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Bachelor Party is a comedy. It falls in line with many 80s comedy tropes, including the blonde-haired obnoxious bad guy. It has juvenile boys, naked girls, and a donkey. But mostly it has young Tom Hanks. That means lots of physical, fast-paced sharp-tongued laughs. It might seem from the marketing and the plot and the title itself, that this is just an excuse to have a bunch of naked people party. Yet, looking at it with even a half-discerning eye, there is much more happening here.
The story is simple. Rick Gassko (Hanks) is finally getting married. Her name is Debbie (Tawny Kitaen), his long-time sweetheart. His closest friends, floundering in immaturity, are appalled. At first. Then realize it’s a chance for a party. That means chicks, and guns, and firetrucks, and hookers, drugs, and booze. You know. Something classy. Two-thirds of story takes place in a large hotel suite where things don’t quite go as planned. The boys are eager for boobs and beer but things have a way of curtailing the inevitable. That includes a mix up with the prostitutes. A mix up with sex show. A mix up with Debbie’s ex-boyfriend. And much more. That’s the point. The party is not the plot. It’s the diversions from it.
Directed by Neal Israel, the success of Bachelor Party stems mostly from Hanks. But that’s not all. The film, despite its attempts at vulgar debauchery, has a lot of heart. Yes, it’s silly. We get that from the start. Rick’s best friend Jay (Adrian Zmed) works at a department store photo studio. As the opening credits are still popping up on screen, he’s taking pictures with a large-breasted doe-eyed mother (Angela Aames). Rick joins the fun.
So there you go. The tone is set. Zany characters, exploitations, and absurdity. That’s the film’s wheelhouse. Or at least that’s what it wants us to think. Admittedly, there is far less than expected. And if your this hoping to see wild scenes of topless girls and drug-infused sex scenes with lots of pratfalls, you’ve come to the wrong movie. There’s plenty of great laughs and lots of beautiful girls (and one spectacular moment of female nudity), but this isn’t a skin flick. Bachelor Party is in every way (while a product of its time) a fun time. So why does it work? Three Reasons:
Many of the lesser party movies of the decade make the mistake of sacrificing characters for premise. Throwing copious amounts of bikini or nude girls at the audience can certainly distract but without people to be invested in, there is no reason to watch. Bachelor Party is all about the characters. It establishes quickly who and what each player is there for. Then it gives them space to play. Aside from Hanks, there are a number of well-defined archetypes who flourish in this setting. That begins with Debbie.
Debbie is a sensationally attractive woman, but not just because of her looks. She’s intelligent, honest, sympathetic, and more importantly, aware of Rick’s potential. She is the heart of the story, the motivating drive for Rick (see below). What the makers do right by her is never once make her the enemy. We love her as much as Rick.
Cole Whittier (Robert Prescott) on the other hand is the antagonist, a role he was very familiar with in the 80s. Talk about a pitch-perfect performance. This is a guy we absolutely love to hate. Again, the writers do the right thing here. Cole is not a physical bully. He wants Debbie. Craves her. Needs her. Her own father wants him to be his son-in-law. But the best Cole can do for the infinitely more charming Rick is a long list of appliances and radial tires he offers in exchange for Debbie. And a Porsche. Pathetic. And awesome.
These are just two of many. What make the film’s plot so enjoyable is how each of these characters find their place. Like a jigsaw, they lock together with great dialog and action that makes none of them feel unnecessary. From the aforementioned playboy Jay to the squirrely Gary (Gary Grossman), who sells concert tickets and books hookers, to even the more peripheral characters like Debbie’s disapproving parents and older sister. In such a large cast, they all find ways to layer the experience with just the right amount of flair.
This is a big issue. So many films in this genre tend to set up jokes and gags for the moment, rarely for the long haul. Sure, quick jokes and funny bits are essential, but Bachelor Party isn’t concerned with pratfalls. It aims for the long term. Cole’s hi-kinks are a great example. As he takes the advice from Debbie’s father to concern himself less with trying to win his daughter and more on stopping Rick, his escalation is truly funny. More so are the larger jokes. When Cole redirects a scandalous lesbian bondage act meant to arrive at the hotel to Debbie’s wedding shower, it is the first domino is a long line. It motivates the girls to counter, which leads them to a male strip club where a few of the more inhibited women let loose. When the boys learn they are there, they set up a prank with a foot-long hotdog and then, well, you see where this is going. By the time it ends up with the ladies pretending to be prostitutes chased by Japanese businessmen in their underwear, you forget how it started but not why it works. A long line of bricks have fallen.
There’s also Brad (Bradford Bancroft). Here’s a drug-addled hyper former schoolmate of Rick and the gang who is going through a hard time. He claims his marriage is over, and yes, he is one of the many hurdles Rick must face in believing his decision with Debbie is the right one, but this is no one-punch joke. Brad is a fully-realized character with a steady volley of bombs that are meant to side track Rick, but why it works is how well Brad is imaged by Bancroft. It would have been easy to come in, whine about his married life (much like Rick’s brother Stan (William Tepper) does throughout), and disappear. But Brad is a mess, and his numerous short appearances offer some of the larger laughs, including his attempts at ending his life (which are never really seen as legit). What starts as a bit we think is meant to try and steer Rick away from Debbie, ends up being a funny character study about a man facing some real personal issues. It’s humanizing, but also funny. And well-earned.
Rick is a silly, immature, irresponsible, directionless guy. Or se we assume. We never really learn about his aspirations and dreams for the future. He has a job as a school bus driver, has a lot of friends, and is devoted to Debbie. That’s all we know about him. What matters though, is how instantly we are secure in him carrying us through the story. He will not let us down. It’s a trust that many of the best movie stars are able to make with their audience, and while some great films play with the trust, Bachelor Party refuses to waver on that issue. And it’s reason why it succeeds. Rick loves Debbie. That’s the only thing we care about. The message of Bachelor Party is that love can be real and lasting, but the world it lives in is awash in temptation and corruption.
That macrocosmic thinking is whittled down to the microcosmic plot where the hotel room represents all the dangerous avenues our hero may travel if he falters in his quest to be true to his love. Sex and drugs and self-indulgence are only some of the larger obstacles he must conquer as he attempts to endure this odyssey. They are all lined up in front of him, each with clear intent and ability to wholly derail him from his promise to Debbie. That culminates with a girl named Tracey (Monique Gabrielle). She is the ultimate test. Why? This is Tracey:
Jay sees that Rick is apparently unbreakable. At his own bachelor party, Rick is mostly non-participatory. Jay believes has something that will surely change that. Tracey is a girl that no mortal man could forget, and was one that Rick was attracted to long before be met Debbie. But he always thought she didn’t even know he existed. As a gift, Jay has brought Tracey here. And she is willing to give Rick a parting gift before he marries. Non-committal, no-questioned asked sex. It’s a gift no one could say no to. Almost.
Rick feels the pressure and goes into the room where she, fully nude, awaits. And it’s here where even we begin to question our own trust. We’ve watched Rick avoid the gluttony of sex and drugs so far, and are proud of him for holding off. It hasn’t even been a challenge. But now, with Tracey . . . well, look at her. Tracey is a once in a lifetime gift. We might even forgive him for straying. Naturally, as she sits on the bed with invitation, he flounders, the pros and cons of the choice battling like the proverbial devil and angel on his shoulders.
That he overcomes this and declines is the first time where he puts the burden on us, and it is we who feel the pointed finger shaking in our faces. Rick is a unique character in the genre. One that doesn’t break and then ask for forgiveness. He is the rock throughout and that trust in him allows us to enjoy the foolishness happening around him. Of course, Hanks makes it so believable. He’s an actor who has built a career around trust, and it is here, in a silly comedy from his start, where that trait begins.
Bachelor Party is by no means a masterpiece. It has its flaws and suffers from some uninspired direction and poor editing (there’s a moment in the beginning when a character is speaking and his lips aren’t even moving). But because we are so invested in the characters and the premise, we gleefully follow all the way to its silly finale. Not a masterpiece, but classic nonetheless.
Bob Israel (story), Neal Israel (screenplay)
Tom Hanks, Tawny Kitaen, Adrian Zmed, George Grizzard, Robert Prescott, William Tepper, Wendie Jo Sperber, Michael Dudikoff