Johnny Be Good (1988) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 (theatrical) / R (home video) for nudity, sexuality and language
Running Time: 86 min.
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Gleason, Uma Thurman, Michael Greene, Seymour Cassell, Steve James, Marshall Bell, Jennifer Tilly, Howard Cosell, Jim McMahon, Robert Downey Sr.
Director: Bud Smith
Screenplay: Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai, David Obst
Review published September 11, 2004
You'll wish this film could live up to its name by actually "being good." In fact, you'd just wish it could at least be coherent before 15 minutes roll by. Johnny Be Good is flat out bad movie making, with first-time (and last-time) director Bud Smith completely asleep at the wheel, letting his quirky actors run rampant with the thin material in order to pad this anemic plot up near the ninety minute mark. Ironically, Smith's occupation has primarily been as an editor, with such films as The Exorcist, Flashdance, and The Karate Kid, but his own film is an unequivocal mess.
Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science) stars as high school quarterback phenom, Johnny Walker, the most highly pursued prospect by colleges from around the country. Walker loves the attention he's been getting, which includes wild parties, full scholarship offers, and many other perks if he so chooses. All of his gallivanting has caused friction in his relationship with his high school sweetheart, Georgia (Uma Thurman, here in her big screen debut), who wants him to attend the state college she's going to.
The problems are multitudinous, starting off with the casting. Anthony Michael Hall plays a pretty good (and likeable) geek, but as a self-absorbed jock, he is way out of his league. Yes, he has beefed up a bit, but he's still not quite the stuff of high school superstars, and the film definitely doesn't reveal just why he is the most sought after potential recruit in the country. Further compounding the casting problems is another annoyingly flamboyant performance by Robert Downey Jr. (Wonder Boys, In Dreams) , who delivers every line as if they had none written for him, ad-libbing his obnoxious antics with the notion that acting like a spaz is enough to generate big laughs.
This film is really bizarre, and not in the David Lynch way. Think more like the Robert Altman fiasco, OC and Stiggs, where quirky eccentricities and madcap hijinks are ratcheted up to the utmost degree. In short, Johnny Be Good is an exasperatingly annoying comedy that I can't imagine has any appeal to anyone, even fans of the film's stars. No amount of high-energy antics can cover up the fact that they started to film a movie without first coming up with a concept of what they wanted to make here.
©2004 Vince Leo