Here’s the great thing about the MOVIE MUSIC BEATDOWN: A campy unknown like Midnight Madness, an ignored movie that has found a small but passionate audience (including me), can compete against one of the 20 best movies of the 80s.
At least in our categories it can, especially when they’re being judged on how well each of the movies used the classic piano tune Heart and Soul.
We skipped a week of this, so here’s the deal. Every Wednesday, we take two movies that used the same song and judge which movie used the song better based on the scene, the song’s appropriateness in the scene and the overall movie. You can check the PopRox archives if you want to see some previous examples.
MOVIE 1: Midnight Madness.
The scene: Looking for the next clue in the all-night scavenger hunt, the high-tech, low-brain, all-hysterical Blue Team is rummaging through a piano shop with frustrating results to the point that Harold screams, “Where the hell is the clue!!!” It’s at that moment that dimwit Barf, standing next to a piano, starts hitting up the familiar tune of Heart and Soul. When instigator Emilio sees how much this grates Harold, he chimes on at his nearby organ with the accompaniment, then, to the tune of the song, tip-toe dances his way away from a charging Harold, who picks up a piano bench to bash Emilio over the head with just before Lucille finds the clue. It’s not the most memorable scene, but it’s still pretty funny. This seems like a good time to mention that the guy who played Emilio, Andy Tennant, went on to direct major movies like Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch and Fool’s Gold. No truth the rumor that Will Smith asked him to recite the Cherry Point scene. Score: 6
Appropriateness: The scene needed a song that requires two people to play, one that everyone knows, doesn’t need words and gives off an instant fun vibe. Bingo. Score: 9
The movie: If you had HBO anytime between 1982 and 1987 you’ve seen Midnight Madness, the schlocky – but often riotous – cult classic. It’s about a random scavenger hunt around Los Angeles and the people that undertake the challenge from Leon, some long-haired hippie-holdover computer whiz who hangs out in his apartment with hot chicks who may or may not have been on the clock. If this guy were around today, he’d be pre-registered for Megan’s Law. Despite this, five stereotype teams – jocks, nerds, troublemakers, weird girls and regular people, a team that includes The Token Black Guy – all decide to take part and supply us with the still funny evidence that Michael J. Fox wasn’t always a great actor. In fact, when he started out, he sucked big time. Apparently acting prowess wasn’t on the call sheet requirements, because only Stephen Furst comes with anything resembling talent. David Naughton – once an up-and-comer – flubs through the whole thing with a “Can’t you pay me in cash???” look on his face. No matter. There are no less than 10 lines from this movie I still routinely quote and if you laugh at them, you instantly become my best friend. The last time I watched this example of modern film classic was on a family wedding trip to Cleveland in like 2003 – and my brothers and I laughed just as hard, if not harder, than we ever did. You know what’s even more funny now? Pabst Blue Ribbon went from cool in 1980 to a joke for 25 years after that, and is now again considered cool. And every time I see someone order it, I sing the Pabst Blue Ribbon song I learned in this movie. Now that’s staying power. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those of us who worship at the altar of Midnight Madness always will cherish it. Score: 9
MOVIE 2: Big
The scene: Recently hired old-version of Josh Baskin is trotting through the department store he works at with the big boss MacMillan, telling him everything that’s wrong with the toys he’s selling. It’s the equivalent of you telling Mr. Macy why Nautica blows. Then Josh breaks from the walk when he spots a foot-stomping keyboard that plays like a piano. He jumps on and starts the harmony for Heart and Soul, and MacMillan joins in with the accompaniment when he realizes the rollickin’ good time Josh is having. People gather, they make beautiful music, and it’s not an exaggeration to say one of the most memorable scenes in movie history is born. Score: 10
Appropriateness: There isn’t a person who saw this in the theater who screamed, “Hey! They used this in Midnight Madness!” So it’s not like director Penny Marshall is hacking it up here. Same concept applies as in Midnight Madness. You need a duet that gives off instant fun and you can’t do better than this. Score: 9.5 (just in case she was stealing)
The movie: It made Tom Hanks a superstar and displayed his acting chops we first saw in Family Ties as Uncle Ned when he cold-cocked Alex. In a career of seminal roles, this still is the role Hanks remains second-most attached to behind Forrest Gump, even though I’ll always remember him as either Uncle Ned, Kip Wilson, Walter Fielding or Jimmy Dugan. Big is awkward at times, it drags in spots, it’s completely implausible even after Josh gets super-sized and is plenty corny for the entire decade’s worth of kid movies. But it’s got no less than five classic scenes – not the least of which is this one – a slew of quotable lines and kicked off a subgenre of movies where kids changed bodies with adults. And let’s just say Vice Versa and Like Father Like Son didn’t exactly measure up to Big. It’s a movie you don’t turn off if you randomly happen upon it on WE because even if you’ve seen it 57 times, you know watching it through the end will make you feel better than when you turned it on. Score: 8
THE DECISION: Big 27.5, Midnight Madness 24. You have no idea how hard I was pulling for Midnight Madness, but that just wouldn’t be right. The piano scene in Big is one of the most memorable scenes of the 80s, with good reason. It’s brilliantly filmed, always makes you smile and you wish it wouldn’t end. Maybe if Heart and Soul had been playing over the F@gabeefe scene in Madness, things would be different. But not this time.