Monday, March 21, 2011

Up The Academy

There is a MAD magazine movie out there??

True. MAD’s first—and only—foray into moviemaking was 1980's UP THE ACADEMY, a notorious slob comedy set in a Kansas military academy. Star Ron Leibman (THE SUPERCOPS) hated it so much, he took his name off the credits. So did MAD for that matter, which paid Warner Brothers $30,000 to remove all references to the publication from the posters and trailers and to edit out the brief appearances of a (creepy-looking) Alfred E. Newman in the film itself. Newman was reinstated for the film’s television, videocassette, and DVD releases, however.

Four juvenile delinquents—Mafia son Chooch (Karate Kid Ralph Macchio), black Ike (Wendell Brown), Arab Hash (Tommy Citera) and Midwesterner Oliver (Hutch Parker, billed as J. Hutchison)—are sent by their parents to the Weinberg Military Academy in Kansas, where they are abused by their sadistic instructor, Major Vaughn Leisman (Leibman). After Leisman takes photos of Oliver having sex with girlfriend Candy (scrumptious Stacey Nelkin from HALLOWEEN III) and threatens to blackmail his politician father with them, the boys plot their counterattack, while avoiding the prying eyes of the major’s fat spying nephew Rodney (Harry Teinowitz).

It’s hard to understand why Leibman was so embarrassed by the finished product. Although the frequent overdubbing, insert shots, plotholes, and optical zooms do indicate post-production troubles, most of the embarrassing stuff must have been in the script, and Leibman, who was in NORMA RAE the year before, obviously knew what he was getting into when he performed one S&M scene clad only in pink ladies’ underwear. He’s actually the film’s most spirited performer, getting all the best lines and pratfalls.

It’s hard to believe the script was actually penned by credited writers Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, whose wonderful television work—including THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and BUFFALO BILL—is light years ahead of this. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME’s glamorous Barbara Bach appears as a cleavage-bearing armaments teacher, and Tom Poston is out there as a swishy dance instructor. Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas and Leonard Frey (THE BOYS IN THE BAND) are surprisingly in this too.

Still, I have a soft spot for the good ol’ days of political incorrectness, when it was still okay for comedies to poke fun at abortion, sex, dope, religion, My Lai, homosexuals, blacks, Arabs, and flatulence, all targets of Robert Downey’s (PUTNEY SWOPE) scattershot direction. Besides Macchio, none of the young male leads went on to movie stardom, and I imagine a behind-the-scenes documentary of UP THE ACADEMY would be more interesting that the film itself. The rock soundtrack includes hits by Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Blondie, Cheap Trick, The Kinks, Ian Hunter, Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, The Babys, The Boomtown Rats, David Johansen, Sammy Hagar, Nick Lowe, and Pat Benatar.


Will said...

Then Liebman did one of my favorite "bad" movie Zorro, The Gay Blade.

Unknown said...

Very fun review. I've always wanted to see this too, with the soundtrack being a big draw. (Especially Cheap Trick.) Great work!