Friday, July 22, 2011

The Van (1977)

"There ain't a woman around who don't love the sound of a zipper comin' down...”

The Story:

Bobby (Stuart Goetz) has just graduated from high school and has built up a decent amount of savings from working at the local car wash. College fund? No way! A hapless geek, Bobby instead blows it all on the sweetest van in town with the singular, express purpose to get laid. The object of his affections is the super hot Sally (Connie Hoffman), but she’s dating badass douche Dugan Hicks (Steve Oliver). As he embarks on a summer of debauchery with his buddies (and his van), Bobby discovers the joys of fat chicks, Lucky Lager-fuelled partying, and, perhaps, true love with the meek but sweet Tina (Deborah White).

The Review:

I’ve never really understood the fascination that most dudes have with their cars, but I totally get the world of The Van: it’s one where all of life’s problems (read: one problem--a lack of poontang) can be solved with an awesome, tricked-out ride, a veritable “whorehouse on wheels.” Maybe things aren’t really that simple, but our hero certainly thinks so; of course, things don’t go quite as he plans, so we’re witness to some wildly inappropriate hilarity as a result. I don’t think there’s a single frame of this movie that isn’t absurdly misogynist; in fact, at multiple points, Bobby basically tries to rape the girls he can’t bone otherwise, and the disconnect is oddly amusing. See, he’s usually a nice guy, maybe unbelievably so--even when his friends or his boss (Danny DeVito, whose turn here is surely responsible for him landing on Taxi a year later) mess with him, he just shakes it off (then again, so would you if you had a van as badass as the Straight Arrow).

Speaking of which, Bobby totally commits himself to van culture, right down to his wardrobe, which consists entirely of van shirts. Being born about five years after the release of The Van, it seems I missed out on this really weird period of time where an entire sub-culture sprouted up around these four-wheeled behemoths. Van magazines (at one point, one rests on Bobby’s van dashboard, further revealing his commitment) and van conventions abound; at one point during the film, our cast attends one of these. What we find is a quirky paradise of drag races, 35 cent beer, and the gaudiest rides around. Call it vansploitation because this sequence (and, hell, most of the flick itself) exists just to show off how cool van-owners and their vans are.

None manage to outclass the film’s lead, though. No, not Bobby--I’m talking about the Straight Arrow, his Dodge D300 Tradesman that he transforms into a palace of palace to panty-dropping. No stone of excess is left unturned, as it features the requisite 8-track player, CB-radio, toaster, fridge, and, of course, plenty of room in the back for a waterbed. Sadly, that last amenity doesn’t survive the encounter with the fat chick in a raucous sequence where Bobby’s busted-nut is artfully represented by his punctured waterbed. At any rate, this title character (yes, character) drives off with the show; I’m sure most of the budget was spent on it, which is probably why it’s shown off multiple times (vansploitation at its finest). That might sound tedious, but it isn’t; instead, it totally inundates you into the characters’ van-addled minds--one look at the Straight Arrow, and you’ll completely understand. I actually spent much of the film cringing any time the van was put into mortal danger.

To be such a simple tale of a boy and his van, The Van is sort of a blast; it’s a total throw back to the days of free love and carefree antics. Angst is only reserved for the obligatory love sub-plot that eventually forces Bobby to make many choices: will he keep trying to seduce Sally, all the while hoping Dugan doesn’t pound the crap out of him? Or will he realize that there’s more to life to vans, sex, and sex in vans by settling with Tina? That’s about all that film amounts to, plot-wise, but it’s so gleefully committed to being tactless, excessive, and stupid that it doesn’t matter. It’s also dedicated to poppy, lite-FM soft rock tunes, many of which are from Sammy Johns. The most prominent tune is his hit single “Chevy Van” (even though the Straight Arrow is a Dodge), which intones the virtues of having a gal who’ll make love to you in a van. What an anthem. During the course of the film, I found myself converted to the cult of vans (apparently they call themselves “vanners”), so I was a bit dismayed at the eventual ending, which is easily predictable if you’ve seen any movie like this. But hey, Bobby’s summer of love is a lot of fun while it lasts, and that’s alright with me. (Brett G.)

Tale of the Tape:

8 out of a possible 10 inches.

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1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, the comedic misadventures of a van-obsessed ginger rapist. A true pleasure, and I say that without sarcasm. It's a marvellous look into a different time.

    I've not seen it in the past year, so it's definitely getting near time for another viewing.