Blame It on Rio (1984)

screenshot from Blame It on Rio

Directed by: Stanley Donen
Screenwriter(s): Charlie Peters, Larry Gelbart
Starring: Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, Demi Moore, Michelle Johnson, Valerie Harper
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 40m
Rating: 0 out of 10

Stanley Donen began his directing career at the tender age of 24, co-directing On the Town with his long-time directorial partner, Gene Kelly. He also co-directed the greatest musical of all time, Singin’ In the Rain, and, on his own, the peerless comedy-thriller, Charade. How sad it is, therefore, that he should sign off his movie career with this grubby little film which longs to be a screwball farce, but lacks any charm or wit, relying on the worst kind of smut and exploitation.

Caine and Bologna play two middle-aged men for whom the spark has gone out of their love lives. Caine might be divorcing his wife (a cameo from Valerie Harper, TV’s Rhoda); Bologna is already single again. They decide to take a trip with their teenage daughters to Rio de Janeiro to get away from it all. Caine ends up being pursued by Bologna’s daughter (Johnson) and gives in to the temptations of her barely-legal charms, then desperately tries to let her down gently and extract himself from the situation without getting caught by Bologna or his own daughter (Moore).

Older man-younger woman pairings are not new in Hollywood, but not since the 1960s has it been socially acceptable on screen for an eighteen-year-old and a man over thirty to have a relationship. And at least in those days it was clear that Debbie Reynolds or whoever wouldn’t be putting out before the honeymoon. Michael Caine was over fifty when this was made. Just, no.

Even though no-one is more unsettled than Caine himself, their relationship is still terribly written. It’s a low-rent 1980s porn magazine fantasy scenario made flesh, and it’s not in any way amusing or clever. Screenwriter Gelbart was responsible for the TV version of MASH, so he’s capable of writing some of the most searing and heartbreaking things under the guise of comedy. Maybe if Johnson – in her first ever role – had any sort of spark about her, the attraction might have been understandable (while still obviously wrong on every possible level), but she’s flat and emotionless, giving no glimpse into why Caine’s character might be attracted to her for any reason beyond the purely physical.

All that aside, the main interest is actually in the performance of Moore. As Caine’s daughter, her character is not even remotely fooled by what’s going on and there’s a nice subversion of roles, by which she becomes parent to a hormonally-charged child. Most would be embarrassed to have this film on their CV, but, given the quality of almost all her films since Ghost, she probably isn’t. She’s not only the most cynical and world-weary teenager seen outside indie flicks, but hers is also – by some considerable distance – the only convincing performance.