21 and a Wakeup: As bad-good as The Room?
Connoisseurs of the elusive so-bad-it’s-good genre: We have a new candidate. I don't make that claim lightly, least of all when it means picking on a no-budget film that, as the more tactful Roger Ebert notes, is so obviously heartfelt in its intentions. Still, it’s not often one sees a Vietnam movie cast with actors who resemble extras from Baywatch. Or a Vietnam film that sometimes appears to have been shot in someone’s backyard (even though it was actually Vietnam). Or a military movie of any stripe that features a special appearance by Faye Dunaway (above) as an angry major. Less pathological but far, far more ambitious than the recent cult phenomenon The Room, 21 and a Wakeup (see review) offers all of the above and more.
Here's a sampling. The film is set on a military base, but every character looks coiffed for the dance floor. Almost nothing about the set design suggests the early '70s. Tom Sizemore—one of several other celebrities to appear inexplicably in bit parts—shows up to head-butt a girl. The main character—a star American surgeon played by Amy Acker—speaks perfect Vietnamese, though the subtitles briefly forget to turn off when she switches back to English. In the operating room, a nurse played by The Wonder Years' Danica McKellar summarily decides she's got what it takes to be a doctor—though that epiphany doesn't work out so well for her patient. A closing montage tells us what happened to all the major characters, noting that one of them “went on to become the top orthopedist for the NFL.” (I’m not sure how that reads, but it plays like something out of Animal House.)
Due to space constraints in my review, I didn’t mention the fact that the director is a Vietnam veteran. His clear sincerity only adds to the fascination (and makes me feel guilty about slagging his film in this way). 21 and a Wakeup appears to have to have been created through a perfect storm of passion, good intentions and tone-deafness. The film is getting a Chicago-area-only release beginning today. In the name of midnight movies everywhere, keep it in theaters.