Underrated ’80s comedy/fantasy is a wild, colorful ride
Budget home media imprint Mill Creek Entertainment has been knocking it out of the park for some time, licensing rare and obscure genre films and giving them crisp HD Blu-ray presentations with attractive packaging and making them available for next to nothing. Rarely – if ever – do they bother with following the lead of boutique labels like Arrow or Severin by padding out their releases with special features of any kind. And that’s often okay. Because at the end of the day, it’s the movie that matters and any further knowledge the viewer needs is mostly available on ye olde internet.
But sometimes the company lets loose a title that DEMANDS a more comprehensive revisit and dissection. One such picture is VIBES, a 1988 comedy/fantasy/adventure that came and went quickly, the victim of audience indifference and scathing critical response. If ever there was a picture that demanded a fevered cult following, it’s VIBES, a cheerfully bizarre, bouncy and beautiful-to-look-at romp with a pack of wonderful performances and endless weirdness. Why it was so hated upon opening is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s because this sort of post-GHOSTBUSTERS FX-draped action ‘n’ laffs programmer was starting to become old hat by the decade’s end. Maybe its because people were cynical about female pop stars fronting a studio feature after the failure of Madonna’s WHO’S THAT GIRL? (also kind of undervalued). Who knows. But it’s a movie that needs MUCH more respect. Why? Maybe it’s just that VIBES feels so out of step with everything that is cynical, scatological and un-cinematic in contemporary comedy that you just want to hold it and keep it safe. Or maybe it’s simply because this is Cyndi Lauper’s one-and-only above-the-credits starring role and she’s really, REALLY good and her unlikely romantic lead is a post-THE FLY Jeff Goldblum and HE’S really good too and their energies are gelled together by the presence of COLOMBO himself, Peter Falk.
Whatever the voodoo, VIBES is a rather brilliant little picture and it’s great to have it back.
The film – directed by Ken Kwapis (THE SANTA CLARITA DIET), produced by Ron Howard and written by his frequent collaborators Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz – stars Lauper and Goldblum as psychics who meet at the same research study group and – naturally – immediately but heads. She’s a spunky, romantic medium with an ever-present, unseen spectral companion and he’s a gifted telepath who can sense the past and future by touching things. When they’re both approached by a seedy grafter (Falk, who is so, so good) with 50K to travel with him to Ecuador and use their powers to find his lost son, they reluctantly join forces and go. Of course, Falk is full-of-it and the trip a ruse to use the psychics to find an ancient Inca treasure that has magical powers (and untold monetary value). Soon, other n’er-do-wells and mystics are also descending on South America to find the artifact, leading to murder, mystery, intrigue, derring-do, wacky comedy and, naturally, romance.
VIBES is a blast and endlessly pretty to look at, with jaw-dropping and colorful costumes by the legendary Ruth Myers, most of them draped across Lauper. Speaking of the “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun” superstar, it’s absolutely miserable that VIBES didn’t lock her down as a major as a leading lady. She effortlessly translates her patented pop star kook to the role of Sylvia while also bringing great pathos and humanity to the part. Simply put, she’s a fantastic presence and the world got cheated out of seeing her grow in this way. Goldblum is Goldblum, doing what he does best and wisely letting Lauper take the showier lead, while Falk breezes in and out of the movie with typical grace. The trio are supported by a cavalcade of cool character actors including Julian Sands, Michael Lerner, Elizabeth Pena and a very young Steve Buscemi. And the photography (by John Bailey), whether in the streets of NYC, the jungles of Ecuador or set-bound is vibrant and evocative.
Again, here we have an unjustly dismissed major studio movie with big stars and pedigree that has been ludicrously forgotten by time, ignorance and bad word of mouth. If only we had more in this release to chew on. New interviews, a commentary. Anything. Mill Creek are killing it with these retro-releases. A couple of extra steps on the back-end and the fans would flip even harder. And VIBES needs as much hard flipping as it can get.