Box Office Failures Week: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

Take it from someone who was there, 1990 belonged to Andrew “Dice” Clay.

That year, he became the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden two nights in a row. His albums sold hundreds of thousands of copies, a fact that would never be possible in today’s streaming world. His controversial episode of Saturday Night Light was the fourth highest-rated show of the season and caused cast member Nora Dunn and music guest Sinead O’Connor to not appear on the show.

You kind of had to be there.

Yet how has a movie so critically reviled in its homeland been so well-received overseas?

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane will leave you with many questions.

Ford Fairlane (Clay) is smoking on a beach. He smokes for most of the movie, as so much of Clay’s Diceman routine — which started as just part of his act and grew and, well, grew — was about smoking.

He flashes back to how he got here, as Bobby Black (Vince Neil, who deserves a similar fate after murderously screwing up Hanoi Rocks) collapses on stage and dies. Ford is hired by shock jock Howard…no, Johnny Crunch (Gilbert Gottfried) to find out what happened and what groupie Zuzu Petals (Maddie Corman, who went from movies like this and Beer League to playing Lady Aberlin in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) had to do with it.

Crunch is electrocuted on the air and now our detective must deal with all manner of rogues, from former disco cop Lt. Amos (Ed O’Neill, always wonderful), Smiley the hitman (Robert England), numerous ex-girlfriends who want him dead and a record executive named Julian Grendel (Wayne Newton!) who is bootlegging his own label’s music when he isn’t blowing up Fairlane’s beloved car and home up real good.

There’s also a koala bear. And Lauren Holly as Ford’s assistant, Jazz. And an orphan named The Kid, played by Brandon Call from Step by Step.

Along the way, you get David Patrick Kelly (Luther from The Warriors, as well as T-Bird from The Crow and the fan from Penn & Teller Get Killed), Morris Day, William Shockley (the stuntman who played the first person dispatched by RoboCop), Lala Zappa (who keeps showing up in movies I’ve been watching like this and Amityville: A New Generation), Kari Wuhrer (oh man, whatever happened to her? If anyone deserved to be in 1990’s neon giallo films, who else? Also, she is in Beastmaster 2ThinnerAnaconda and Berserker), Sheila E., showgirl Delia Sheppard (Penthouse Pet of the Month for April 1988 who is in Gregory Dark’s soft core movie Night Rhythms), Priscilla Presley, Kurt Loder and Tone Loc.

The music for this film is perhaps way better than the film, led by Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love,” which had an awesome video directed by David Fincher. The Black Plague band that starts the film features not just Neil on vocals, but also former Ozzy bassist Phil Soussan, Quiet Riot’s Carlos Cavazzo on guitar and Randy Castillo, who was in Ozzy’s band and played for some time in Motley Crüe before his death.

Somehow, this movie made $1 million more than it cost — $20 million if you were wondering —  and was the big winner at the 1990 Golden Raspberry Awards, winning Worst Actor (Clay), tying with Blake Edwards’ Ghosts Can’t Do It for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay.

Speaking of that screenplay, the movie’s writers all went on to bigger and better things. Well, kind of. David Arnott wrote The Last Action Hero. James Cappe wrote for the Poltergeist: The Legacy TV show. And Dan Walters followed this up with Hudson Hawk (he also wrote Batman Returns and Demolition Man, so it’s not all bad). The characters came from Rex Weiner, who has the astounding title of creative consultant for Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (spoiler warning: he wrote it under the pen name Carlos Lazlo). He originally wrote tales of Ford Fairlane in The New York Rocker and L.A. Weekly.

Somehow, Renny Darlin just kept getting handed millions by Hollywood to make movies. Cutthroat IslandDeep Blue SeaExorcist: The Beginning? Oh Renny — what photos do you have and why do you keep using your blackmail to make these movies?

That said, I love this movie for this exchange:

Ford Fairlane: Hey, look. Write down my number: 555-6321 Got it?

Twin Club Girl: Yeah. Wait a minute. 555 is not a real number. They only use that in the movies.

Ford Fairlane: No shit, honey. What do you think this is? Real life?

You also have to love any movie that features fake bands like Ellen Aim and the Attackers (obviously from Streets of Fire), Brain of the Scarecrow, Alba Varden (the cruise ship from Lethal Weapon 2), Heather, Corey, Heather Cory and Young (a reference to the many Cory and Heather actors in the 90’s), Todd Times Two, 5000 Schizophrenics (10,000 Maniacs), Hot Tub Johnny and his Feline Friends, Mamma Waters Sings the Blues, Nine Sisters, Horses on Fire,  The Silver Belles, Fred and Ethyl (I Love Lucy), The Professor and Mary-Ann (Gilligan’s Island),  The Nakatomi Boys Choir (Die Hard), The Doctor Bellows Funk Machine (I Dream of Jeannie) and The Redheaded Gardner and his Flower.

Even better, Black Plague’s song titles are listed, such as “Hon, I Screwed the Kids,” “Polanski Nursery” and “I Love You.”

Also — as I know Joe Bob Briggs worries about these kinds of things, but the actual 1957 Fore Fairlane in the film was not actually blown up. That was a fiberglass replica.

So wait — remember what I said about this movie actually being a success in some places?

In post-communist Hungary, that’s where.

Pirated copies — featuring the voice of Hungarian singer and comedian Fero Nagy — became so popular that Hungarian youths would quote the film and the profanity filled lines Nagy added.

The film was also a big deal in Norway and in Spain, where it was dubbed by singer, actor and comedian Pablo Carbonell. I kind of dig the film’s title in Peru, which translates to Ford Fairlane: World Rock Police.

There was even a DC Comic book of this movie! Gerard Jones wrote it! I bought every issue!

What can I say? It was 1990. You had to be there.

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