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Hipster Holy Grail: Think Big (1990)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Think Big is a Barbarian Brothers movie that works.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Plot Summary

It's that time again.  Time to watch a Barbarian Brothers movie.

It wasn't my plan to make this an annual tradition.  If it was, I think I would have picked something more logical than mid-April.  But following my April 2014 write-up of The Barbarian Brothers and my April 2015 review of Double Trouble, it seems apt to dip into the meathead well again with 1990's Think Big.

If you've read either of those reviews, then you already know their shtick: they're giant goofballs who get into misadventures while being big.  This time, they're truck drivers.

Rafe (Peter Paul) and Victor (David Paul) are well-meaning, luck-obsessed doofuses who keep getting in a string of unfortunate events.  It's not so much that the world is against them; it's more that they keep getting in their own way.  They have a habit of stopping en route while transporting a shipment to help out bystanders, and because they're clumsy, they end up inadvertently wreaking a path of destruction.

The movie opens with this exact sort of thing happening.  They've taken a detour from their route to escort a woman to the hospital while she's going into labor. Along the way, they smash up road traffic signs, get a speeding ticket, and recklessly endanger everyone's lives.  It's pretty fun.

They're also at odds with Sweeney, a sleazy repo man played by David Carradine who keeps trying to repossess their truck.  (Side note - I was not aware that truck drivers owned their own trucks.  Is that a thing?)  Sweeney doesn't come up very much except to occasionally remind the audience that the brothers are in debt and just need one last payment to finally get above water.

That opportunity comes in the form of... toxic waste.  When they get back to their headquarters, their boss first screams at them for screwing up a delivery (again) and then announces that he has an urgent request from a tech development company.  They've got a dozen or so barrels of radioactive material that need to be transported to a helipad in California within the next day and a half.  None of the other drivers want to touch it (y'know, because it's radioactive), so the brothers see it as an opportunity to finally deliver something on time and get the money they desperately need.

While that's going on, we cut to the tech company and get introduced to its director, Dr. Bruekner (Martin Mull).  Bruekner is the head of a program that recruits young geniuses and isolates them in a tightly-controlled "school," where they are more or less forced to develop new technology for the company's use.  One of his star pupils, Holly (Ari Meyers), has recently invented a universal remote control that can control any electronic device.  It just needs a bit of fine-tuning and then it'll be ready for the market.

...or the mob, as the case may be.  Y'see, for some reason, Bruekner could not get financial backing for his program either from the tech firm itself or other investors, so he made a deal with the mafia: they fund his genius school, and he'll give them advanced tech they can use for nefarious purposes.  Right now they're keen on this remote control and want a final version ASAP.

Bruekner asks Holly to fix it, but she's got reservations about letting obvious criminals abuse new technology.  (Then again, if the remote was going to be sold to the general public, wouldn't hundreds of thousands of criminals be able to abuse it?  I suppose we have to pretend there would be strict regulations or something.)  So Holly takes the remote and runs away.

She stows on board the brothers' truck after they pick up the waste and hides away, hoping to catch a ride to California to stay with a dude who she was chatting with via the early Internet.  I'm not actually sure who he is - family? Friend? A boyfriend?  I'm just going to call him a gentleman friend.  The point is, Holly hides in the truck, but it isn't long before the brothers catch her.

Actually, her discovery is pretty funny.  The brothers are in the middle of an argument about who would be king / queen if they were born as girls instead of boys, and Holly reflexively mutters, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."  It's almost like annoying people into compliance is the brothers' super power.

Other than being big, I mean.

They think about kicking her out at first - according to their brand of trucker lore, riders are bad luck.  But being the nice guys they are, they decide to give her a ride instead.

The next hour or so is just a series of misadventures on the highway as Bruekner's goons (including Richard Kiel) chase after them.  Summing up all the odds and ends feels a bit like a cheat.  You don't really sum up a comedy by retelling the jokes, after all.  (Although there is one fantastic gag I want to highlight where Richard Kiel and one of the BBs try to sword-fight with rebar and just end up hurting themselves.)  Suffice it to say, Holly bonds with the brothers and they become friends over the next day while much hilarity ensues.

They eventually get to California and drop Holly off with only thirty minutes to spare to get the waste to its final destination.  She gives them the remote so they can control traffic lights to get there faster.  Unfortunately, while they're on their way, they find out that Bruekner's goons have tracked Holly down and have her surrounded at her gentleman friend's house.  They're forced to make a decision: bring the remote back and help Holly or deliver the waste and get out of debt.

They somewhat reluctantly go back for Holly.  They give her back the remote so she can then give it to the goons, but in a fit of rage, Holly smashes it.  Instead of taking this as a cue to murder her the way mobsters are wont to do, the goons just shrug and abduct Bruekner instead - ostensibly to kill him and bury him somewhere.  So... that's a wrap on Holly's problems.  A little morbid, right?

Well... wait just a second, because the most morbid part hasn't happened yet.  Sweeney appears out of nowhere to repossess the brothers' truck, and as he drives away with it, one of the barrels of waste in the back tips over and spills.  Sweeney immediately comes down with radiation poisoning, and the last we see of him, he's screaming in horror as his hair falls out.

Wow.  Way to end your lighthearted comedy, guys.  Is there something positive here?

Oh, right, the remote.  Turns out the brothers swapped Holly's remote with a decoy, so the one she smashed wasn't actually advanced tech after all.  With her invention restored to peaceful hands, Holly is able to sell it and reap all the profits.  She's also somehow able to do this without worrying about patent infringement or any other lawsuits from her tech firm.  Holly gives the brothers enough money that they can start their own trucking business.  They head off on the road again for more misadventure.  Cue rap.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

This is easily the best of the Barbarian Brothers' movies I've reviewed so far.  It's almost as good as Twin Sitters, which I would review except that it's already been covered much better by funnier people than me.

In my reviews of their other movies, I've said that I loved the charisma and affability of the BBs.  They're just plain fun to watch.  They tell stupid jokes and act like idiots, but goddamn if you don't want to see what they do next.  The downside of The Barbarians and Double Trouble is that they keep getting into the wrong kind of misadventures - in the former, they wind up in an outright orgy, and in the latter, they manhandle a corpse.  Those are R-rated antics with a PG-rated cast.

Think Big has a much better idea of what tone to go for.  Pairing them up with a fourteen year-old girl with a piece of magical technology is absolutely perfect.  The obvious role-reversal where the kid is smarter and more mature than the adults frees them up to be themselves while everyone else serves as the straight men/women.

Even so... the tone is just the tiniest bit off.  There's still a little bit too much maudlin, a little too much profanity here, a little too much sex there.  If The Barbarians and Double Trouble were R-rated antics, then Think Big has PG-13-rated antics.  It's closer to where it needs to be, but still just a tad too much.

To put it another way, the Barbarian Brothers should be no more sexual, violent, or bawdy than an Ernest movie.  They're cartoon characters.  There's a reason SpongeBob doesn't curse, and it isn't just because Nickelodeon wants to keep the FCC happy - the gleeful doofus act only works when the doofus is fully innocent.

But the few sinister shreds here are nitpicks.  The movie is overwhelmingly light and, other than the occasional death here and there, lets them work fully in their element.

The script and supporting cast are strong enough that the BBs don't have to pull all the comedic weight, either.  There are jokes to be found regardless of who's on screen, and most of them work.  (One of the best bits is a throwaway conversation between some security guards on patrol at the tech firm who debate the relative merits of microwaves and toasters.  The conclusion?  Toasters have one solid advantage over microwaves: toast.)

It's a fun way to spend ninety minutes - and one that I can easily see myself revisiting.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

The Barbarian Brothers trade high in my book.  You're looking at an easy 15 cred apiece.  But then you throw in an animated opening credits sequence and a terrible rap theme song performed by the brothers?  Be still my heart.  All that and a tiny obscurity bonus for having less than 500 ratings on IMDb means I'm happy to award this 60 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Think Big is unfortunately unavailable on any kind of official streaming service or legitimate DVD medium, but I found three transfers on Youtube in a matter of seconds.  This is the specific one I watched, in case you're curious.