Well, I've had a mostly swell vacation week, and today marks the last day before I head back to the daily grind. Ideally I'd prefer to spend it at the pool, but Friday I got a special surprise of a sunburn so severe that affected areas resemble bubble wrap, that hurts like (insert every profanity in your vocabulary), so I'm a bit soured on even leaving my house at the moment.
Which gives me time to devote to a column I'd originally intended as an extra Father's Day gift -- a look at a holiday-appropriate cinema classic. I didn't get around to it last week, and though the holiday has passed and reviewing it now seems apropos of nothing, I watched the damn thing three times (well, two and a half times) and I don't want that time, and the notes I took down, to go to waste. So sit back, grab a refreshing beverage of your choice, and return with me to the year 1987, to relive that classic examination of father-son relationships, titled, fittingly, Like Father, Like Son. Here's the poignant trailer:
Or maybe not. Anyway, Like Father, Like Son was part of a wave of "Body Swap" movies that also included Vice Versa, Dream A Little Dream, and 18 Again!
The script is credited to a Lorne Cameron. I don't know if they're related, but I can tell you the script contains some mild profanity and sexual situations, which makes me think Kirk took this role before he underwent his transformation from blandly inoffensive teen idol to a douchebaggian wackjob who considers a stage kiss an act of marital infidelity.
Our story begins in scenic Death Valley. An old man, whom we later learn is named Earl, staggers through the desert with a badly injured leg, and collapses. A young, bare-chested Navajo discovers him, throws him over his shoulder, and carries him for what appears to be miles and miles, to a remote hut, where an elderly medicine man and a hot young Navajo woman attend to Earl's wounds. Earl cries repeatedly, "My leg! My leg!", which annoys the Medicine man as much as it does us, so he gives Earl a mysterious potion, and, as the young Navajo looks into Earl's eyes, the two of them swap bodies. This allows Earl's leg to heal without him feeling any pain, which is great for him, but surely sucks for the poor shmuck who switched bodies with him. After time, he takes the potion, they lock eyes again, and they return to each other's bodies. Earl is amazed by this whole experience, and the Medicine man gives him a bottle of the potion as a souvenir.
Cut from this to the home of the Hammonds. In an inexplicably dark room, Jack (Dudley Moore), a widowed doctor, is endlessly tutoring his teenaged son Chris (Kirk Cameron) on the human heart. Jack, who attended Oxford at 16, is hoping Chris will follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, but the boy seems disinterested, or maybe that's just his usual facial expression. The next day, in class, Chris tries to give a report on the heart, but his fellow students are as bored as he was, and it doesn't go over well. As he and his buddy Trigger (Sean Astin) exit class, Chris spots Lori, whom he's crushing on. We wonder why he has trouble approaching her, until he observes, "How can she stand to be so close to her own body without feeling herself up?" and we realize she, and probably every other female on the planet, probably finds him utterly repellent. This turns out to be true, as his attempt to invite her to "a concert"(no band name is mentioned at all during this scene) fall flat until her boyfriend, Rick, arrives, acting like a jerk. Thanks to this bit of lucky timing, she decides to accept his invitation to the concert, to make Rick jealous. The fact that Chris asks out a girl who doesn't particularly like him, has a boyfriend, and only accepts to make said boyfriend jealous -- none of which seems to bother him in the slightest -- lend great insight into his character. He is one insufferable little snotwaffle.
Meanwhile, Jack is making his rounds at the hospital, being particularly strict and stuffy with his interns. Jack is in line for a job as chief of staff, and his chances rest on his boss, Dr. Armbruster, a total douchebag who's strict about whether patients have insurance. This doesn't sit well with another doctor, Amy Larkin (Catherine Hicks), who's more concerned with giving everyone the Best Care Possible. Amy is the only likable person in the movie, and we expect a romance to bloom between her and Jack, but that would mean the screenwriter actually cared about the plot. Instead, Jack catches the eye of Arbruster's ridiculously young, hot wife Ginnie (Margeret Colin), who might be able to help Jack get that promotion if he plays his cards right.
While Jack is a dedicated doctor, Chris is grossed out by frog dissections. He's more interested in running, as part of the school's mile relay team, but he clashes with Rick, who's also on the team. He asks why they can't just get along, which is a stupid question considering he hit on Rick's girlfriend (remind me again why we're supposed to like this guy?).
After learning he's gotten a "C" on his latest test, Chris stresses out about how he'll break the news to his dad. Trigger diverts his attention from this by telling him about his Uncle Earl and the "brain transference serum" he brought back with him on his latest visit. Chris is understandably skeptical, until Trigger arrives at the house later with a bit of the serum, which he smuggled out of Earl's room in a small Tabasco Sauce bottle. I don't know where he found a funnel small enough. In any case, he demonstrates the serum's effectiveness by giving some to the Hammond's Calico cat Seymour, and setting him in front of the family dog. Sure enough, the dog starts meowing, the cat chases him upstairs, and the maid wonders what the hell is going on, and we wonder where they found a male Calico cat. Jack arrives home, and Trigger stashes the bottle in the kitchen cabinet, presumably in case the doctor tries to give him a strip search. Chris breaks the news about the low grade, and the father and son erupt into an argument, during which Jack decides it's time to mix a Bloody Mary. He unwittingly grabs the Tabasco Sauce bottle with the serum in it, adds it to the drink and continues arguing with Chris. In mid-debate, they swap brains. This is signified by some really annoying spooky music and the actors reacting with rubbery facial expression of utter confusion. (From this point on, Jack is portrayed by Kirk Cameron, and Chris is played by Dudley Moore) Upon realizing they've swapped bodies, Chris whimpers, "Dad, I'm old" And British, because even though they've swapped bodies, they haven't swapped accents. To be fair, it's unlikely Kirk could imitate a funny Englishman if a gun was put to his head, but, couldn't they at least have TESTED that method?
In any case, Jack is furious, and demands to know how this can be fixed. Trigger tells him Earl's already left but he'll try to track him down. Meanwhile,they'll just have to wait out the next series of contrived plot situations. As Jack remains home, stewing, Chris realizes he has his Dad's credit cards. This inspires him to behave like an idiot. He sneaks out to Trigger's house, awakening his parents, and invites Trigger for a night on the town. The two take off, charging up a storm, buying new clothes, stacks of CD's, and porno magazines, from stores with signs that read "Wow", and "Fun Stuff". Finally they arrive at a bar, where Chris is able to order a martini but Trigger isn't. While his buddy is off trying to hit on women who wouldn't walk across a room to spit on him, Chris runs into Ginnie, who of course, thinks she's talking to Jack. They flirt back and forth, Ginnie asks when she might drop by his house for a more intimate encounter, he leaves an open invitation, and things seem to be going well until Trigger shows up and frightens her away. After spending the rest of the night getting plastered, Chris arrives home, crashes the car in the yard, and then passes out. In the morning, Jack, in his bedroom, and Chris, still in his car, wake up, realize they're still in each other's bodies, and scream. Then Jack finds out what Chris has been up to and grounds him. (We never find out what Trigger's parents think about the fact that their teenaged son took off in the middle of the night with a man in his 40's and came home with a new wardrobe and porno mags. Apparently this sort of thing happens all the time.)
Since Jack can't go to work, what with his idiot son using his body at the moment, he instructs Chris to call in sick and refer patients to another doctor. Meanwhile, he decides to go to school, in the hopes that he'll be sufficiently bright enough to bring his son's grades up. Chris is upset about this and protests loudly. From what we've seen of Chris' social skills, it's hard to imagine Jack could do worse, but in class he winds up droning on endlessly, annoying everybody.
Meanwhile at home, Chris becomes bored just sitting around watching the MTV, and loses track of time, calling into the hospital a half hour later than he was supposed to. After the maid leaves he has the house to himself and blasts the stereo. At that very moment, Armbruster arrives at the house (after all, what else would he need to do in the middle of the day?), and, orders Chris to come to the hospital. Needless to say, he has no idea what he's doing during rounds, and makes an ass of himself at the boardroom meeting where he starts a small fire when he's unable to figure out how to smoke a cigarette (is he supposed to be 17 or 8? Actually, that's a difficult question to answer in this movie). The meeting is nearly over when Amy brings up the insurance issue. Chris sides with Amy, who's impressed by how courage he showed standing up to Armbruster in spite of the fact that this could put his promotion in jeopardy. In one day Chris managed to screw up his father's entire career. Then he nearly kills a patient who's coding, until the interns arrive and cover his sorry ass. He later expresses his gratitude by inviting them out for pizza.
Meanwhile, Jack isn't faring much better in the mile relay, despite his confidence that, "In this body, I can do anything." He comes in dead last, which technically falls under the umbrella of "anything", but doesn't endear him to his teammates. He has a run-in with Rick, who's still steamed at him for macking out with Lori. Jack, unaware that his son made such a douchebag move the previous day, dismisses Rick, and then runs over the kid's foot with his car.
When he arrives home, Chris insists Jack take Lori out on the date, because he doesn't want to spoil his chances of getting a second one, and he thinks the best way of making sure that will happen is to send a complete stranger in his place. This could be a set up for a number of funny situations, if the screenwriter cared about the plot. Instead, when they arrive at the concert (which turns out to be the band Autograph, though it looks like the footage was spliced in afterward), Jack is so eager to leave he winds up dropping her off at 9:30. If this was how he treated girls when he was attending Oxford, it's a wonder he met a woman who was willing to marry him. After dropping Lori off, a jealous Rick arrives and gives him the beatdown that Chris actually deserves.
While Jack is on his disastrous date, Ginnie arrives at the Hammond's house, per the previous invitation. Completely forgetting that he just sent his dad out on a date with a girl he's supposedly crazy about, Chris makes a series of clumsy attempts to get into Ginnie's pants. To get her in the mood, he blasts heavy metal music, offers her a can of beer, and accidentally sets the sofa on fire, then attempts to put it out by pushing it into the pool. Ginnie isn't terribly impressed by this, and leaves.
Jack returns home to find Chris in the shower, fully clothed, whimpering. The two of them are both fed up with being stuck in each other's bodies, and we're fed up with how little the movie did with this premise. Just then, Trigger shows up, with Uncle Earl. It turns out the antidote is derived from a root that can only be found in Death Valley. The four of them hop into a car, driving all night to find it, and Earl mixes the potion. They take it, but nothing changes, so they head back home. On the way, they stop at a gas station, where they stumble upon a woman in labor. Jack calmly takes charge of the situation, and helps deliver the baby. Chris is impressed, and so are we, because he managed in a matter of seconds to clean the baby and heal the umbilical chord wound.
It's been a busy night, but there's a busy day ahead: Chris still has an interview for Northwestern University, and Jack still has a meeting to find out whether he's getting the promotion to chief of staff, and they're still stuck in each other's bodies.
At the hospital, Armbruster informs Chris that his father won't be getting the promotion, which causes Chris to break down into hysterics. This doesn't do much to sway things. Jack meanwhile, arrives at the interview, slips on some water on the floor just outside the office, and knocks the interviewer out of the first-floor window. She seems oddly unfazed by this. As he helps pull her back inside, Jack and Chris switch back to their old bodies. Chris realizes he has to try and save his dad's job, so he bolts from the interview and heads out of the school. Rick shows up, challenging him to another fight. Chris accepts the challenge by punching him in the face and knocking him down a flight of stairs (wait, wasn't he on the first floor), then heads out the door. He and Trigger drive like maniacs to the hospital, totaling the jag but reaching their destination in time for him to show up at the boardroom meeting and deliver an impassioned speech on behalf of his dad, that has absolutely no effect. But Jack, who arrives at the meeting a few seconds later, has decided he doesn't care about the promotion. He and Chris hug, and head out the door -- apparently Jack also doesn't care about the patients he's probably going to leave behind if Armbruster fires him.
Trigger finds the injured Rick on a gurney in one of the hospital corriders, and feeds him some of the body-swap serum. It doesn't occur to him this could be harmful to any random, innocent person Rick could encounter. Fortunately the next person Rick sees is Armbruster, who looks the kid in the eye and asks if he has insurance. At this moment, they switch bodies. From the hospital parking lot, Chris and Jack hear the screams of terror from their respective nemeses (is that the correct plural, and do I even care?), chuckle, and walk off to live happily ever after. Until Chris gets expelled for assaulting a student, and Trigger's parents have Jack arrested for distributing pornography to a minor.
*in case you were wondering, Kirk's competition for the award included Stephen Dorff in The Gate, Andre Gower in The Monster Squad, Corey Haim in The Lost Boys, Joshua Miller in Near Dark, and Scott Curtis in Cameron's Closet. I'm not familiar with that last title, but I bet Chelsea Noble is.