Playing for Keeps (1986) / Comedy-Musical

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some drug references and brief nudity
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Daniel Jordano, Matthew Penn, Leon W. Grant, Mary B. Ward, Robert Milli, Harold Gould, Marisa Tomei, Jimmy Baio, Kim Hauser  
Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein



Shortly before Bob and Harvey Weinstein would become rich and famous for founding Miramax Pictures, they wrote, directed, and produced a cheesy piece of 80s piffle known as Playing for Keeps.   I'm guessing that the Weinsteins business cards ignore this fact, probably showing them as the executive producers Pulp Fiction, Chicago and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although it would be nice to see them list the film that had their most direct involvement, if only for laughs. 

Playing for Keeps is a very dated mid-80s teen film, which is likely to cut both ways when it comes to viewers enjoyment.  If you love the 80s, especially the corny adolescent films, you'll get plenty of mileage out of this one.  At a time when MTV ruled and music videos were at their height, the flashy style, musical interludes, and impromptu dance numbers spilled over into the film world, and Playing for Keeps followed suit.  By 1986, the musical-fantasy novelty was wearing thin, and the movie is mostly forgotten by all but the most hardcore of 80s aficionados.  Interestingly, despite the lack of following, it is available on DVD, although it's being marketed as a Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) vehicle, capitalizing on its obscurity.  For anyone interested, this is Tomei's first large role in a film, but only as a supporting player.  The rest of the cast is pretty obscure, with a couple of them related to more recognizable actors; Matthew Penn is brother to Sean and Chris, while Jimmy Baio is cousin to Scott. 

Lest I forget, there actually is a plot.  In NYC, Danny, Silk and Spikes are best friends fresh out of high school and looking to make it in the world.  They get an early opportunity when Danny inherits a large hotel in a rural upstate area.  Although it carries some debt, the boys have big dreams of turning the place into a rock palace, but those notions are deflated somewhat when they see that the place is a dilapidated mess.  Not easily dissuaded, they start to renovate it, but a local businessman has dreams of his own for using the land as the future site of a chemical plant, and tries to evict them by any means necessary. 

It's a very standard plot of young idealists trying to keep their dreams from being squashed by ruthless, power-hungry old guys.  You've seen this kind of thing many times before, so the storyline serves little interest in and of itself.  Even the few music numbers aren't enough to impress, lacking any real freshness or inspiration.  The cast isn't unlikable, but they aren't particularly strong either, and for a film that requires them all to act, sing and dance, none of them are strong enough in any one of them to truly lift this trite material into a more entertaining flick.  The plot also makes no sense at all.  Why would a hotel near a rural town with seemingly only one person under 30 be a great location for a teen hangout?

Until recently, this film had no real audience, as its not substantive enough to please anyone looking for a good film, while also not distinct enough to impress those who regularly like musical teen comedies.  However, for collectors of 80s corn, it does hit all the right notes (or should I say, the wrong ones) to properly keep you amused. 

The DVD: $10.  Renting it: $3.  Watching Marisa Tomei and company dance and prance like complete fools while painting a house:  priceless.     

2004 Vince Leo