VIBES - DVD review

Great film? Nope. Good film? Not really. But it made me laugh.

James Plath's picture

Sony just released this title in a second wave of films they're calling "Martini Movies." The disc design of "Vibes" features a martini glass and a recipe for making an "Abracadabra Martini" (1 shot tequila, 1 shot apricot brandy, 2 shots lemon juice, 2 shots lychee juice). Other titles in this latest wave are "Our Man in Havana" (Cuban Martini), "Gumshoe" (Gimlet Martini), and two released on DVD for the first time: "5ive" (Atomic Orange Martini) and "Getting Straight" (Lava Lamp Martini).

The tagline for the series tells it all: "one part top-shelf martini, two parts celluloid history, all garnished with a hint of camp." In the case of "Vibes" (1988), make that a dollop so generous that if it were whipped cream added to latte it would rise like a glacier in the coffee cup. "Vibes" isn't a great movie. Heck, it probably isn't even a good one. But it made me laugh consistently throughout, and that's worth something, especially for a film that embraces tongue-in-cheek camp.

If they played this straight, "Vibes" would be a 3 out of 10. But it's all in good fun, and you could never cast a more unlikely trio of stars than Jeff Goldblum, Cyndi Lauper, and Peter Falk. "Vibes" is produced by Ron Howard and scripted by "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley" alums Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who also co-wrote "Spies Like Us," "Splash" and "Night Shift." And it's directed by Ken Kwapis--yes, the same Ken Kwapis who directed 11 episodes of "The Office." So these people know what they're doing, and they're not giving us sophisticated comedy. It's an "Indiana Jones" or "Romancing the Stone"-style adventure that's designed to showcase pop-rocker Cyndi Lauper in her first big-screen feature film.

Lauper plays a psychic who's into astral projection and who has a spirit companion named Louise, whom she talks to like an imaginary friend. "Vibes" opens with a tired segment that we've seen so many times before: two adventurers led by a guide to a forbidden sacred spot. Though the guide thinks they're there to pray, they're really there to prey . . . and pry the stones apart to get at what they believe to be a legendary Incan Room of Gold. But we forgive the derivative opening because the Ecuadorian scenery is so astounding. Predictably, when the bad guys try to mess with this force, they meet with the same sort of end as the Nazis in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." From there it's back to America and a ripped-off scene from "Ghostbusters," where people who claim to have psychic powers are being tested at a paranormal institute. By this point I'm thinking, there've only been two sequences, and neither offered anything original. But then a funny line popped in, and another. And just like the audience in "Springtime for Hitler" that was heading for the doors when the laughs picked up, I settled into my seat and just went along with the film's premise and enjoyed what it had to offer: campy humor, and plenty of it.

Sylvia is recruited by a strange man (Falk) to go with him to Ecuador to find his son. Being a flighty ditz who wears hair that looks like it's ready to take off on its own, she isn't confident enough to do this by herself. So she goes to a fellow psychic she just met at the Institute and in no time at all she and Nick Deezy (Goldblum) are headed for the land of the Incas.

Ganz and Mandel are known for their snappy dialogue, and that's the saving grace of this film. When a woman tries to seduce Nick and then when they're alone pulls a knife on him, Nick quips, "I take it sex is off?" Beat. Then she screams, he does the olé thing, and the next thing you know she's doing a half-gainer off the balcony. And when Nick bursts in on Sylvia as a sophisticated man is trying to put an expensive necklace around her, he thinks the man is trying to strangle her and takes appropriate, quasi-heroic action. As they make their escape Sylvia says, "I had this guy eatin' out of my hand. Look," she says, showing him the hand, "there's still melon."

Gags like that abound. In the hospital a man pulls out a gun and Nick says, dryly, "A silencer in a hospital. How very thoughtful." Later, when he's about to meet his own end, his assailant says, "I'll give you a break. Where wouldn't you like to be shot?" "South America," comes the reply. Barump-bump! Yes, the jokes are corny, Lauper's Brooklynese accent is funny, and Goldblum and Falk are as goofy as ever.

Life is short. These days, if a film is SO bad I'm not at all hesitant to turn it off. I expected to have that reaction to "Vibes," but as long as the jokes kept coming, I kept watching. And before you knew it, the darned thing was over, and I had been entertained against my better judgment. After I watched this, I went to the Internet Movie Database just for kicks to see what others gave this film, and it turns out that 1,312 people gave it a collective 4.7 out of 10. Are you kidding me? The laughs alone are worth more than that, and as odd of a couple as Lauper and Goldblum make (even the kiss makes you go, "Huh?"), the banter and the psychic elements are still fun--especially Nick's ability. If Nick touches an object, he gets a complete picture of the history of that object--who touched it, what the circumstances were, and so on. At the paranormal institute he drops a knife because he flashes on a horrible murder, which researchers confirmed. At which point he bangs his head on the table . . . then remarks, "Someone's been having sex on this table."

I picture this as a highlight of a martini or '80s party, because "Vibes" is best watched with other people so you can make your own caustic remarks, adding another level to the humor. "Vibes" is a fun take-off on psychic films, and if it uses the adventure formula to deliver the jokes, well, there are worse genres to steal tropes from.

A word, though, about the rating, in case parents want to share their '80s memories with their children. "Vibes" is rated PG, but "shit" or some variation of it is used at least four times, and there are two sexual situations (no nudity or anything graphic).

"Vibes" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the color picture quality (the screenshot is from a promotional b&w) is generally good. There's some graininess throughout, but the colors themselves are decent. And you want it to be a little blurry during some of the special effects, which are only slightly better than "Power Rangers."

The audio is a nothing-fancy Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround with closed captions in English. I found the transfer to be inconsistent, with the audio needing to be turned up at some points because it got suddenly quieter. Most of the film is dialogue, and so most of the sound comes out of the front and main speakers, but it's a mayonnaise jar sound, rather than a clear, robust track.

The concept is cute, but the bonus features aren't even as substantial as olives in a martini. There's the original trailer and two "Martini Minutes"--clip-montages with voiceover narrative that tries to sell the marketing concept: "Secrets of Deception" and "How to Travel in Style." More martini recipes or ones for canapés would have been better.

Bottom Line:
Great film? Nope. Good film? Not really. But it made me laugh. Those 1000+ people at IMDB need prune juice. Watch this with friends and you'll all be having big-hair and shoulder-pad flashbacks. Even if you don't touch something . . . or someone.


Film Value