A few months ago when the Circle was screening A Prairie Home Companion a few young people in their early 20s/late teens came up to me with the bold claim—“Robert Altman has never made a bad movie!” with all the enthusiasm youth can muster. I’d say to them, “Well, he’s made a lot of movies. None of them were bad?” while thinking of recent duds like Dr. T and the Women and Pret-a-Porter (which was a flaming disaster!). I love Altman as much as anyone but come on, he’s made more than his fair share of failures over his fifty plus years as a director.
Case in point—O.C. and Stiggs from 1985 sees Altman trying to make a ribald teen comedy that satirizes all the ‘80s style teen films from this era. Altman claims to “hate” these teen films on a DVD extra but his satire just doesn’t ring home and comes off as just another zany teen film in the end.
The film is about two oddball teens that are waging a war of revenge against a local Arizona insurance salesman who ripped off O.C.’s grandpa from his retirement fund. The boys pull off a very unbelievable string of stunts to get back at the man and his caroonish family. Very little of this is either funny or entertaining. In fact, both O.C. and Stiggs are mostly annoying!
The boys also go on a trip to Mexico—which is ridiculous as they raft down rivers on tire tubes!—get an absurdly tripped out car (see movie poster), meet up with Vietnam vets who still think they are in a war (Dennis Hopper spoofing his Apocalypse Now performance) and even woo a girl or two. Sounds pretty much like any number of films fitting the ‘80s teen film genre, right?
O.C. and Stiggs isn’t terrible or painful to watch but that doesn’t mean it’s a good film. The film is too confused, the performances are too over the top and silly, it's not funny and it’s too long to be good (or even average). The reason it’s extremely forgettable, while the films that Altman hates aren’t, is those films had a clear direction in story—O.C. and Stiggs is a wildly uneven picture that wants to be a clever satire but comes off as just a poorly conceived film.
I think Robert Altman is one the best living filmmakers making films and all, but he’s not perfect and O.C. and Stiggs is one of Altman’s failures. Those youngsters who came up to me making bold claims just need to make their way to this one and they might rethink their statements. Believe it or not, there are some films in Altman's past that don't work and O.C. and Stiggs is firmly on that list.