I’ve been putting this review off. I was once given the sagely advice that when you’re too close to a subject it’s impossible to review it imperatively, and being unbiased is the cornerstone of objective journalism. I never pretended to be objective any way. I grew up with the subject at hand, and to remove myself from that would be like tearing apart siamese twins. And I think, as noted in my first review, we’ve seen how great that works out. Submitted for your approval, it’s time to throw out good sense and dissect the movie that kept me obsessed with film for the rest of my life: The Goonies.
The Goonies is the first movie that I became a diehard fan of, and that cinematic infliction has stained everything I got my hands on. It brought with it my annoying habit of quoting movie lines, my weird collection of movie merch, it’s partially responsible for me learning how to draw (I had a notebook from 6th grade filled with pictures of Sloth, the logo, and pirate skulls. Yikes.), and this very website you’re currently reading. At worst, I’m simply a pop culture obsessive banging away at his laptop, at best an egoless alter-ego takes over, something akin to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson if his career had taken a savage nose-dive and he was trapped, seething from some hallucinogenic concession stand, in some tawdry, berzerko movie dive, with an endless projector and no way back. That’s not even remotely bad for me either, so what the hell, buy the ticket, take the ride.
Do you think he could shut up and get to the review yet?
Set in Astoria, Oregon in 1985, the film opens with a jailbreak. Local law enforcement had captured one Jake Fratelli (Robert Davi), and his brother Francis (Joe Pantoliano) and doting mother (Anne Ramsey in her most beloved and masterpiece role) stage a daring escape. The ensuing montage (tracked with Dave Grusin’s Fratelli Chase, a classic theme that sets the tone for the movie and has made the rounds in a host of trailers and other movies well after the fact) introduces us to the heroes of the flick, the Goonies.
The Fratellis lead the police past tech whiz Data (Jonathan ke Quan), a japanese boy who wants to be 007, Chunk (Jeffrey Cohen), a chubby Jewish boy prone to exaggeration, Mouth, a likably smartassed Corey Feldman, before he turned into Corey Feldman, Stef (indie powerehouse Martha Plimpton), a dockworker and so called “Punk Nerd”, and dreamy Andie (Kerri Green, not at all typecast from Lucas), captain of the cheer squad, then make their escape into an RV rally. Because isn’t that what we all want to escape to? We then find ourselves in the house of Brand and Mikey Walsh (Josh Brolin and Sean Astin), as they lament their last days in the neighborhood of the Goon Docks. Their working class mishmash of cultural misfits is being torn down to make room for a golf course.
Pictured: The only child actors ever to not end up in rehab, and Corey Feldman.
The main characters are almost entirely stereotypes: smart asian, rascally jew, wholesome white kids, Corey Feldman (Corey Feldman, much like Charlie Sheen, is his own stereotype), smart girl, popular girl, teenage jock, preppy douchebag. All adults are warm parental types, joke fodder, or assholes. Sometimes all three at once, and that sums up the rest of the cast.
Corey Feldman is also his own punch line.
At this point, we’re about 5 minutes into the movie and we already have a principal cast of 10-13 different people, not to mention the Spanish house keeper Rosalita (Lupe Ontiveros, a funny woman who in retrospect is reduced to a series of lost-in-translation gags and wasted here) that I forgot to mention. Strap yourselves in, it’s a long flick.
The rest of the Goonies come over to Mikey’s house, set up a Rube Goldberg gag, break a tiny scale replica of Michaelangelo’s David, are culturally insensitive to the maid (who’s sole purpose in this movie is to clean the house before it’s demolished?), and break the house rule of not going into the attic to disturb Mikey’s museum curator father’s collection of rejected pieces of Astorian history. Because if you reject things, it’s like they never happened. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be writing this…yeah I would. Here’s where the plot kicks into high gear. The kids find a newspaper clipping of a local explorer who had gone missing, as well as an authentic pirate map and Spanish doubloon with strange markings signifying something major. Mikey then tells the story of One-Eyed Willie, a fearsome pirate who had been trapped in a cove by the British, who then murdered all his men so he could keep the bounty. As the closest thing they have to a leader, asthmatic Mikey deduces that if the treasure is real, they can find it and save the Goon Docks. They immobilize Brand, who’s supposed to be the film’s resident badass, with exercise equipment, and head out. Pirate treasure and the adventure of a lifetime awaits.
I’m almost out of breath now. This movie is packed with detail after detail. I’m going to help save brain by telling you that every last thing the kids do is equally significant and insignificant. The most asinine things can pop back up and move the story forward. Mikey is a big fan of Mad Magazine, the fold-in is seen to be pioneered in 1632 by One-Eyed Willy as a way to read the map. Everyone is talking at the same time, as a rule of thumb. It’s big eyes, all the time. Aside from Josh Brolin, there’s not a single restrained performance from a lead in the entire movie. I think this is why I love it. There’s a constant back and forth between setup and payoff, nothing that’s introduced is left out. If anything, at least director Richard Donner, producer Stephen Spielberg and writer Christopher Columbus, who each went on to smaller, more personal films, were thorough. If you didn’t realize that was sarcasm, you’re reading too close.
Anne Ramsey was thoroughly PISSED.
The Goonies wind up at the Fratellis’ hideout, a vicious, execution style double murder happens offscreen, Brand meets up with his nemesis, yuppie Troy Perkins as they subtlely clash over Andie’s affection, and we meet the most awesome character in cinema history: Sloth. I don’t even know how to explain Sloth. Played by Oakland Raider turned actor John Matuszak, Sloth is one of the Fratellis, a disfigured monster of a man with a gentle soul, superhuman strength, and a love for all things chocolate. Sloth steals the movie as a lovable freak, but we’ll get back to him momentarily. I have to wrap up the plot, or I may as well be re-typing you the entire damned script.
GET ON WITH IT!
The Fratellis mean business, Anne Ramsey threatens Corey Feldman with a switchblade, and as they disappear to dispose of one body, the Goonies find another one in the ice cream freezer, then find the route to One-Eyed Willy’s caverns. As usual, mayhem ensues. More kid friendly mayhem, but with 119 dead bodies (thanks to Mr. Joe Bob Briggs for keeping score), there’s 119 more corpses than any other movie I’ve ever seen marketed to children. They stumble across a dead Chester Copperpot (the missing adventurer from the attic newspaper), tons of dead pirates, booby trap after booby trap, an octopus (in a deleted scene, alluded to in later dialogue that remained uncut, maybe things weren’t TOO thorough), and the koolest pipe organ that has ever existed for any reason. While that happens, Chunk somehow gets separated from the group and is captured by the Fratellis, resulting in one of the most traumatic scenes involving a child, a blender, and Anne Ramsey, ever. If a sentence contains any combination of the previous items and you didn’t flinch, something’s terribly wrong.
Seriously, this is going in my living room.
Chunk breaks out Sloth, the Fratellis hunt the Goonies, the Goonies find the ship, Mikey has a really, REALLY creepy conversation with One-Eyed Willy’s skeleton, which he dubs the first Goonie, after finding that our cycloptic captain earned his name not in a fight, but from a birth defect, the Goonies get captured by the Fratellis, Chunk and Sloth save the Goonies, the Goonies save the day as the Fratellis activate the last booby trap and the ship sets sail. Everyone yells at once and the movie ends. That was maybe one-eighth of what happens in the movie and I’m on the brink of exhaustion.
Maybe a breakdown will help. Plot = neighborhood kids + dumb criminals + pirate treasure. Childhood obesity = laughs. Corey Feldman – Corey Haim/Present Decade = peaked at 12. 17 if you count The Lost Boys. But is this a good movie? Uh…
Also: Amateur psychologists, Pirate does not equal penis.
Honestly, it depends on the standards you hold it to. If you like subdued, moody arthouse pictures, check out something nice by Jean-Luc Goddard. If you want something that’s jam packed with insanity, screaming kids, four letter words, 80′s tropes, a heartwarming coming of age story with death and pirates and the least intelligent mafiosos ever, this is the Holy Grail. Kidding aside, the movie’s a fast paced affair that reflects the growing pains of small town 80′s youth in simpler times, trying to keep their bonds of friendship and resist forcible relocation. They’re all normal kids who luck into exrtraordinary circumstances.
What makes the movie work in part are the exceptional performances of everyone involved and the theme of family. After the climax, the kids are re-united with their parents, who have been worried sick, and could care less about anything else, least of all the foreclosures of every house in the neighborhood. We know from frame one the kids are going to save the day, no one under the age of 40 was going to die, and all was good and right with the world. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. If anything, the movie keeps its freshness by being straightforward with the black and white parable of good and evil here. Except for the fact that the main hero idolizes a legendary figure who’s known for brutally murdering everyone under his command in the pursuit of riches. That seems to undermine the main theme a bit…yeah…
Alright…even when the movie starts to make sense it doesn’t quite connect. It’s fun to watch, hilarious at times, quotable as it gets, and the actors are great. It’s also majorly conflicted and royally fucked. Seriously though, there are at least 8 major character arcs going on silultaneously. That’s a lot to keep track of. I love this movie because it’s simultaneously smart and idiotic, inspiring at times and sublimely stupid elsewhere, and it has the absolute most fluid tone of any film ever. The mood shifts on a dime and with constant subplots and cutting back and forth, it gets dizzy quick. This is the cinematic equivalent of ADD as seen through the eyes of its subjects. But there’s also a dark side here, and I’m not talking the strange Freudian themes I’ve read it another reviews (see above picture for smartassery). I’m not going to get into that, this is The Goonies, not Kinsey. But I said it, and can’t unsay it. Here we have some unanswered questions.
The biggest reason I like this movie is the amount of wrongness it got away with. The constant swearing, juvenile humor, and numerous sight gags was one thing. There are parts of this movie that amps the WTF factor up to eleven. I know that when the film had a mid 00′s resurgence, emo and screamo were huge, and it was a strange time of forced closeness and focus on social groups, and I can see why new fans latched onto the film. Everybody goes home still friends. I for one don’t buy it. That has never for one second been what fascinated me with this movie. The imagery, once the kids hit the caves, is pretty bleak for a bit. The production design of The Goonies is ingenious here, everything’s dirty and decrepit, rotting, dangerous, and the movie becomes less 6th grade family crime drama farce and more Lord of the Flies Junior. The kids never go native or get violent, but survival becomes the underlying factor. It’s glossed over and mostly unspoken, but if the Goonies don’t move forward, survival hangs at a probability of zero.
That brings us back to Sloth. It’s easy to rationalize the Fratellis at first. Their arc starts lighthearted, a jailbreak where one man gets knocked out, no one gets hurt, and the crooks get off scott-free. Then, it escalates. They kill two feds. Wrong sides of the law. Not good but understandable. They had each received a sentence of 25 years for counterfeiting money. Ok, they didn’t want to go back to prison, and they didn’t want to get jobs. It’s left to the imagination how each broke out of a separate prison and reunited, but hey, that’s another movie altogether. We’re not done yet. Their arc alone would make the most fucked up crime movie ever. Take the Goonies out of The Goonies and we have a mindtrip worthy of early Scorcese. They’ve been keeping one of their own chained to a wall, surrounded by filth and deplorable conditions. They were going to torture a small child for information by jamming his hand into a blender, then, when it’s found that he’s not lying, they keep him around for insurance. Like mutilating the fat kid isn’t enough, what were they going to do to top that? Then it turns out that Sloth, our super freak may have been normal at one point, but he was dropped repeatedly as a child. The way he clutches his face before unleashing his pent up rage on dear old mother was heartbreaking. Subversively enough, that alone could have been used as the setup for its own slasher franchise. This, along with Chunk-in-the-BlenderTM literally made me piss my pants the first time I watched the movie. I was scared, crying, and dazed. I was maybe 4 or 5, no one talked about child abuse yet, but here it was, shoe-horned in to the feel good movie of the summer. Also, where’s Pa Fratelli? He’s never mentioned a single time in the movie, never once alluded to. Perhaps he died prior to the film’s events as his brood live on to procure his legacy of brutality.
Withought the true threat of the Fratellis the film would have failed massively. They’re always characterized as bumbling never-do-wells and stupid hoods, but think, they’ve repeatedly escaped from prison, are intelligent enough to conceal a profitable counterfeiting ring with only three people, they aren’t above abusing each other, and child-murder and corpse disposal is simply just another part of the job. The fact that Ramsey, Davi and Pantoliano could accurately portray such vicious, driven people, Ramsey especially, and still elicit laughs from the crowd is one major feat.
That brooding pathos is the other part of The Goonies puzzle, and what truly makes the film work. Within the cartoon exterior and the larger than life setting there runs a thread of unspoken truths and rampant fatalism. That’s why the payoff is so good, because you root for the kids the whole way. Youth wins in the end, because Goonies Never Say Die.