Hollywood Air Force
The late comedian Mitch Hedberg, in one of his more perceptive, addled observations, pointed out how multi-tasking is not solely a requirement of office work, but falls under Hollywood’s expectations as well:
“As a comedian, I always get into situations where I’m auditioning for movies and sitcoms, you know? As a comedian, they want you to do other things besides comedy. They say ‘alright you’re a comedian, can you write? Write us a script. Act in this sitcom.’ They want me to do shit that’s related to comedy, but it’s not comedy, man. It’s not fair, you know? It’s as though if I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said ‘alright you’re a cook… can you farm?’”
The notion isn’t limited to stand-up comics though; even game show hosts have to double as actors. Witness former Tic-Tac Dough host Wink Martindale in a movie like The Great American Traffic Jam. There are a ton of B-level and TV stars in the film, such as Ed McMahon, Rue McClanahan, Abe Vigoda, Vic Tayback, etc. But Wink, despite the norm for a movie like this where non-actors get to play themselves, much like an episode of The Love Boat, has to actually play a character. It’s like the casting director couldn’t be bothered to do their job, further proven by the old-stand by for cheap productions, when you can’t get a big star, get their relative, as with Desi Arnaz Jr., who’s the lead in The Great American Traffic Jam.
The same sort of nepotism is obviously responsible for Chris Lemmon, son of Jack, being the lead in Hollywood Air Force, a lazy period piece about a group of actors in Hollywood who, to guarantee avoiding the draft in 1961, join the underachieving local Air National Guard. Hollywood Air Force shares a few other elements with The Great American Traffic Jam, the casting of Vic Tayback in a supporting role, and another use of a game show host, Bert Convy (Password), who for the first and only time in his career, was promoted to the director’s chair.
Convy shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for the chaotic nothing of Hollywood Air Force, there are so many conflicting market concessions, trying to reach the nostalgia crowd (redundant voiceovers, American Graffiti “homages”), the lowbrow humor crowd, the teen market looking for nudity, and the cameo spotting crowd, that the result was likely to be confused and distracted. There’s a lot of motion in the film, especially in the second half when the characters have to pass an inspection for a vindictive Congressman (Congressman Balljoy, that’s really his character’s name) and, for some reason, the Romanian Ambassador, so they don’t get shipped off to Berlin. And when Convy wants to slow things down a bit, instead of candlelight dinners and romantic music, he uses farts, so much so that lighting farts becomes a major plot point. It isn’t so much that farting can’t be funny, especially in a movie with such low ambitions as Hollywood Air Force, which is only trying to be another Police Academy clone (HAF has the nerd, the jock, the muscle, the sex-obsessed guy, the shy charmer, the schemer, the letch, and on and on, underachievers all) but there’s nothing distinctive about Convy’s film. We get what TV executives in 1986 thought was edgy, speech impediments, obnoxious sound effects, mincing gays, midgets, silly character names, awful puns, and non-sensical attempts at crude dialogue (“you anus-eyed idiot!”). The smarmy use of profanity was probably inserted to differentiate Hollywood Air Force from the TV movie it really is (it got a theatrical release, which is the most amazing thing about the film), as was the amusingly gratuitous nudity.
Hollywood Air Force does offer at least one overqualified star embarrassing himself in Lloyd Bridges, who was in a career lull, and probably thought his absent-minded dialogue would be reminiscent of his role in Airplane. It isn’t at all, there’s a difference between silly-funny and just annoyingly dumb, which HAF is. Perhaps Convy knew this and that’s why he abandons the Police Academy/Moving Violations/Stewardess School formula in favor of ripping off the training sequences of Stripes in Act III.
As director, Convy provides what are probably supposed to be amusing diversions designed by the characters trying to fool the brass and for some reason, a full audience watching from the stands. So instead of the ragtag troops banding together to show how worthy they are, they use Hollywood tricks instead. Or so we’re told, nothing we see seems to have any relation to what would likely be part of an inspection, such as a college marching band, a Hawaiian themed bar, etc. Convy also neglects to establish what the goal of the phony performance is, the Romanian Ambadassor is supposed to be reporting how inept the unit is to his Russian comrades, and the Congressman is trying to get the unit out of his district by showing how unqualified they are. So if they put on a good show, that would mean they would be good representatives of the US military, but the Congressman spends the entire inspection looking nervous, and we see him tell a superior that the unit will show how great the military is, which is why they should be shipped out to Berlin. By the time the movie is over, we’re still not sure if we were supposed to be rooting for the unit or against them. But at least we’re blessed with a final TV-worthy moment, as each character gets to dance to Let’s Twist Again and smile directly at the camera, so we know everything is right with the world.