Code Red // 1972 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // November 9th, 2010
A man who wanted more than a wife.
A boy who wanted more than a mother.
Helicopter mom Christine (Joan Hackett, The Group) and her loony little genius son, Jamie (Scott Jacoby, Return to Horror High), live in a fashionable apartment in New York City. Christine is a morose, widowed, art-gallery owner, and Jamie has stepped in as man-of-the-house since his father's exit via plane crash.
One day, Christine meets wacky tour bus operator Peter (Robert Klein, Reign Over Me), and for reasons known only to the screenwriters, they fall in love. She's justifiably leery about telling her precocious spawn that he's about to be displaced, and when the smart-mouthed moppet meets Mom's jovial new squeeze, he sets out to prove that step-dad does not know best.
Based on the plot description, it would be fair to think that Rivals is another crazy kid vs. stepparent film. If only. If only Rivals had such a clear through line. If only Rivals was shooting for a few cheap shocks and maybe a little moralizing thrown in just for the heck of it. Instead, writer/director Krishna Shah (Hard Rock Zombies) has created a bizarre, drawn-out exploitation oddity that has nothing in particular to say, but spends an eternity saying it anyway.
There are enough plot threads here for a whole series of movies, but nothing ever really comes together. We see that Jamie has taken over the "man" role in the home; we find out that he's sexually sophisticated for a 10-year-old; we are told that he doesn't look like a 10-year-old because "kids today" mature faster, and after an icky sex scene involving Jamie and an older girl, we realize that if they'd actually cast a 10-year-old (Jacoby was 15), Shah and his crew would have been doing hard time for kiddie porn.
There's more. Jamie's a filmmaking prodigy, and there are myriad scenes of him shooting some sort of middle-school epic involving other tykes running rampant in masks of Richard Nixon and the Pope. His baby sitter's age-appropriate boyfriend is jealous of Jamie's prepubescent prowess and occasionally beats on him. Jamie strikes up a friendship with a street tough. He has flashbacks to ugly marital scenes during his toddlerhood, including a "Why is this here?" scene with the entire family showering, shaving, and potty-training. He sees a shrink, he watches old movies, he spouts sinister profundities in a flat Brooklyn accent, and at the end, to get rid of step-pops, he devises a complicated and ludicrous "gotcha!" plan like a Baby Jigsaw.
Most of this stuff seems like filler. We get the Jamie-Caroline relationship in the first five minutes and the whole advanced sexual curiosity thing two minutes later. With all the Oedipal ponderings accounted for, we should just cruise right into the main bout, Jamie vs. Peter. Instead, Shah tosses us endless and useless musical montages, side plots, and an agonizingly slow and phony romance between the mousy gallery owner and the flamboyant tour bus driver. Peter's the sort who's given to grand statements and indefatigable daffiness -- sort of a more serious, pre-Watergate Cosmo Kramer. There aren't enough scenes between man and boy to establish a dynamic, with Caroline at one point admonishing Jamie for bad behavior toward Peter in a scene Shah either didn't bother to film or decided was less important than another montage. The climactic revenge-of-Jamie scene comes out of a misconception more than any real organic build.
Joan Hackett was a fine and somewhat underrated actress who is unfortunately wasted here. Caroline is just a whiny downer, and the talented Hackett barely makes an impression. She's also saddled with god-awful '70s hair and clothing. Klein is passable as the irritating Peter, but the character is such a hideous New York City caricature, that he's hard to stomach.
Then there's Scott Jacoby. Two years before his iconic turn as Bad Ronald, and the same year he won an Emmy for his role in the groundbreaking TV movie That Certain Summer, Jacoby offers up this aggravating portrait of confused evil. As far as seeds go, he's reasonably bad, but far from the worst. Jamie might have wicked ways, but he's no Damian. In fairness, it's not the kid's fault this doesn't come together. He's miscast as a 10-year-old and abandoned by the silly script.
Code Red, which often includes cool supplements with its off-center releases, comes up short here. DVD Verdict was sent a screener that contained no start up menu and just a few trailers at the end. If you were anticipating a Scott Jacoby interview or commentary by Robert Klein, you're out of luck. Tech is pretty lousy, but maybe it'll be cleaned up some on the finished product.
A bare-bones treatment of a justifiably obscure '70s potboiler. Take 'em to juvie court.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R