Under The Hula Moon

1995, Movie, R, 96 mins


When Jonathan Demme concocted SOMETHING WILD, he opened up the floodgates to dozens of derivatives that miss the point of juxtaposing violence and comedy. One is UNDER THE HULA MOON, a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT movie with delusions of social satire.

Betty (Emily Lloyd) and Buzz (Stephen Baldwin) share a trailer in the Cactus Gulch area of the Arizona Desert. Their dream is to move to Hawaii. Betty seeks this goal by entering sweepstakes, while Buzz tries to market his invention, a potent sunscreen called Cammo. Unbeknownst to the wishful thinkers, Buzz's psychotic brother Turk (Chris Penn) has just busted out of prison and murdered a motorist for his car.

After learning that Betty has won a $10,000 prize, Turk assaults his brother and kidnaps Betty. While Turk heads for Mexico with Betty and her prize, Buzz is counseled by a Hawaiian god to find his inner courage. Accompanied by ex-girlfriend/local reporter Maya Gundinger (Musetta Vander), who smells a career-making scoop, Buzz test-runs his bravery by rescuing a car accident victim, then closes in on Turk and Betty at a sleazy cantina. Let down by the resident criminal element, Buzz is forced to combat his brother single-handedly. After nearly killing Turk, Buzz falls with his sibling through the bar-room floor and into the covert headquarters of the Department of Justice, which just happens to be located under the bar.

Betty gives her prize winnings to the family of a prison guard slain by Turk, and Buzz receives an offer from the military to market his revolutionary sunblock as camouflage for the armed forces. Millionaires, the couple goes to Hawaii.

This unwieldy congealing of low humor and sadomasochism leaves the audience in a hostile mood because of the way it patronizes its just-plain-folks protagonists. Instead of propelling the narrative forward by using Turk's anti-social behavior as a commentary on the underside of the American Dream, this coarsely conceived road picture seems to revel in the bad guy's cruelty. For example, the sequence in which mad-dog Turk shoots off the ear of a decent driver begging for his life is sick and pointless; this grotesque comedy never recovers from that literal overkill.

The movie doesn't present recognizable human beings, just punching bags for the the writer and director to maneuver around. Although Penn has some facility for limning pea-brained, slap-around heavies, Lloyd is too talented to be playing a variation on Elly Mae Clampett. As for the boyishly handsome Baldwin, his dramatic skills can take him as high as his flashy turn in FALL TIME or as low as his wholesome heroism in NEW EDEN, but he is a hopelessly bogus comic actor. Still, his lack of finesse could not find a better home than in this fatuous slam at country bumpkinism. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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Under The Hula Moon
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