‘Casual Sex?’ (1988): When hooking up was fun!

What’s wrong with men? Can’t they commit? Is sex all they want?

For your answer, just ask the Diceman.

By Jason Hink

The 1980s are aroused once again for those who missed out with a Blu-ray re-release of Universal’s Casual Sex?, the 1988 R-rated romantic comedy by casual director Geneviève Robert in her lone directing effort (she’s married to Ivan Reitman, so it’s probably enough), and starring Lea Thompson, Victoria Jackson, Andrew Dice Clay and Stephen Shellen blowing their collective load through episodic shenanigans with a supporting cast including Jerry Levine, Mary Gross, Valerie Breiman, Peter Dvorsky, David Sergeant, Cynthia Phillips, Don Woodard, Danny Breen, Bruce Abbott and Susan Ann Connor. This nice looking Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray comes wrapped in one of their popular “Retro VHS” slipcovers.

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Following the sexual revolution, the go-go 80s saw a world increasingly fraught with new challenges facing young adults looking for love in the face of changing sexual attitudes—and dangers. But to hell with that! Besties Stacy (Lea Thompson) and Melissa (Victoria Jackson) take matters into their own hands and book a vacation at a fancy, plush health resort which has some interesting perks for singles looking to hook up. What could go wrong? I’m sure you can imagine…

After receiving their complimentary gift basket of condoms from the resort staff, I was left to wonder just how these two expected to find meaningful romance on this particular outing…but away we go! Stacy winds up with burnout musician Nick (Stephen Shellen), which appears to be a step up from annoying, fast-talkin’ Vinny, who refers to himself as “the Vin Man” (Andrew Dice Clay, of course), a shyster trying his best to hook up with her. Meanwhile, Melissa takes up with a member of the staff (Jerry Levine), who apparently has the hots for her as well. But is he man enough to deliver Melissa her first-ever orgasm?

So many questions in need of answers in this lighthearted piece of ’80s fluff that I certainly didn’t catch in 1988 (I was 12 and more interested in Die Hard, They Live and Action Jackson). But I was immediately transported back to that adolescent time as soon as the movie started with Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot,” a silly party song that still goes over well at weddings I DJ at and was played countless times back on TBS’s Night Tracks, our bargain basement, rural America stand-in for MTV (which we didn’t get until the early ’90s). Dan Hartman and Gladys Knight also feature on the film’s soundtrack.

By 1988, I think it was well known that the deadly AIDS virus was something to be aware of, but Casual Sex? still approaches sex with a light stroke, err, attitude. One night stands past and present are depicted in a comedic light, with our heroes Stacy and Melissa reliving their previous conquests and near-misses in surreal flashbacks. But in the current day (in 1988), sex is something you’d think you should be at least a little bit scared of. But it’s hard to tell with so much penis talk spewed about from the female leads. It’s as if they’re saying, Yeah, sex may be scary. But we still want it! And we want a relationship, too, dammit! They’re obviously at the wrong resort with this attitude (or are they?).

Childhood fave Lea Thompson comes off well here, as always. She’s both sweet and aggressive in her search for the right male companion. I’ve read some opinions that think Thompson should have been cast as Melissa instead, stating that Thompson’s “too sweet” to be the promiscuous one. But that doesn’t really fly (right, McFly?); Thompson was just fine as the aggressive lass chasing after Marty in Back to the Future…and equally unafraid letting her animalistic tendencies unleash when encountering the titular hero of Howard the Duck. Thompson was busy in 1988 (with movies, that is)—along with Casual Sex?, she also had parts in Yellow Pages and The Wizard of Loneliness.

More interesting is Victoria Jackson, playing the part of Melissa—a shy, sweet virgin searching for true love, whatever that may be. I remember Jackson well from her stint on Saturday Night Live (1986-92), which was right around the time I was old enough to understand and enjoy it. With her ditzy, nasal voice leading the way, she shows true, empathetic emotion in the role of Melissa…and it’s too bad she didn’t do more. In fact, her years on SNL correspond almost perfectly with her higher profile film roles. Once she left SNL, she virtually disappeared save for some TV guest spots and lower-budget films.

RELATED | More 1980s film reviews

If Jackson was at her career peak, then Andrew Dice Clay was ascending. By watching his ’80s films you see his development into what became his calling card as a macho, self-absorbed, dirty stand-up comic (and one of may favorites!). By the early ’90s he came into his own, headlining sold-out standup shows and raking in the dough with his pay TV specials, which were a favorite of my family’s at the rental store, too. In Casual Sex?, the Diceman is indeed close to cometh, talking to and reminding himself that he is indeed the man after he gets turned away and has doors slammed in his face again and again by the women at the resort. The genius of Clay is that he knows who he is and he knows his shtick. He’s essentially John Travolta by way of Grease and Welcome Back Kotter. When directors put him in their films, they know what they want from him and he knows what to give them, just like audiences at his standup shows expect.

Rounding out the more memorable of Casual Sex?‘s cast, Stephen Shellen as wannabe rockstar Nick is hilarious as he goes from the dreamy, music video-ready lead singer to showing his true colors (I won’t spoil it here, but it’s great, immature fun that many women can relate to) and Jerry Levine—as good natured spa employee Jamie—is convincing in the role. For my money, the lovely Valerie Breiman in a small part as a vampy cheat looking to steal the best man at the resort from whichever woman hooks up with him is deliciously evil and wrapped in a perfect ’80s package. Whatever happened to Breiman, anyway?

In closing, Casual Sex? feels like a precursor to the rom-coms that got popular in the 1990s. Just two years after Casual Sex?, Julia Roberts heated things up with Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, unleashing a flood of similar feel-good romances the ladies could drag their husbands to watch. Critics hated Casual Sex?, (31% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and it finished 85th on the domestic box office chart in ’88, with a $12.2 million haul (still a much better showing than that same year’s Cyndi Lauper vehicle, Vibes, which placed 163rd—and another recent Mill Creek Blu-ray release).

Mill Creek’s Blu of Casual Sex? looks just fine on my 65-inch living room monitor with its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no special features aside from the aforementioned Retro-VHS slipcover, and no condoms are included.

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