buried treasure that takes the form of a game show hosted by Poltergeist’s Zelda Rubenstein. Pretty sad that spoofing game shows would represent the height of ambition and audacity for a movie in 1994.
There is absolutely no reason the goddamn piece of shit known as National Lampoon’s Last Resort has to be any longer than 75 minutes. Hell, there’s no reason it has to exist at all. This is particularly egregious since the film ends with a Dread Zeppelin performance of the film’s theme song that lasts so long and is so interminable that it doesn’t feel like a novelty band capping off a dumb movie with a dopey ditty so much as it feels like Dread Zeppelin is performing their longest concert ever.
Throughout Dread Zeppelin’s epically time-wasting closing performance I found myself thinking, “Jesus Christ, will this ever end?” a question I found myself asking constantly of National Lampoon’s Last Resort. The film’s sole triumph, its sole achievement, is that it does eventually end. So Dread Zeppelin’s performance has a strangely triumphant quality to it as well. The filmmakers are celebrating that they didn’t let a complete lack of inspiration, money and resources keep them from finishing their movie.
This isn’t a movie so much as it’s a bleary personal and professional bottom. When Haim and Feldman went to 12 step meetings, instead of sharing their stories, they could just play clips from National Lampoon’s Last Resort, and be both grateful and embarrassed that when they hit bottom, cameras were rolling.
And Feld-Month has only just begun! I’m a little weary because all of the other Corey Feldman movies I’ve lined up for this month, like South Beach Academy, Dream A Little Dream 2, Rock And Roll High School Forever and Feldman's directorial debut Busted look just as bad as National Lampoon’s Last Resort, if not worse.
So I am giving myself an out. If Feld-Month proves too depressing to continue, I’ll bail on it, just as everyone involved with National Lampoon’s Last Resort should have bailed on it before it became one of the most unintentionally depressing comedies I’ve ever seen.
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