Posted: 08/10/2009


Spring Break


by Jason Coffman

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Sean Cunningham is not a filmmaker known for subtlety— this is the man who produced Last House on the Left and directed the original Friday the 13th. Before getting involved with those two horror classics, though, Cunningham started out doing super low-budget sexploitation films, and learned how to make a lowbrow hit in various subgenres. The teen sex comedy was booming in the early 1980s, and Cunningham took a shot at it with 1983’s Spring Break: a none-too-subtle title, perfect for what the filmmakers were aiming for. This one was a shot at all-time teenage sex comedy immortality.

Nerdy pals Nelson (David Knell) and Adam (Perry Adams) arrive in Ft. Lauderdale in the midst of Spring Break fever, check into the Breeze ‘n Seas hotel, and are barely settled in when a mixup makes them roommates with Stu (Paul Land) and OT Bangin’ (Steve Bassett). The fact that OT’s full name is apparently “Out there Totally Bangin’” tells you pretty much all you need to know about him. The four quickly bond over beer, bikinis, and, uh, more beer. Meanwhile, Nelson’s stepfather Ernest Dalby (Donald Symington) is infuriated that Nelson has taken Spring Break vacation instead of helping him with his campaign for the Senate and tracks him down to Ft. Lauderdale. Inexplicably, Dalby is also involved in a plot to tear down the Breeze ‘n Seas for some reason. After a while the epic plot starts to feel like a Spring Break version of Spartacus. Luckily, any time things threaten to get too heavy, there’s usually something nearby for the characters to spray each other with while the soundtrack explodes with painfully 1980s music.

Cunningham had a lot of competition in the teen sex comedy market in the 1980s, and was far from the only filmmaker using Spring Break and Florida as his jumping-off points. It’s pretty obvious he was going for the ultimate Spring Break movie: the film runs a comparatively epic 101 minutes, most of that running time packed with people drinking beer, young ladies in bikinis, people pouring beer on other people, female rock bands playing songs like “Do It” (“I wanna do it/ I wanna do it to YOU”), spitting out beer, nudity, spraying beer around, wet t-shirt contests, guys peeing because they drank so much beer, people getting thrown into pools with their clothes on, and a lot of screamed dialogue that’s mostly incomprehensible. In short, if you can think of a ridiculous Spring Break movie cliché, it’s probably somewhere in Spring Break.

That’s not to say Spring Break is bad, necessarily. It’s actually pretty damned close to the Platonic ideal of the Spring Break movie, except it runs a little too long and packs in too many characters. There’s a montage somewhere around the halfway point that summarizes neatly the valid complaints against the film— suddenly, it seems like the four guys have been living together at the hotel for months. This isn’t the kind of movie where we need to spend this much time with any of the characters. For example, we follow Nelson as he goes from bullied nerd to somewhat assertive nerd who can drink a lot. That’s not really the kind of character arc that needs too much explanation.

Even if there weren’t quite as many authority figures being tossed into swimming pools fully clothed as I would have liked, Spring Break is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s sort of amazing that it’s just now finally being released on DVD. If you’re looking for some intensely goofy fun, or are nostalgic for the days when you saw the VHS cover at your local video store but never rented it, there’s no better time to check it out.

Spring Break is out on DVD 11 August from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The disc includes English subtitles and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.

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