The Movies of Summer 1991
Is 1991 the summer of fun?
Greetings, Retro Fans! Break out the sunblock and grab some popcorn, because we're traveling back to the summer of 1991 to see some of the movies that Hollywood had to offer that season.
Outside of movies, the summer of 1991 always stands out to me in my memory, as some life changes occurred. Some even bigger ones would be on the way next summer, but I'll get to that when I cover 1992.
For me, 1991 was the summer that my two old brothers (who are twins) graduated from high school, and would be going to college in the fall. That meant that for the first time ever, I would have the house to myself. To a kid who just turned 14 during the summer, that was a big deal, and I remember anticipating what it was going to be like. This was also the same summer that I got my first real pet. Right before my birthday, my parents allowed me to adopt a kitten named Satia (pronounced "Say-sha"). She ended up being a great friend, and one who was loved dearly by my entire family, especially me. Even though she was not around for a long time (she had to be put down due to a tumor at only 8 years old), she lives on forever, and my family still talks about her from time to time. I've had many pets since then, and I've loved them all, but Satia will always stand out in my mind.
Summer 1991 also meant hanging out with friends, video games, and anticipating the release of the Super Nintendo. But mostly to me, it meant the movies, and that's what we're here for, isn't it? So, let's take a look back at the films I remember seeing at the theater that summer.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
RELEASED: MAY 17
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) is a neurotic, compulsive, germophobic, needy and broken down man who seems to be a psychiatrist's nightmare. He becomes the nightmare of Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfus) when he becomes the doctor's new patient. Leo is planning a month's vacation with his family to New Hampshire, which includes a TV appearance to plus his new self-help book. Bob manages to track him down, and now he won't leave, and even befriends Leo's entire family. It eventually gets to the point that Bob the patient is getting better spending time around the family, while Leo the doctor slowly loses his mind.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was the movie I saw with my mom over Memorial Day Weekend, and we both loved it. I seem to remember that this movie greatly divided audiences, with some people finding Bill Murray's performance annoying. I can see where they come from, but I personally find this to be one of Murray's funnier performances. The antagonistic relationship he shares with Dreyfus in this film got some of the biggest laughs from me. (Who can forget "Death Therapy"?) According to the film's director, Frank Oz, the two actors did not get along well with each other during the course of the shoot, but it never seems to spoil their performances.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While I don't find the movie as funny as I used to, I still find this to be one of those "comfort movies" - a film that puts me in a good mood every time I see it on, and that I will watch every time I see it on TV. I still think Murray is great in this, and he handles the character well, so that Bob comes across as sort of likable, instead of flat-out obnoxious. It's a fine line, but he never crosses it. This has gone on to be one of my mom's favorite movies actually since we saw this at the theater. It's the performances of Murray and Dreyfus that make this movie for me. They play such great opposites here, and it's wonderful to see them go at each other.
RELEASED: MAY 24
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A recently paroled cat burglar (Bruce Willis) aims to go straight, but finds it hard to do when everybody seems to be out to get him in order to pull off another heist. A pair of thieves want his help in stealing some priceless inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci in a plot to take over the world. A lot of wacky hijinks and even musical numbers ensue in this very goofy vanity project.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Hudson Hawk is well known for being probably the biggest Hollywood disaster of 1991. It joined the ranks of legendary flops like Ishtar and Howard the Duck, and was Willis' first big stumbling block since hitting it big with Die Hard. And yet, my two older brothers absolutely loved this movie. They came home raving about how hilarious they found it. They wanted to take me to see it, so I went, and...I didn't really know how to respond to the film. The movie was obviously trying to be a zany live action cartoon, but something felt off, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I didn't hate it, but I also didn't see what my brothers did back then. I still claim to this day that my brothers are probably the biggest fans this movie ever had.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Having watched it recently, I think I put my finger on why I couldn't fully get into this film. It simply is trying to hard. Everybody in this movie is trying to be goofy, and everybody is trying to be sillier than everybody else. This movie needs a straight man. It needed somebody that the audience can identify with. This movie comes across as constant forced shtick, and it gets annoying after a while. I don't think this is a horrible movie, really, but I do think it's a terribly misguided one. Like a lot of big star-driven ego vanity projects, this movie got out of control because no one was around to tell the star "no".
RELEASED: JUNE 7
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) is turning 40, and already feels like his life is over. He gets permission from his wife to "find his smile", and go on a vacation with his two best friends Phil (Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby), who are both facing mid-life crises of their own. The three guys travel to the southwest to participate in a real cattle drive. On the drive, Mitch meets one of the last true cowboys, a leather-faced, rattlesnake chewing man named Curly (Jack Palance, giving a performance that would win him an Oscar). It's through Curly and his experiences on the trip that Mitch not only finds happiness, but purpose in his life.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Thanks to movies like The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal was a rising comic star at the time. This movie pretty much cemented that reputation. I loved the film when I saw it as a kid. I had never really been into Westerns, and cowboys had little interest to me. But, something about this movie stood out to me. Not only was the dialogue funny, but I loved the chemistry between the lead actors. This was a funny and sweet natured film that I remember found a big audience. Crystal would try to recapture the magic a few years later with a sequel, but it got a very different response. We'll get to that one in the summer of 1994.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I still find this to be one of Crystal's more likable films. The scene where he is speaking to his son's class on Career Day still stands as probably some of the funniest work he's ever done on screen. I still laugh all the way through the speech he gives. Now that I am nearly 40 myself (I turn 38 this summer), I can relate to some of the things he talks about in this film that I obviously could not relate to back when I first saw it. Outside of that, the performances still stand out, and there is some genuinely funny dialogue throughout. This is just a likable movie all around.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES
RELEASED: JUNE 14
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this dark and edgy take on the Robin Hood legend, Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) returns to his homeland to find his father dead, most of his friends gone, and the land under the tyranical rule of the sadistic and wise-cracking Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). He teams up with a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, wins the hear of Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and the world would be subjected to that damn Bryan Adams song for the rest of the summer.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was the most hyped movie of 1991, at least in my memory. When i finally saw it opening weekend, I remember thinking I liked it mostly for Rickman's performance of the Sheriff. The movie itself was okay, but never stood out. While the film was successful, this was kind of the beginning of Costner's downfall, as his ego and increasingly expensive and troubled productions would lead to such famous disasters as 1995's Waterworld and The Postman. Everybody walked out of this movie remembering the villain, while Costner was pretty much mocked for not even attempting a British accent.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Let's face it, Rickman owns this movie. His Sheriff is great, but honestly, he doesn't belong in this movie. He belongs in a different Robin Hood movie, one that's a lot more fun than this one is. This is a dark, slow and murky film that just isn't a lot of fun to sit through. The movie simply takes itself far too seriously. I'm not saying it should be a comedy, but it's such a violent and bloody film, I don't know what they were thinking marketing it to kids back in the day with toys and even a breakfast cereal. Were it not for Rickman, I don't think this movie would be worth remembering.
RELEASED: JUNE 21
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is an idealistic young pilot who stumbles upon a jetpack that was hidden inside one of his planes. Turns out everyone is looking for that jetpack, from organized crime mobsters, and even the Nazis. Ultimately, Cliff will have to use the portable rocket to become a hero, save his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and stop an evil Hollywood actor (Timothy Dalton) who is secretly working for the Axis Forces.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This movie had an old fashioned adventure vibe that really appealed to me. Like the Indiana Jones films, it was a good mix of adventure, comedy, and a lot of fun stunts. Maybe after sitting through Robin Hood the week before, I was ready for something that was more fun and lighthearted, and this movie fit the bill. It's a shame that the movie bombed at the box office, as I remember thinking it had a lot of potential for a franchise.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is a cheesy, but very fun adventure story. Sure, the characters could be better (Cliff himself is a bit of a do-gooder bore), but I just love how perfectly director Joe Johnston captures an innocent and fun feeling to the story, and creates an old fashioned adventure story that could have come from the period it's set in (the early 1940s). I also love James Horner's music score to this film, which I shared in my article on under appreciated film scores a few months back. While it's not a perfect film, this one deserves to be remembered more than it is.
THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR
RELEASED: JUNE 28
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The grandfather of spoof movies, Leslie Nielsen, returns as Lt. Frank Drebin, this time attempting to uncover a secret plot by the major energy providers to silence a scientist who has discovered a safer and environmental friendly solution to the world's energy crisis. But really, the plot doesn't matter. This movie is all about more anarchy humor from the Zucker Brothers, who throw in gags in just about every corner of the screen.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a huge fan of 1988's The Naked Gun, and a big fan of the filmmakers, the Zucker Brothers as well, so there was no way I was going to miss this. The movie did not disappoint. I remember my friend and I laughing all the way through this one. This was back when actual effort went into spoof films (not like recent ones, like the Scary Movie films or A Haunted House), and people actually looked forward to seeing them. That's because these were written much smarter than a lot of the ones you see today. The Zuckers and their writing partners knew how and when to throw in a joke, and how to throw in so many in a single scene that a lot of their movies started to resemble live action Mad Magazine cartoons.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My opinion hasn't changed much. Watching it again recently, I was reminded just how quick these movies were, and how they flowed so beautifully with one gag leading to the next, with usually a completely separate gag going on in the background. These movies really are controlled chaos. It looks messy and juvenile, but there really was an art to making these films, and making everything come together.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY
RELEASED: JULY 3
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Arguably the greatest Schwarzenegger movie ever made, this one finds him returning as the futuristic cyborg. He again travels back in time, only this time his mission is to save Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) instead of terminating her. He must also protect her teenage son, John (Edward Furlong), who has become the target of a more advanced cyborg known as the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), who is made of liquid metal and can morph into any human form it wishes.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: If my opening sentence didn't already give it away, I thought this movie rocked. Even though the film was R-rated, I think just about every kid in my neighborhood got to see it, either with their parents or older siblings. This really deserved to be the biggest movie of the summer. It had great action, humor, and some mind-blowing special effects for its time. It was pretty much a film that defined what a summer movie should be for its time, and it stood head and shoulders above just about anything else Hollywood released that season.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Like I said in my previous article on the 1990 summer movies when I was talking about Total Recall, this is probably one of my most watched classic Schwarzenegger films. It just holds up so well, even if the effects don't pack the wow factor that they once did. James Cameron's script is not only exciting, it's well-written, filled with plenty of humor and wonderful action sequences. The T-1000 is still a great villain, and I love that they did not cast a body builder like Schwarzenegger in the role, as that somehow made him all the more menacing. He could appear normal, yet was powerful enough to nearly destroy Arnold. I've seen this movie a thousand times, and will probably watch it a thousand more.
PROBLEM CHILD 2
RELEASED: JULY 5TH
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Junior (Michael Oliver) is back to cause more trouble when he moves to a new neighborhood with his adopted father, Ben (John Ritter). But this time, there's a little girl named Trixie (Ivyann Schwan) who just may be as bad as Junior is, if not worse, and the two start a battle for title of "baddest kid". As for Ben, he's looking to remarry, and must choose between the wealthy and vain Lawanda (Laraine Newman), or the sweet school nurse, Annie (Amy Yasbeck, who played Ritter's wife in the last film).
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Oh boy, where do I begin with this? The first movie (which was PG) was pretty raunchy and obnoxious, but this sequel (which was PG-13) pushes it to an entirely new level. In fact, according to the writers, the movie had to be edited down in order to avoid an R-rating initially. This movie went all out on the gross out factor, with the "highlight" being the amusement park thrill ride that turns into a vomiting nightmare. This movie features a literal mountain of dog droppings at one point, gags involving roaches, and even a scene where little Junior films his babysitter having rough sex with her boyfriend, and broadcasts it on a big screen outside his house so the neighbors can watch. I remember thinking it was a bit much even when I was 14! To me, this felt like a children's movie trying to imitate an R-rated adult gross out comedy, and the whole thing just felt off to me.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: It feels even more off to me now. I just felt really uncomfortable catching up with this movie, and wondering how the hell the filmmakers got away with marketing a movie filled with sex, violence and projectile vomiting to kids. I remember the theatrical release even came attached with a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, as if that would somehow make it okay for children. There's no way anyone could get away with making a film like this today, and we should be grateful for that. The first movie was stupid and obnoxious, but this movie is stupid, obnoxious and gross. Stay far away from this one.
BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY
RELEASED: JULY 19
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Three years after their "Excellent Adventure", we find Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) about to hit it big with their rock band, Wyld Stallyns, only to have their fame thwarted by a villain from the future named De Nomolos (Joss Ackland). The "evil dude" has created evil robot replicas of our heroes (also played by Winter and Reeves) who actually succeed in killing the two clueless friends. Bill and Ted must now travel across the afterlife and convince Death (William Sadler) to give them a second chance at life, so they can stop the evil robot clones from ruining their career and their lives.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a huge fan of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure growing up, so I couldn't wait for the sequel. And when I heard the plot, I thought it sounded amazing, and became even more excited. When I finally saw it, I remember liking it, but thinking it lacked something that the first movie had that I couldn't put my finger on. I thought the aliens who teamed up with the heroes (Station) were kind of lame looking, and while I liked the scenes between Bill and Ted and Death, I thought the rest of the scenes dealing with the afterlife could have been better. Not bad, just not quite the sequel it could have been.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I have a little more admiration for this movie now, though I still think it's a step down from the first movie. Now that I'm older, I can appreciate the references to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal that the filmmakers snuck in. At the very least, they really did make an effort with this sequel, instead of just copying the successful formula from the first movie like so many do. It may not be perfect, but the characters of Bill and Ted are still likable, and the movie never feels to make me smile in a goofy way when I watch it.
RELEASED: AUGUST 2
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: It's our second spoof film of the summer, this time mainly taking aim at Top Gun. Before he became a national punchline, Charlie Sheen was seen as a credible action star, and this was his chance to satire his own image playing Topper Harley, a young and brash fighter pilot who must overcome his personal demons in order to become the best of the best, and save the world from terrorist armies bent on targeting the U.S.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember enjoying this movie, though finding it a bit uneven when it came to successful laughs. I personally thought The Naked Gun sequel pulled it off better. Still, there was a lot to like here. Sheen did a good job of parodying his 80s and early 90s image, and of course there was Lloyd Bridges as the dim-witted Admiral, who almost steals the entire movie. Something just felt missing here, and that something I think was the presence of the Zucker Brothers themselves, who were the masters of the genre at the time, and could have probably pushed this film to another level.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My reaction has not changed much. This is more of a "silly" film than a funny one. And yes, it does work in a lot of ways. But there's also a lot more lengthy stretches where I don't find myself laughing quite as much. Still, this was a great introduction to Sheen as a comedic actor. Yeah, he had that small role in Ferris Bueller, but that was more of a cameo. This was the movie that proved he was willing to make fun of himself, which probably came in handy later on.
And, that's it for the Summer movies I saw at the theater in 1991. I guess the pickings were kind of slim for movies kids would be interested in back then. Regardless, it wasn't a bad season at all. We had some great (Terminator 2), some not so great (Robin Hood), and some that probably never should have been made (Problem Child 2).
I want to thank everyone for the support of this series, and I hope I can reach my goal of covering all the summer movies I remember going to see during the 90s. I'll see all of you next time in 1992!