Rhinestone (1984)

I thought I knew what bad movies were all about, but I never knew it could be like this. Rhinestone achieves a level of bad movie that even I didn’t know was possible. It’s as if it sets a bar and then continually trips over it, again and again, taking down the talents of Dolly Parton, Sylvester Stallone and Bob Clark in its wake, like an endlessly swirling toilet that has transformed into a black hole where no goodness can escape.

This is the kind of movie that Ed Wood and Claudio Fragrasso would make fun of. In the grand totality of bad movies, this might very well be the worst that I have ever endured. Just imagine that statement — I am someone that has sat through Troll 2 numerous times, has endured multiple Jess Franco movies in one night and has even made it through countless direct to video films that haunted the shelves of Blockbuster and West Coast Video.

How bad can it get? Real fucking bad.

Phil Alden Robinson made his screenwriting debut with this film and luckily, he didn’t quit, as he went on to write All of Me and Fletch before writing and directing Field of Dreams and Sneakers. He was so offended by Stallone’s rewrite that he briefly considered having his name removed from the film’s credits, but was convinced that it would look good on his resume.

Stallone had plenty to say about this film when he spoke to Ain’t It Cool News: “The most fun I ever had on a movie was with Dolly Parton on Rhinestone I must tell everyone right now that originally the director was supposed to be Mike Nichols, that was the intention and it was supposed to be shot in New York, down and dirty with Dolly and I with gutsy mannerisms performed like two antagonists brought together by fate. I wanted the music at that time to be written by people who would give it sort of a bizarre edge. Believe it or not, I contacted Whitesnake’s management and they were ready to write some very interesting songs alongside Dolly’s. But, I was asked to come down to Fox and out steps the director, Bob Clark. Bob is a nice guy, but the film went in a direction that literally shattered my internal corn meter into smithereens. I would have done many things differently. I certainly would’ve steered clear of comedy unless it was dark, Belgian chocolate dark. Silly comedy didn’t work for me. I mean, would anybody pay to see John Wayne in a whimsical farce? Not likely. I would stay more true to who I am and what the audience would prefer rather than trying to stretch out and waste a lot of time and people’s patience.”

Dolly plays Jake Farris, a country singer stuck in a long-term contract performing at The Rhinestone. She gets into an argument with the club’s manager Freddie (Ron Leibman, whose career is one of the highest highs — winning a Tony in 1993 for Angels In America and being in Norma Rae — to the lowest of the lows, being in movies like Michael Winner’s Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood and the abortive Mad Magazine film, Up the Academy), putting five more years of her contract and a night of sex on the line if she can’t turn a regular man off the street into a country star. That said, if she wins, she’s out of her contract.

Freddie gets to pick that man and grabs New York cabbie Nick Martinelli (Stallone), who has no talent and hates country. So she takes him home to Tennessee to teach him how to be country. They constantly argue, which is supposed to remind us of the sparkling dialogue of the 1940’s romantic comedies, but instead just reminds us how little chemistry two of the biggest stars of the 1970;s have with one another.

Tim Thomerson — yes, Jack Deth from Trancers — shows up as Jake’s ex-fiancee Barnett Kale. Richard Farnsworth, who was so magical in Misery and The Straight Story is forced to be in this movie possibly at gunpoint, playing Jake’s dad. Actually, I assume that this movie was some sort of SLA terrorist action where everyone had Stockholm Syndrome and had to make this movie and gradually fell into loving what they were doing.

How else can you explain Stallone turning down Beverly Hills Cop and Romancing the Stone to make this movie? They must have had his family, dog and the turtles from Rocky held at gunpoint.

In her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Dolly said tha the soundtrack for Rhinestone is some of the best work that she has dever one. The song “What a Heartache” is a personal favorite of hers, as she’s re-recorded it twice, and the singles “God Won’t Get You” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues” topped the country charts.

That said — this movie also features Stallone singing “Drinkenstein.” I date you to make it through this little number with your sanity intact. Here is just a hint of the lyrics in this, well, song:

“Budweiser you created a monster and they call him Drinkenstein. And the tavern down the street is the labba-tor-eye-ee where he makes the transformation all the time!”

This really happened. This was really filmed. This actually exists.

Dolly also utters a line so mystifying that it had to have been written by an alien race: “Freddie, there are two kinds of people in this world, and you ain’t one of ’em!”

I have no idea how Bob Clark — the same director behind Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsBlack ChristmasA Christmas StoryPorky’s and Deathdream — was behind this movie. Relatedly, I can’t even comprehend how Dolly Parton — who I love enough to have seen live on multiple occasions and who has proven herself as an able comedy actress — and Sylvester Stallone — whose movies I’ve spent weeks of this site discussing — could all be pulled into such a nightmare.

I really can’t stop you from watching this movie. In fact, I’ll probably watch it again. If you come to my house, I may even suggest that we watch it together. But I’ve come to realize that I enjoy painful movies. This movie makes the worst regional drive-in movie look like the finest New Hollywood soul searing tearjerker. It makes Manos, The Hands of Fate look like a Frank Capra movie. From here on, when someone asks how bad a movie is, I will use this film as the measuring stick for just how bad it can get.

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