Tuesday, February 8, 2011

26 Films: Plain Clothes

Plain Clothes
When looking for trends in history the more distance you have from a place the better able you are to see what was going on in the culture. What I can see very vividly now is a generation, the Baby Boomer, who refused to put away childish thing staying in power, one of the ways to keep themselves young was to make sure that no one born after them was allowed to grow up. This has manifested in many ways, from a near pathological insistence that they ‘changed the world’ and the constant referencing of events like The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and the single handed ending of the war in Vietnam as proof that they have been the saviors of the world…….argh, don’t’ get me started on all of that..
All this is to say that by the late 80s with the first wave of generation Xers graduating from high school and college and entering the work force there were a spat of films (ok, maybe only 2 that I know of) and one TV show that featured these Gen X kids being seen as so young and young looking that they were able to pass as high school students. On TV it was 21 Jump Street, on film it was Hiding Out (see the review of the soundtrack to that film later this week) and today’s forgotten film, Plain Clothes.

Set in Seattle, Plain Clothes is the story of cop Nick Dunbar, a young officer who frustrated at being assigned again and again to details because of his young looks. When his brother is implicated in the murder of a teacher, he looses his temper and get’s suspended. He takes his suspension time to enroll in school and try and clear his brother’s name. The film is part look at how crazy American High Schools are in 1988, part who-done-it, and part 80s Romantic comedy. There is also a plot about the Baby Boomer Teachers worry about their pensions (20 years on this part resonates even more than I did then), and of course Nick falls for a young teacher who thinks he is a student, when they are really about the same age.
I am not going to make the case that it’s a great film, it existents now as a time capsule of the time and place. There are a number of very funny lines and a couple of scenes that raise the film above the level of trash. The cast is solid and there are noteworthy performances by George Wendt and Seymour Cassel. Also watch for the moments with Abe Vigoda, Harry Shearer, and the PA announcements from Robert Stack.
Plain Clothes is not out on DVD as of this writing, it is on Netflix instant if you want to check it out. I do think that someone is missing an opportunity not packaging it as a double disc with the Jon Cryer flick Hiding Out.
Up Next: The Robert Altman not classic, but I love it anyway for my own reasons…. O.C. & Stiggs.
More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog Here


Todd Mason said...

As a Shearer fan, I might want to catch that, at very least...my viewing of Boomer flicks of this vintage was mostly mocking boomers trying to deal with their kids...even if they weren't entirely clueless, as in TURN UP THE VOLUME or VALLEY GIRL...

Todd Mason said...

Check the other Tuesday's Overlooked links at my blog, if so inclined...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Some of the strange casts in these forgotten films explain a lot,

Chuck Esola said...

I stumbled upon this a few weeks ago on Netflix. It's kind of fun in spots but HIDING OUT is the better film. Arliss Howard is a dull lead and I had a hard time believing this was directed by Martha Coolidge, since this has none of the energy of her VALLEY GIRL.

Evan Lewis said...

Well, a film with Abe Vigoda can't be all bad.

Iren said...

Todd: I hear what you are saying, only I thought the parents in a lot of those films were a bit older than the boomers.

Chuck: Yeah, Howard is a bit on the dull side, it's really the supporting cast that make the film.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this movie! And disagree with the comment about Arliss Howard being a dull lead, I think his tone it perfect for the roll. On one hand he's taking advantage of his "disability" by enroll in high school and help his brother, but on the other, he's still grappling with the issue that's seemingly holding him back in his real life - which he certainly has a lot of angst about, and he plays it out well.

The scene in the English class when Arliss Howard reads the EE Cummings poem "She Being Brand New" is so awesome. The broken AC with everyone sweating and Arliss Howard's pitch-perfect timing with the read is amazing. Tense and hilarious all at once.

This is one of the those movies that made it into late-night rotation on Cinemax, I probably watched it a good five times in the early 90s.

*Future "Mumford" star Loren Dean plays Arliss Howard's jailed little brother.