"They Were Looking for the American Dream, They found the American Nightmare"
Here is the pitch,three young adults are heading west to LA from NYC, they are looking for a new life. Somewhere in the middle of Arizona they are attached by a gang, one of them is killed, and it is up to the other two to avenge their friend. Along the way they find out who and what they are, and are forced to grow up.
Now from that pitch you could have almost any kind of film. A Western, a Hard Boiled Noir, a coming of age tale, a thriller or a horror film. When I first saw the ad for this movie in a video catalog in 1988, I was sure that it was going to be a horror film-- something along the lines of The Zero Boys or The Hills Have Eyes. The poster was an ominously dark and garishly colored affair, two young men, a pink land yacht and a dark desert behind them-- I had to rent it, and I did.
What kind of film did it turn out to be? get this, a Punk Rock Western! yep, that's right a genre blend of crime, Punksploitation and the Western . John Cryer (Duckie from Pretty in Pink), Daniel Roebuck (Rivers Edge and US Marshals) and Flea (from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Back to the Future) are three punks in mid 80s NYC, they lives are going nowhere, they go to shows, work dead end jobs, drink and have minor adventures in the pre Gulliani blight of NYC. With nothing to loose they head west looking for the promised land of California. Along the way they pass though desert landscapes, help a Elvis impersonator with his stuck car and talk about their future in the land of sunshine. On their last night before reaching California they camp under a massive stone, only to be bushed whacked and one of them get's killed. It is from this point what might have been a film about NYC Punks finding their place in the LA Punk world turns into a revenge story with elements of the typical fish out of water story. They find that they appearance hampers their ability to follow their friends killers, and have to deal with being outsiders in a part of the country that was hostile to them.
I'm not going to make the case that this is a great film, it has it's moments. There is great scenery and a soundtrack that is almost perfect in relation to the film. Dudes might have played for a weekend in the theaters, but once I saw it for the first time, it was mine. It was everything that I was looking for in a film, it was about outsiders who took control of their lives, who stood up for themselves, and found purpose. It had adventure, crazy dreams, surreal shoot outs and just a little bit of romance. There is something also to be said about the connection between the myth of the American west, American Punk rock and the world of indie film making, all of them have the element of Do It Yourselfness, do what you have to do, and forge ahead as best you can in common. In a time when so many people seem to be sitting around crying that the jobs that have always been there are gone, and that the middle class life they felt they were promised has vanished a film like Dudes, with a message of finding your path and going for it might just be what the doctor ordered.