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Dangerously Close
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by Jack Sommersby

"Inane Times at Vista Verde High"
2 stars

Well, it's got a pretty good soundtrack, and the attractive Carey Lowell wears a swimsuit very well, but that's about it.

Already overstated and obnoxious no more than ten minutes in, you just know Dangerously Close isn't going to have so much as an iota of subtlety, and you'd be right. Like the far-better B-movies Massacre at Central High and Class of 1984 it tries to function as a high-school thriller, but its unbelievably clunky script and indifferent directing make it impossible to take seriously, making it even more of an embarrassment because it portends to be about something important. The setting is the elite Southern California beachside school Vista Verde, where a mysterious organization called The Sentinels has taken reign over the campus: created by the principal to monitor the student body to cut down on graffiti and theft (which would be more believable in an inner-city urban school than one in such an upscale community), they've succeeded in greatly reducing the instances of crime; but their intimidating tactics have been called into question by the school paper, labeling them a "vigilante organization that borders on fascism." The opening scene shows them hunting down and tormenting a student in the woods at night, stringing him up to a tree and discharging a handgun near his head; and the director, Albert Pyun, gives it plenty of gothic atmosphere, employing enough fog-simulating smoke and high-contrast backlighting so it looks like something right out of a horror movie. The leader of The Sentinels is the handsome, well-mannered Randy McDermott (John Stockwell), a master manipulator from a wealthy family with totalitarian airs who's abused his authority to weed out nonconforming undesirables and violently pressure them into transferring out of the school. Stockwell, who gave a superb performance as the sensitive high-school hero in the horror picture Christine three years prior, co-wrote the terrible screenplay and has given himself the villainous role, and, unfortunately, doesn't have the power for it -- he's quiet rather than quietly forceful, never emanating the necessary menace called for. In a trite contrast there's the protagonist, Danny Lennox (J. Eddie Peck), a lower-income student new to the school who wears thrift-store clothes and cleans pools in the afternoon; he's been made editor of the newspaper and temporarily falls under Randy's spell, not realizing Randy's befriending him to soften the editorial stance. (Because the working-class Danny doesn't come from "money," he's seen to be "pure" in the moviemakers' eyes, which is, of course, facile in its juvenility.) But after discovering Randy's dark side, with the suspicion he's snuffed out his uncouth best friend, the punk-rocker-dressed Krooger Raines (Bradford Bancroft), Danny aims to expose The Sentinels for the immaculately-dressed thugs they are.

Lacking both fascination and menace, The Sentinels are an uninteresting bunch who come off as a thinly-veiled derivative of the southern-military-academy-set antagonists The Ten from The Lords of Discipline, which, too, was insufficiently developed but at least possessed a consistent point of view, and had two superb actors, David Keith and Michael Biehn, in the pivotal roles. As Danny, Peck is bland and unresourceful, and when Stockwell tries being inimical he's simply not up to the demands. (Through sheer acting gusto, Bancroft is the only actor who manages to make an indelible impression. It takes a few minutes, but he actively engages us on a level that Peck and Stockwell never come even remotely close to.) The subpar dialogue is primitive in the extreme, the dramatics are casino-liquor-watered-down weak, and the final confrontation which should be geared for maximum suspense has all the tension of a tax seminar. Which is a shame because director Pyun showed in his colorful 1982 debut The Sword and the Sorcerer a real penchant for visual sophistication and expressive film language. He hadn't yet developed much in the way of narrative fluidity (the middle section was lumpy), but he packed every frame with an aliveness that kept you entranced even when its outlandish aspects bordered on parody -- you felt he were bursting the seams of genre expectations, which is far from the worst trait in a movie director. Here, working with material he clearly has no affectation for, he tries giving it some oomph but can't link the hypersensitized visuals to anything thematically -- we're forever watching eye-catching shots that serve no discernible purpose; couple this with the ultra-low contextual value, and you have the ultimate example of style-over-substance. (The extraordinary At Close Range that was released the month before employed a gorgeous visual design to emphasize the alluring aspects of a life of crime while still maintaining psychological complexity.) There are several raggedly-shaped sequences, particularly a baffling one switching back and forth between Eddie attending a moody family dinner at Randy's house and Eddie and Randy driving off to a nightclub afterward that's like a miasma of MTV and the avant-garde. Dangerously Close has atmosphere to spare, with Pyun's talent occasionally breaking through so the movie is more unctuous than unwatchable, but overall you neither derive any pleasure from it nor sense the cast and crew experienced any during the process. An Orwellian cautionary fable geared for the youth market that defies convention isn't easy to ignore, but deprived of suitable development so it's heavy-handed aspirations stick out like a hundred sore thumbs, it nosedives into a sea of unredeemable inanity.

The movie is still unavailable on DVD, though I can't imagine too many moviegoers crying their eyes out over this.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25365&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/27/13 10:35:58
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USA
  09-May-1986 (R)

UK
  N/A (18)

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