Thursday, March 3, 2011

O. C. and Stiggs

A friend once told me that he had seen this movie six times and still couldn't decide if it was any good.  Actually, he wasn't even quite sure what it was even about.  In all honestly, he wasn't even certain if he had actually seen it.  I just thought he was being difficult until the third time I watched O. C. and Stiggs and realized that I was having the same reaction.

 So it is definitely not a film for someone who is looking for a quick and easy story.  Or even for people seeking clear cut characters and obvious motivations.  Heck, it's not even for folks wanting some simple sex and violence.  It's less a movie and more of a photographic hit off of a joint.  Maybe.  Originally intended (at least by the producers) to be a smart-ass teenage sex comedy, O. C. and Stiggs is low on the sex, extremely high on a very off-center sense of satire and off-beat observations, strikingly nonlinear and exceptionally weird in its tribute to the fleeting pursuit of happiness against the arid landscape of Arizona.

 This was director Robert Altman's last commercial mainstream film before he bolted to Paris for his long state of exile from Hollywood.  Made in 1985 and given an extremely limited (and belated) release in 1987, the movie can be partly viewed as Altman's final flipping of the bird to the American studio system.  Ironically, O. C. and Stiggs was produced by MGM, the same studio that Altman aggravated years earlier with his production of Brewster McCloud (an even more odd ball fantasy that shares many features in common with O. C. and Stiggs).

 Loosely adapted from a series of stories published in the National Lampoon, O. C. and Stiggs follows the strangely meandering exploits of two Arizona teenagers who have dedicated their lives to outrageously annoying their Republican neighbor (Paul Dooley), buying liquor from their favorite wino (Melvin Van Peebles) and routinely relaying their experiences by phone to their favorite African dictator whose private number they inexplicably have on speed dial.  Meanwhile, they make periodic visits to the area's craziest Vietnam vet (Dennis Hopper parodying his role from Apocalypse Now) who lives in his bunker out in the desert, waiting for the next surprise attack from the Vietcong.  There is also some odd sub plot involving the mysterious death of a local mechanic named Bugs Bunny and his slutty wife who may (or may not) be acting out a few riffs from a James Cain novel.

 None of these plot lines are really connected to each other and Altman is totally uninterested in making such connections.  Instead, he has adopted an open ended and very free flowing narrative (somewhat like he did in Nashville) and the viewer either accepts it or not.  Unlike the original stories, the movie invokes a more sympathetic and oddly gentle approach (to some of the characters) despite its own warped sensibility (and warp more than twisted may be the right word).  At its best, the film is less a gross-out than a supreme weird-out as it seesaws between an amused engagement and a total WTF mindset.

 So if you are in the mood for an excessive dose of hip irony, check it out.  Just don't get too carried away trying to figure it out.  Even the experts are still baffled.  By my fourth viewing, I only knew that I think maybe I kind of like this flick but have no clues why.

 Just remember what Hooper tells the kids when they question him about being in Vietnam.  "Was I really in Vietnam?  Does Ho Chi Minh eat Rice Krispies?"

 Say no more.