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Case Number 07788: Small Claims Court

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Over the Edge (1979)

Warner Bros. // 1979 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // October 14th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Dennis Prince thoroughly, albeit respectfully, disagrees with Father Flanagan—there is such thing as a bad boy.

Editor's Note

Our review of Over the Edge (2011), published April 12th, 2012, is also available.

The Charge

New Granada—a planned community that never planned on this.

The Case

If ever there was a case for "tough love," this is it. No, I'm not talking about the appropriate meting out of parental discipline upon rowdy and rebellious youngsters but, rather, that deserved by filmmakers who capriciously paint a bleak portrait of youth gone out of control with nary a responsible adult in sight…and expect us to buy it. The "big people" in charge of producing films like this truly need to consider the intelligence of their audience, both adult and teen viewers.

Consider the case of Over the Edge, a 1979 mess featuring the now highly recognizable Matt Dillon (My Bodyguard, There's Something About Mary) in his first screen role. The picture tells the story of an unsettled teenage population bored to the point of explosive rage living in the practically barren landscape of a fledgling planned community, New Granada. While there are tracts and tracts of new homes and condominiums where city planners and startup families hope to encourage booming sales and investments, there's nothing for the large population of teenagers to do save for hanging out at an isolated recreation center. The center closes every evening at 6:00 pm and the agitated youth are then turned loose on the streets to find something—anything—to do for kicks. It seems troublemaker Ritchie (Matt Dillion) is pretty much leading the pack while generally-good-but-getting-bad Carl (Michael Eric Kramer) is fast becoming influenced by the unrest around him. The kids routinely fire air rifles into oncoming traffic, get heavily drugged up, and spit bile and vitriol at their parents at the end of each self-destructive day. The parents, of course, are so wrapped up in growing the city and soaking up social drinks that they fail to take any notice or action in regard to the youth running wild in the neighborhoods. Overzealous police officer Doberman (Harry Northup, The Silence of the Lambs) wants to crack some punk heads but never gets the support he needs from the apathetic community. When Carl's dad, Fred Willat (Andy Romano, Unlawful Entry), manages to help lure in some Texan investors, the city heads decide it would be best to lock up the kids' recreation center and shoo them away somewhere out of sight. Naturally, this ultimate injustice sends the marauding youth into all-out frenzy when they descend upon the community in a violent final confrontation.

OK, there's nothing wrong with a tale of teen angst, misguided parents, and an ultimate lesson learned by both sides at the end of the day. Sadly, this never happens in Over the Edge. Rather, we're introduced to a group of snotty kids from the first frame and never quite understand why they've become so overtly obnoxious. It's one thing to cheer when kids confront their adult counterparts but these kids are simply unpleasant to everyone all the time—that includes one another and even the only adult that seems to understand, the recreation center's operator. It becomes immediately tiring and severely unbelievable that a large youth population like this wouldn't have a greater sense of bonding and recognition of the need to stick together. Instead, they display only fleeting moments of loyalty to one another and then go about sneering and glaring at their teenage counterparts. Equally unbelievable is that every kid in the community seems to be a juvenile delinquent. There are no "good" kids to be seen anywhere along the way, not even the goody-goodies who would bear the wrath of the toughs nor the quiet, pontificating sort who would serve as the enlightened visionaries the mob would ultimately seek out for answers to their uncontrollable outbursts. Nope, they're all junior criminals here; sorry, but that's just not the nature of all kids.

But if we look for any shreds of revelation to better understand why New Granada's kids are uniformly cretins, we're gratuitously goaded into casting an evil eye on the adults who take no steps of intervention to understand and diffuse the kids' ill manner. Rather, these grownups smugly go about their business, sipping drinks and schmoozing one another in hopes of earning a big return on their initial investments. The few parents we see simply make excuses for their kids' unacceptable behavior or allow the upstarts to go about their various tirades unchecked. The kids regularly stay out all hours, openly defy their folks, and thumb their nose at any other authority figure in sight while the moms and dads blandly respond with, "Just leave him alone," "He'll get over it," or "Carl, it's all right." Yes, some parents are this ineffectual but surely not an entire community of parents; again, a highly unbelievable notion.

It was based on a true story, though. Is that right? Well, it seems something like this did actually occur in the 1970s in Foster City, California. It was written up in a San Francisco Examiner article, "Mouse Packs: Kids on a Crime Spree," written by one Charles Haas. Hey! Isn't that one of the screenwriters for Over the Edge? Sure is, and it seems he's worked overtime to try to give legs to his original editorial. However, by focusing all of his attention on nothing but the obstinate exploits of the youth and the impotent indifference of the adults, this whole affair comes off as nothing more than a writer's one-sided temper tantrum. It's too bad, really, because many of the kids here can act yet none are given anything to work with beyond a dour two-dimensional existence. Of course, these faults I find in the story may be the fault of a low budget and an unprepared director, Jonathan Kaplan, who wields unfeasible pyrotechnic effects in the same way the kids—and Officer Doberman—wield a gun. What's irresponsibly neglected here is a genuinely intriguing experience of teenagers, they who are tested and tormented by the oncoming freight train called adult life. Many kids struggle with this transition because, frankly, it's frightening, it's real, and it's barreling straight at them whether they like it or not. Angst is real and, although it's unpleasant, it's a part of the teen-to-young adult experience. However, teens everywhere are duly dissed here by being portrayed as lacking an ounce of good sense or an inkling that something must exist after this. Rebellion is to be expected but it usually precedes an epiphany of sorts where young people suddenly realize exactly why they're acting out so overtly.

Despite the misgivings noted here, there are some things to like about this new release of Over the Edge beginning with a video transfer that's absolutely striking. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp as a tack and well balanced. The color looks very good although it does seem a bit muted (either an intentional or accidental move on the production designer's part). The cinematography is classic late-70s with plenty of tight close-ups and stationary wide shots. If you enjoy the look and feel of 70s cinema, you'll like what you see here. The audio, however, is a disappointment. With a soundtrack that boasts numerous teen rock tunes from rockers of the day—including Cheap Trick, Van Halen, and the Ramones—you'd expect a beefy audio track to show off the wares. Instead you get a substandard Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix that is horribly confined to the front center channel and sounds even worse if you attempt to force it into a mock 2-channel affair. The dialogue is always intelligible and the sound elements never overrun one another, but, really, this track deserved much more.

Fans of the film (and there are many of them who have probably been hissing throughout this uncomplimentary critique) may enjoy the audio commentary where director Jonathan Kaplan is joined by producer George Litto (say that "leeto") and screenwriters Charles Haas and Tim Hunter. The four are very chatty and keep the commentary lively. They're all quite self-congratulatory and, if you're not enjoying what you're experiencing here, they come off about as clueless as the adult characters in picture. Ah well. These gents are to be applauded for keeping the conversation rolling nonetheless. An original theatrical trailer is also on board and in rather good condition.

I had quite high hopes for Over the Edge, having heard of it because of my fondness for Cheap Trick and the fact that their music is featured quite prominently throughout. While the trailer lured me in, I was quickly disappointed that the picture didn't do more to infiltrate and understand the teenage condition. Young people deserve more credit than this because they're much more intelligent than the creeps on display here. Perhaps the adults are to blame: those slinking behind the camera.

Court adjourned!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 77

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Drama
• Teen

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary by Director, Producer, and Screenwriters
• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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