Since 1974's Lords of Flatbush, casting Sylvester Stallone as the star of a film has generally entailed contracting for the script doctoring services of Mr. Stallone's all-time favorite screenwriter: himself. Then again, the term "script doctor" doesn't really seem appropriate. Script doctors toil in darkness. They lurk furtively in the shadows of Hollywood, unacknowledged and unseen. Stallone, in sharp contrast, is the dude with his name all over the screenplay credits for many of his films.
I can only imagine the soul-shaking horror experienced by one weak-kneed scribe after another upon hearing for the first time the sinister phrase "Mr. Stallone has some ideas about the script." That misshaped noggin full of ideas has gotten Stallone into trouble repeatedly, like when he tried to pump up the action and tone down the comedy in Beverly Hills Cop until it formed the bare bones for Cobra.
Stallone infamously opted out of starring roles in both Beverly Hills Cop and Romancing The Stone to make 1984's Rhinestone, the concluding entry in "let's pick on the slow kid" week here at My Year Of Flops. And gosh darn it if Mr. Stallone didn't have a whole bunch of ideas on how the film's script could be improved. Future Field Of Dreams director Phil Alden Robinson was so disgusted by Stallone's "improvements" to his original script that he thought about taking his name off the picture, only to decide that having a screenplay credit on such a high-profile film would be good for his resume. Little did he know it was actually more of what Jason Bateman calls a "resume eraser."
Robinson should have been savvy enough to know the first rule of writing a Sylvester Stallone movie: If you write it, Sly will re-write.Rhinestone boasts a concept straight out of the ninth circle of high-concept hell, but there's a fine line between premises so ridiculous they're irresistible–like, say, Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as mismatched twins–and premises so ridiculous audiences smell a turkey from several continents away, like, say, Sylvester Stallone as a garrulous New York cabbie turned unlikely country singer.
Rhinestone's gimmicky plot centers on up-and-coming country singer Dolly Parton betting leering boss Ron Leibman that she can transform anyone into a country singer capable of surviving the heckling and catcalls of playing for the first time at Leibman's notoriously hostile nightclub. If Parton wins, Leibman has to tear up her Draconian contract with him. If Leibman wins, Parton has to surrender herself sexually to his crazed whims and extend her contract for another five years.
In my previous My Year Of Flops entry, I erroneously suggested that Stallone is doomed to forever play variations on Rocky and Rambo. Well, Rhinestone made a goddamned liar out of me yet again. Here Stallone plays a motor-mouthed cabbie who suggests Andrew "Dice" Clay on crank crossed with Scott Valentine in Family Ties. Introduced indulging a pair of stereotypical Japanese customers' wish to go to a "Cowboy Prace," Stallone quickly becomes the guinea pig in Parton and Leibman's whimsical social experiment.
But Stallone isn't a complete neophyte when it comes to music. At the risk of offending the delicate sensibilities of the A.V Club readership, I can assure you that much ribald sport is made of the fact that Stallone has a huge organ at home, loves to play with said organ, and desperately wants Parton to give his big organ a try as well. And to think, Robinson was ashamed to have his name associated with this project! I imagine that when he first saw the Preston Sturges-worthy "giant organ" sequence, he was so shocked his monocle crashed to the ground and splintered into a million little pieces, just like that James Frey book, My Friend Leonard.
Stallone brings home Parton to meet his undertaker father and food-pimp mom, both of whom seem to have emerged full-cloth from the big book of Italian stereotypes. "Mamma mia! This chick has got some body! Do you think you can handle it? If you can't, call. Understand? Cause I'm right here. Call, dammit!" Stallone's dad confides creepily to his nonplussed son after being introduced to Parton.
While lovingly stroking his giant organ, Stallone favors Parton with an insane, screeching rendition of "Tutti Frutti" that suggests his biggest influence is Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Parton and Stallone then head to Tennessee for more hilarious culture-clash antics: Parton's father Richard Farnsworth teaches Stallone how to sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm." Country crooner Tim Thomerson asks Stallone what it's like to "shoot up a whole bunch of heroin" and inquires about the general health of the Costa Nostra. While sporting a cowboy hat festooned with raccoon tails and an outfit seemingly borrowed from the Village People's Cowboy, Stallone sings a ditty about how "Budweiser created a monster and they call me Drinkenstein." Alas, his efforts result in that timeless high water mark of comic sophistication: the pained reaction shot of a dog covering its ears in horror. And to think Robinson didn't want to shout his association with Rhinestone from the mountaintops. At long last Mr. Robinson, sir, have you some sense of shame?
Eventually the pair head back to New York and the dumb-fun stops as the film creaks to a halt. I generally don't go in for the whole "so-bad-it's-awesome" thing, but I must admit that the sight of Stallone singing "Drinkenstein" or screeching his way through "Tutti Frutti" or playing Snaps with Thomerson gave me little spasms of guilty pleasure. There's something strangely ingratiating about the film's utter shamelessness and hoary reliance on mothballed stereotypes.
Stallone here delivers a performance so spastic and amped-up, it's a wonder the cast and crew didn't stage an emergency intervention and take away his espresso machine, though this being the '80s, I'm sure it's possible he was fueled by something a little less harmless. He's not funny necessarily, but he is winningly goofy and, like the film itself, utterly unencumbered by anything resembling dignity.
Parton doesn't play off Stallone so much as she stands there with a pained smile until he hushes up with all his gosh-darn foolishness. For all her cartoon sexuality, Parton cuts a strangely asexual figure. She's less sexy than "sexy," an outsized caricature of female sexuality. It doesn't help that she has a figure unseen in nature. Also, I suspect that once you strip away all the wigs and make-up and padding, Parton actually resembles William Hickey in Prizzi's Honor.
All the same, I sort of enjoyed Rhinestone as undiluted '80s über-cheese, especially Stallone's weird, loose, unhinged performance. And if I had a country-rock band, I'd try to work "Drinkenstein" into every set. Yet for all its cornball charm Rhinestone ultimately does little to disprove the widespread notion that the "funny Sylvester Stallone comedy" remains a pop-culture oxymoron.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco