Saturday, January 06, 2007

Films of Michael Caine #43: Blame It on Rio

Cast: Michael Caine (Matthew Hollis), Joseph Bologna (Victor Lyons), Valerie Harper (Karen Hollis), Michelle Johnson (Jennifer Lyons), Demi Moore (Nicole Hollis), José Lewgoy (Eduardo Marques), Lupe Gigliotti (Signora Botega), Michael Menaugh (Peter), Tessy Callado (Helaine).

Crew: Stanley Donen (director and producer), Charlie Peters and Larry Gelbart (writers), Kenneth Wannberg (music), Reynaldo Villalobos (cinematography), George Hively and Richard Marden (editors), Marcos Flaksman (art direction).

Synopsis: The marriage of Matthew and Karen Hollis is in trouble. The couple are due to leave for a holiday in Rio de Janeiro with their teenage daughter Nicole, Matthew’s best friend Victor Lyons and his teenage daughter Jennifer. But Karen goes to a Club Med resort at Bahia instead, saying she needs time alone. Jennifer has always had a crush on Matthew. She seduces him, despite their 25-year age difference. Matthew keeps trying to end the affair but fails. When he does stop it, Jennifer confesses to her father about the affair – but doesn’t name Matthew as her lover. An enraged Victor hunts for the mystery man. Eventually Matthew confesses all. Nicole summons her mother from Club Med. Matthew learns Karen and Victor were having an affair. Jennifer tries to commit suicide but soon recovers. Karen gives Matthew a second chance…


Blame it on Rio was a remake of a French comedy, Un Moment D’Egarement (1977). The American version’s director and producer was Stanley Donen, whose previous credits included classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Funny Face (1957). He shifted the story’s location to South America and commissioned screenwriter Charlie Peters to revise the script, using the working titles Only in Rio and Love, Rio. TV sitcom scribe Larry Gelbart later joined the project. He had co-written the screenplay for a previous Caine movie, The Wrong Box (1966).

Caine told Screen International he and Donen had wanted to work together for years. ‘Stanley knew I wanted to do a comedy as I haven’t done that many. The film is no great political or social thing, it’s just a romantic comedy in a lush place. It’s completely escapist entertainment. You should come out of it laughing.’

Caine was unconcerned that playing a man in his 40s having an affair with a teenage girl might have a detrimental effect on his image: ‘I don’t give a monkey’s about all that,’ he told News of the World. ‘It doesn’t worry me if the character is a swine. I take chances with my work because it gets boring playing adventure films all the time. And this script was something different.’ Caine had piled on weight for his previous films, Educating Rita (1983) and The Honorary Consul (1983). He went on a crash diet, shedding thirty-seven pounds in six weeks so Blame it on Rio’s romance would be more credible.

For the crucial role of Caine’s teenage lover, Donen chose a 17-year-old with no previous acting experience. The director auditioned 400 actresses before he saw Michelle Johnson’s picture in a fashion magazine. He flew her to Hollywood for a screen text. ‘I wanted a young girl who was forward and outgoing – sexually open, but not heavily so,’ Donen told News of the World. ‘It’s not a movie for the raincoat crowd. In Michelle we found someone who could arouse the audience and at the same time make them laugh.’

The $10 million film was shot on location in Rio over fourteen weeks. Caine was impressed by the young actress playing his daughter, Demi Moore. Previously she had only played bit parts in movies. In a 1999 interview with Premiere magazine, Caine recalled working with her. ‘We did a pretty intense scene, and at the end of her close-up I said “Demi, I think you will be a big star one day.” And she said to me, “Michael, you’re full of shit.”’ But Caine’s prediction was accurate. With a decade Moore was one of the highest paid actresses in the world, commanding fees of several million dollars a film. More recently she has moved into producing, including Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).

Blame it on Rio was released in the US during February 1984, with an R rating. It reached the UK later in 1984, rated 15. The film took a hammering from critics made uncomfortable by the storyline and the age difference between the lovers. Donen was unrepentant: ‘The film might offend some people, but it will make a lot of people laugh because it strikes very close to that funny bone, the real truth.’ Blame it on Rio grossed £18.6 million in the US and remains Donen’s last feature film to date. Johnson was nominated as worst new star at the Razzie Awards in 1985. Blame it on Rio is available on DVD.

Reviews: ‘Caine is a talented enough and likeable enough performer to create the illusion of a mature irony at work on catchpenny material’ - The Voice
‘What is objectionable is not the affair itself … but the way that the film milks its every comic or sexual possibility, trading on the Humbert Humbert in all of us’ – The Times

Verdict: Blame it on Rio took a lot of stick from critics who perceived it to have sleazy overtones of Lolita and incest. But that is damning the film for crimes it does not commit. The biggest problems are the awful acting of Michelle Johnson, Donen’s willingness to let the camera linger on her ample charms and a tendency for the script to have everyone cracking wise at every opportunity. Characters in sitcoms may speak only in zingers but films require more subtlety. Caine proves himself an able comedian, striking a balance between farce and forlorn. Mention must be made of the excruciating theme song that recurs throughout the film. Mere words cannot describe the pain it induces. Blame it on Rio is not as bad as you might expect, but all too often it leaves the viewer wincing.

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