What the hell kind of name is that for a movie, you’re saying. I said the same, and looked it up on IMDb. It’s a coming of age tale with Steve Guttenberg, as a poor widdle rich kid working at a fried chicken shop run by Phil Silvers. That there link has all of Phil’s clips from the film, but whoever posted it disabled embedding, so there you go. Those are the best parts of the film, mostly.
The movie itself isn’t bad, despite the presence of Steve Guttenberg, whose career in my eyes spiked around the time of Short Circuit and Police Academy, and reached its nadir a few years later among many Police Academy sequels. There are some who disagree, like the brave folks over at The Steve Guttenberg Project, who plan on watching all of his films. While I may wade into some movie trash willingly, that is a bit further than I want to go.
The Chicken Chronicles was Guttenberg’s first starring role, and one of Phil Silvers’s last. It’s the best work of neither, but they certainly balloon the movie up from its mediocre roots. Based on a book by Paul Diamond, it depicts the senior year of David Kessler, in rough and tumble neighborhood of Beverly Hills. He lives with his distant parents, who only speak to him over intercom- it’s a tepid running joke that we never see their faces. He wants to be a journalist, and the story begins with him trying to get his masterwork “Springtime in Vietnam” into the school paper before graduation. Set in 1969, the war is constantly in the background on TV, and the threat of the draft looms over his head if he doesn’t graduate, or get into college.
I’m not sure how many Beverly Hills kids made it to the front lines of Vietnam, but I had a hard time worrying that he’d be in any danger worse than sticking his dick in the fryer at Chicken on the Run while he’s goofing around there with his buddy Mark. They commit the usual 70’s shenanigans at work- smoking pot, playing basketball with chicken parts, listening to their boss wax pornographic about what he imagines a customer’s tits look like.
It’s amusing getting to hear Phil Silvers talk dirty when you’re only used to seeing him on his TV show and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Mark, played by Branscombe Richmond, is good in his role as well; he has a part in the upcoming Jud Apatow project Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The problem with the movie is the plot, really; it’s nothing new, and it’s been done better. Steve is desperately trying to get laid with a cheerleader who keeps making excuses; the place isn’t right, you left your socks on, and telling him at the last second that he needs a rubber. That sends him on a scramble around town, chased by dogs and neighbors, but it’s not as funny or exciting as it should be. He finds out that she’s on the pill anyway and is just pulling his chain, and he ends up going after a more down to earth girl who shoots pool and doesn’t act like a stuck-up twat.
The film seems like an experimental effort at the teen film that would be perfected in coming years, with Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack. They’d discover the formula of dirty jokes, physical comedy, and a dash of boobs here and there. The Chicken Chronicles teases us like David’s cheerleader girlfriend; there’s a lot of talk about breasts- hell, Phil Silvers even claims he can tell good breasts from a woman’s voice on the phone- but the closest it gets to titillating the audience is a nonsensical party scene where a girl runs by a pool in bra and panties.
A bra and panty scene does not a gratuitous boob make.
There’s a bit of fun when David’s horny little brother sneaks into that party and gets drunk, and ends up in the hospital. This gives the cheerleader her comeuppance, and gives Phil Silvers a chance to dress as a cowboy and have some fun. In the end, the movie is a decent piece of 70’s nostalgia but is much too tame to be very memorable. If it wasn’t for Phil Silvers, it would be pretty forgettable.
Arizona Phil the chicken rancher.
If you absolutely adore Steve Guttenberg, it may be worth your while. He shows his modicum of charm here, and when he finally does get laid (what would a film like this be if he remained a virgin?) the reward is a funny ending.
It’s not bad, but movies like American Graffiti and Cooley High showed us it could be done better. Maybe you need an ensemble cast, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If that whole movie had been Spicoli, it wouldn’t have been the classic it is. Here, Guttenberg plays the doormat “Ratner” type character for much of the film, and it’s not enough to keep our attention. It’s also disturbing how in the 70’s it was okay for a pervy old man to talk about how hot a 13 year old girl is, but at least he’s describing her to a 15 year old boy… or is that somehow worse?
The chicken man is a bit of a chickenhawk…
If you need a bit of 70’s-era amusement, you could do a lot worse. Like Corvette Summer, perhaps.