This movie is being released on Blu-ray by Olive Films (www.olivefilms.com – www.facebook.com/olivefilms) on January 24th, 2017.
“I don’t believe what I’m watching,” says one character in the 80s drama, The Men’s Club. It couldn’t be a more appropriate summation. This is an adult-themed piece about middle-aged men coming together, opening up and releasing their baser instincts. The movie has been hard to get and long out-of-print, so it’s a pleasure to see this lost title arriving on high definition courtesy of Olive Films.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, though. The Men’s Club is pretty terrible. It’s surreal misfire of a movie that confounds and often results in unintentional laughter. I certainly enjoyed it., but not as intended. This fact is made all the more stunning by the talent involved. The project boasts five Academy Award nominated actors and several more recognizable faces, a solid director in Peter Medak (The Changeling, Romeo is Bleeding, The Krays) and material sourced from well-regarded writer, Leonard Michaels.
It’s clear that the intention was to portray a gritty and honest portrait of the lives of urbane San Franciscans. The story begins with ex-athlete Cavanaugh (Roy Scheider) pushing old friend and intellectual Berkeley professor Phillip (David Dukes) into joining him for a new kind of meeting. A “Men’s Club” so to speak, where guys come together to talk shop and open up “man-to-man” about their life experiences. Phillip initially resists, complaining that it’ll turn into a high-school locker room. Of course, he quickly relents.
The pair are joined by psychotherapist Kramer (Richard Jordan), real estate broker Solly (Harvey Keitel), snooty lawyer Harold (Frank Langella), auto-parts shop manager Paul (Craig Wasson), and MD Terry (Treat Williams). Let’s just say that when these guys speak freely, the results are absolutely deranged. Events progress almost like a play, with two main locales. Kramer’s house, where the discussions begins and a San Francisco brothel where the night eventually leads them.
Despite the talent on display, the tales being told and discussed aren’t convincing in the least. It’s like an awkward actor’s workshop where the talks feel put-on and artificial. Many confessionals involve the characters laughing about slapping women around or wondering why all they feel drawn to unavailable ladies. There aren’t any insightful observations, but a lot of airs of self-importance from the script.
The performances are odd as well. Phillip may be a licensed therapist, but actor Jordan is forced to act mentally unstable and bug his eyes out whenever possible. At one point, he decides to entertain the group by throwing knives in the dining room. Fights randomly break out between characters with little provocation. The Paul character has the least to add as far as revelations go, but his childlike looks of utter confusion are the most believable. This feature is incredibly preposterous, although never boring.
If you look the movie up online, about the only thing that comes up are comments about Harvey Keitel’s character and his strange beside manner with a prostitute. Indeed, it is unforgettable; buck naked, the actor screams this gem to a lady-of-the-night – “I’m NOT masturbating! I’m in love with you!” Yes, emotions run high by the time we get to the upscale brothel. There are three-ways on the floor scored to bad 80s muzak, impromptu dances to Dixieland Jazz tunes and a marriage ceremony. A young Jennifer Jason Leigh does appear as one of the prostitutes and delivers the movie’s strongest performance.
As bizarre event after bizarre event follows, one can’t help but wonder what the actual message is. One assumes the film’s intention was to try and emulate 1983’s The Big Chill, but emphasize male concerns and push cinematic boundaries in the process. Unfortunately, its point is completely lost.
Is the screenplay suggesting that men’s support groups are bad, because when guys lower their guard, their baser and more animal instincts will take over? And by those actions, I mean telling people to shove coffee up their asses and screaming at prostitutes who ask them about their self-pleasuring habits. Could this movie be trying to present the duality of man, both good and bad? Is the climactic wedding about renewal and starting their spousal relationships again from a better place? In the end, it’s impossible to know. The situations are so exaggerated they don’t feel authentic in any way, shape or form.
By the time a few of the characters reach a catharsis, laughing and running on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the only thought that comes to mind is WTF? This is a crazy-ass movie that doesn’t work as intended, but is entertainingly surreal to watch. There are so many good performers trying their best, but to no avail.
The disc itself looks good (there are some soft shots and grainy night footage, but that’s due to the source material) and comes with an amusing trailer that doesn’t quite communicate how bonkers the movie is. As bad as it is, I’m thrilled that weird little titles like The Men’s Club are being made available again. If you like cinematic oddities, you may want to check it out.