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Hipster Holy Grail: Another Chance (1989)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

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

If you got a Nice Guy and a misogynist together to write a romantic comedy, and then as the director you hired a well-meaning, but completely naive guy who's self-aware enough about gender politics to know that sexism is bad, but who enjoys being a dude too much to make any meaningful change, you'd probably still end up with something more palatable than Another Chance. It's not just a comedy that isn't funny (a death blow in itself) - it misses the point about the message it's trying to say so badly you have to wonder if it even knows what women are.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5

The Plot Summary

John Ripley (Bruce Greenwood) is a modestly successful soap opera star who uses his good looks and charm to bed roughly a third of all the women in Los Angeles. The opening fifteen minutes or so are basically just a bunch of scenes setting him up as a Lothario.  Why they needed fifteen minutes, I don't know - you could get the same effect with like a two minute montage.

John isn't just a sex addict, though - he's an outright misogynist.  He and his agent, Russ Wilder (Frank Annese), make a game of competing with each other to score babes and freely exchange them like baseball cards.  Insert all the other cliches you're thinking of here.

One day, John notices that Russ's newest client, Jackie Johanson (Vanessa Angel), is a stunning model. His fascination with her plays out the exact same as any other tail he's been chasing, but the movie treats it as a "true love at first sight" type of thing.  John gets Russ to give him Jackie's home address, which isn't creepy at all, and goes to pay her a visit.

He knocks on the door and pretends to be looking for a cat that may have wandered onto her property.  Then he parlays that meet cute into a date.  He's shocked, however, when Jackie never shows up - in her place, she sends a kitten with a note that says something like, "This is the only pussy I'm ever giving you."  Ha ha.  I, too, deploy stray animals to make puns against my enemies.

John mopes about that and calls Jackie up.  She answers from her hot tub, where there's partial / obscured nudity since she's soaking in the buff. Against this backdrop, we're supposed to have a serious conversation in which John apologizes for trying to deceive her with the ol' "my cat ran away" trick, and then he assures her and the audience that he's ready to turn over a new leaf and ask her out properly.

Cue the dating montage, in which Jackie takes John to church and John takes Jackie to his parents' farm.  They have loads of laughs and go on a few more dates, then eventually have sex. That makes it official: they're a couple.

Life is good.  Then one day, on the set of his soap opera, John finds Diana the Temptress (Barbara Edwards, and yes, that is the character's credited name) sitting inside his trailer.  Diana is a completely arbitrary and possibly supernatural babe who is literally only in the movie to fuck John.  We've never met her before, he's never met her before, and she doesn't really have any meaningful dialogue.  She just appears out of nowhere, spreads her legs, bends over and shows her ass, and rubs her breasts in front of him.  Naturally, John has no choice but to have sex with her.  What else could he possibly do when he finds a stranger masturbating in his bed?

Jackie goes inside the trailer and catches him in the act.  Understandably, she breaks off their relationship and storms away.

This kicks off a downward spiral for John.  There's a couple of "One Year Later" title cards here as we see his life fall apart. After Diana leaves him, he gets fired from the soap.  Then his agent can't find him any work and stops representing him.  Then he falls behind on his bills and mortgage.  He laments that he doesn't enjoy the sex he keeps having with models who keep throwing themselves at his feet.  Eventually, he has to move into a shitty apartment and he loses his awesome car.  And to top it all off, his dog dies in a surprisingly bloody insert shot that comes out of nowhere.  But throughout it all, he never stops pining for Jackie.

One day he learns about a burgeoning celebrity impersonator business, so he decides to apply for a job there.  He introduces himself as "Tom Clark" and gets hired to impersonate himself.  His first gig is to go to a country club with some of the other impersonators and mingle with rich so-and-sos.

The gig is going alright, but then a Humphrey Bogart impersonator gets rough with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. John intervenes and pulls fake-Bogart away, which gets him some brownie points with the boss and all the onlookers.  John is enjoying some positive news for once, but then fake-Bogart comes back with a gun and shoots him.

John is rushed to the hospital, where his heart briefly stops.  He goes to Heaven and stands before St. Peter (Bernard Behrens) to receive judgment.  St. Peter chides him for his selfish, womanizing ways and is about to send him to Hell.  But then John convinces St. Peter that he's capable of change, and he just needs one more chance to prove it.  St. Peter agrees and John comes back to life.

Then there's a weird, fifteen minute dream sequence before he actually comes back to life.  The movie plays it up like it's all reality, but it doesn't make a ton of sense because the continuity's all screwed up.  (John's dog is alive again, he has his old car again, Russ - who was last seen in jail for sleeping with a minor - is free again, and even though he's not working, he has prospects.)  The point of the dream sequence is supposed to be that you see John making an effort to change - he forms a "Womanizers Anonymous" self-help group, for example - and then he manages to win Jackie back by publicly stalking her.  He and Jackie are about to get married when Diana magically shows up again and starts trying to tempt him at the altar, and then John wakes up in the hospital for real.

He moves back to his parents' farm to live a more humble life, then mails Jackie a picture of them together. This is enough to win her over, apparently, because she shows up at his farm the next day with a puppy and they reconnect.

Then the movie went and made me physically agitated.  I actually got red-faced angry at this next part.

See, Diana is skulking about in the background and starts spewing out some seductive voice-over. "Joooooohhhnn, oh Jooooohhhnn, come and play" - that kinda thing.  She's not actually saying it, just telepathically communicating it while rubbing her body and making kissy faces.  Then John smirks and says, "I don't think so," and goes inside his house to join Jackie for a lunch in progress.

That's not the part that made me mad.  No, see, what happens next is that Diana - still in telepathic voice-over mode - starts to fume.  She humphs and growls and says, "Well, fine, I'll cross John off my list.  Now, who am I going to go after next? ....why.... I know!  [Points at camera.]  You!"  Then she laughs and disappears as the credits roll.

No.  Fuck you, movie.  I was getting short-tempered with the rest of this, but you did not just break the fourth wall on a subpar spooooooky twist to your quasi-religious faux-feminist horseshit.  I ain't having that.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Hoo boy.

Another Chance has elements in it that could work, but as a whole, it's just too jumbled and confused.  There's not enough cohesion between the pieces to make it a functional piece with any momentum or pacing.

Consider this: a fair chunk of the movie is supernatural and religious.  St. Peter is an actual character and an eternity in Hell is a very real threat that John has to deal with.  Yet the movie treats that as an afterthought.  The movie wants us to view John from a standpoint of moral superiority.  It's nudging us with its elbow and saying, "Eh?  Eh?  He's violating all those tenets you and I agree on right?"  But you can't just throw that shit in there without making it the movie - an eternity in Hell can't be a third act curveball, it needs to be your principal stake from the very beginning.  This movie's righteousness is like only going to church on Christmas Eve; it only likes the fun parts.

Or consider this: the first time that John faces any actual conflict is about forty minutes into the movie when his career starts to go belly-up.  The first half hour is basically just padding to let us know that he loved Jackie, but screwed up their relationship because he's a hopeless sex addict.

This all points to a problem that Stephen Tobolowsky would call "stuck in the first act."  There's so much time setting up John's conflicts and downfalls that by the time he actually has to grapple with any of them, the movie's almost over.  On the most basic level, this movie's structure is utterly fucked - it should start with him being washed up, and then you pick one hook to use as his lever for progress.

What about that celebrity impersonator business?  That could be funny.  The idea of a washed up soap actor pretending to be somebody else so he can impersonate himself?  That has potential.  You can make it a farce, you can throw in some digs at Hollywood, you can get some quirky actors in there and let them screw around - you could have fun with that.  And suppose later he bumps into Jackie, an old flame he regretfully hurt, and he struggles to rekindle that flame.  And suppose she gives him one more chance, but he has to show up as her date to a dinner party - but it turns out, his company was hired to serve as wait staff at that same party!  So now he has to pull double duty being both himself and fake-himself at the same night and hijinks ensue.

But the truth is, even if the script wasn't garbage, even if the structure was solid, this movie would still be awful.  And the reason is because it just has no clue how to actually promote the message that it thinks it wants to spread.

If this movie was a person, it would be kinda like that white idiot in your Philosophy 101 class who kept saying that he "doesn't see race," and then later went on to express how confused he was that people think America is still racist.  "But we're all the same on the inside!" he'll say.  And then he'll go on to live his life the exact same as he always has, never bothering to self-reflect.

On the one hand, you kinda want to give Another Chance credit because it sort of kind of maybe wants to say that men shouldn't mistreat women.  But it does so in such a convoluted and one-dimensional way that its good spirit gets bogged down by all the other problems.

First and foremost, Jackie is not a good character.  She barely approximates a real woman.  She has less dialogue than Russ - for that matter, she has less dialogue than the fucking dog - and she never gets to have any legitimate depth.  There's plenty of opportunities for her to talk about her dreams or her fears, or for John to connect with her and admit his dreams and fears.  They don't.  Instead, John saves all of his genuine expressions of humanity for Russ, who casually sneers and tells him to quit talking like a woman.

Then you have to take another look at that religious angle.  The movie keeps harping on the fact that John is having tons and tons of sex, and that is hyped up as the big problem as opposed to him just being a lying sack of shit.  When St. Peter is trying to prove a point about why John deserves to go to Hell, he starts summoning women from John's past and uses them to prove that John can't remember their names.  He fails to mention that John lied to them or that John cheated on / with them.  No, St. Peter isn't actually concerned about the fact that women were hurt (in fact, none of the women in this sequence even sound the slightest bit upset) - he's just annoyed by the amount of sex.

And that attitude is exactly why all the movie's attempts to set itself up as a tender, understanding Nice Guy movie fall flat.  Another Chance never tries to get John to start talking to or viewing women as actual human beings.  It just pays lip service to the idea of fidelity while allowing John to keep treating Jackie as another trophy, albeit a much shinier one than usual.

Consider his attempts to win her back.  Even though most of then occur in a dream sequence, John doesn't know he's dreaming at the time, so they still reflect his innermost attitudes.  And what is he at heart?  A creepy fucking stalker.  He follows her around the city, publicly proclaiming his love for her and putting that up on a billboard.  Then he hang-glides onto one of her photo shoots - her place of work and the means by which she, as a self-sufficient woman, is feeding herself - and wrecks it, causing the photographer to walk off in disgust.  And he expects that Jackie will just smile and say, "I love you, too," and then they'll forget about that time he screwed a random stranger who wandered into his trailer?

Ugh.  I can't stand it.  As it is, most romantic comedies are already poor metrics to use for male/female relationships, but at least the majority of them give some kind of personality to the female lead.  At least you can usually point to that central relationship and say, "He likes her because she gave him confidence, and she likes him because he makes her laugh."  I don't know what the hell John and Jackie see in each other.  He's a 1989 Bruce Greenwood and she's got a vagina, I guess.

Here's the bottom line.  If you're making a movie where the poor treatment of women is the central plot point, then you have to take pains to make your women better-than-average, if not fantastic, characters.  Anything less than that and you're just pissing all over the ceiling with an undeserved "I did good today" boner.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It gets 40 cred as an obscurity bonus since it has well under 200 IMDb ratings as of today.  I'll give it another 5 cred for arbitrary lightning animation, plus another 5 for letting Bruce Greenwood play the lead.  I don't know if I can bring myself to dole out any other points, though.  Hipsterdom usually frowns on sexism.

It adds up to a total of 50 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch it on Youtube.