Is it fair to call Bachelor Party and Revenge of the Nerds classics? You’d never find them ranked in any AFI top 100 lists, even though the former stars the beloved Tom Hanks and the latter features acclaimed thespians Anthony Edwards and John Goodman. However, to a 80s kid whose formative years were the during the VCR boom, these two films hold a special place in my heart. Watching them in high def this past week, twenty years after they were initially released, it was like a visit from some old friends.
In 1984, Hanks’ career was just beginning to lift off. After years as a theater rat and time spent in TV, the actor had two feature films released within months of each other, and both were hits. The first was Splash, Ron Howard’s romantic fantasy film, and the other was Bachelor Party. In it, Hanks stars as one of his many lovable over caffeinated goofballs, the type of role that would fill his resume throughout the 80s. Some might label Hanks a poor man’s Bill Murray during this era, except that Hanks has a nice guy, everyman charm that’s not quite as cynical as Murray. I think that’s why Bachelor Party and so many of Hanks’ 80s comedies are so appealing. Unlike Murray, who exudes an unobtainable coolness, Hanks comes off as one of the guys.
The plot of Bachelor Party, written by Neil Israel and Pat Proft and directed by Israel, is pretty formulaic. Blue-collar nice guy Rick (Hanks) is set to marry rich girl Debbie (Tawny Kitaen, a few years before she began thrusting in Whitesnake videos). Debbie is likable and not reliant on the pocketbook of her snobby parents, hence the reason she works at a trendy clothing store. Debbie’s folks hate Rick; after all, he’s poor. They’d rather she marry her ex, an asshole named Cole (Robert Prescott). In fact, Debbie’s father puts in motion a plan to break up Rick and Debbie, one that will obviously backfire by the film’s end.
Meanwhile, Rick’s buddies want to throw him a bachelor party, since it’s a tradition. These guys are pretty much stock characters seen in almost every late 70s/early 80s comedy made in the wake of the success of Animal House in 1978. You have the slob (Barry Diamond), the nerd (Gary Grossman), the airhead (Michael Dudikoff) and the schemer (Adrian Zmed, ladies and gentlemen!) Toss into the mix Rick’s uptight brother (William Tepper) and his psychotic wife (the always great, dearly departed Wendie Jo Sperber) and a nutjob from everyone’s past (Brad Bancroft) and you have an eclectic mix of characters.
Despite Debbie’s protestations, Rick has his party and, as you’d expect, things get out of hand. There are prostitutes, drugs, a donkey, suicide attempts and trashed hotel rooms. Plus, Debbie and her girlfriends get introduced to a well-endowed stripper named Nick the Dick. Or is it Mr. Dick. No, it’s just Nick. Anyway, despite the “everything but the kitchen sink” writing in the film, the movie remains grounded by Hanks. While he has fun and enjoys the sights, the party is really for his friends. The guy loves Debbie and can’t betray her.
The film is every bit as frenetic as I remembered it, and the jokes still work. With Seth Rogen’s Neighbors about to hit theaters, I couldn’t help but think that some of Bachelor Party’s DNA is in Rogen’s new film, and many of his previous crude comedies. I never thought I’d consider Bachelor Party influential. Then again, I never thought I’d call it a classic, either.
The same year Tom Hanks was making a name for himself as a new comedy star, Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards were winning over audiences with their hit film, Revenge of the Nerds. Another film influenced by the ”slobs vs. snobs” themes of Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds succeeds because the main characters are likable, sweet and easy to root for.
Carradine and Edwards portray best friends and uber nerds, Lewis and Gilbert. As incoming freshmen at Adams College, they hope that their college experience will be the beginning of a new adventure. Unfortunately, they learn that life on campus is more of the same abuse they took growing up. After the football team burns down their house, the domineering head coach of the team (John Goodman) uses his influence to get the school to hand over the freshman dorm for his ball players. This displaces Lewis, Gilbert and the rest of their new friends. a group of outcasts that includes Booger (Curtis Armstrong), who lives up to his name, but rolls the most potent joints this side of Jamaica, Poindexter (Timothy Busfield), Wormser (Andrew Cassese), a 12-year-old child prodigy, and Lamar (Larry B. Scott) an out-of-the-closet homosexual, which was pretty radical for 1984.
They get put up in the school gym, but their ridicule doesn’t end. Soon, the fraternities and sororities are making them the brunt of the cruel abuse. The guys go before the Greek Council to plead their case. Their appeal falls on the deaf ears of the council president, Stan Gable (a perfectly slimy Ted McGinley), who tells them that he can’t do anything because they’re not in a fraternity. Instead of accepting defeat, Lewis decides that the nerds should join a frat. This way, they can get on the Greek Council and change the way everyone is treated. There’s only one problem: they get turned down by every single national fraternity, save for an all-black, frat, Lambda Lambda Lambda.
The Tri-Lams even want to turn them down. But the head of the fraternity, U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey) finds himself in a predicament when Poindexter finds a loophole in the Tri-Lam bylaws that state that the nerds must be given a probationary membership. With a roll of the eyes, U.N. Jefferson lets them in, thinking they’ll never make it.
But you know they’re going to make it. I mean, come on, that’s the appeal of a movie like this, watching the heroes get knocked down time and again, only to get back up, stronger and smarter than before. It’s like The Avengers, only the characters have better chemistry, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s nudity.
The nerds do all of the stereotypical frat activities: throw parties, have a panty raid, install cameras in the house of the most popular sorority. That last one seemed less creepy in 1984. By the film’s end, the nerds are officially accepted into Lambda Lambda Lambda and compete in the annual Greek games in order to take over the council and end all persecution of nerds. There are tears, an inspirational speech, plus a killer musical number that still managed to give me chills, even though I’m older now and more cynical.
Revenge of the Nerds spoke to me as a teenage boy, and it wasn’t just because of the T&A. The script, written by Jeff Buhai, Miguel Tejada-Flores and Steve Zacharias, was, and still is, very funny, and all of the actors go for broke in their roles. I’ve always appreciated how dedicated Carradine and Armstrong were in their parts. Twenty years later, the film still had an effect on me. While there was definitely a nostalgic side to loving this movie, as an adult, I better appreciated how well made the film is, and how consistently funny the jokes are. This one holds up remarkable well.
With geek culture so prominent in our arts these days, the timing couldn’t have been better for this Blu-ray release. Nerds rule everything from boardrooms to the writers rooms in television and film. Should a new generation discover the character and the humor of Revenge of the Nerds, they may once again rule home video.
Both Blu-rays come with special features. The most interesting on Bachelor Party are a Behind the Scenes featurette, and a series of interviews with Hanks, now a two-time Academy Award winner and one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Revenge of the Nerds is a little more bountiful, with a featurette, deleted scenes, a Revenge of the Nerds TV pilot, and commentary from director Jeff Kanew, and actors Carradine, Armstrong and Busfield.