Monday, April 25, 2011

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966, Michael D. Moore)

Though failing to be Elvis's worst picture based solely on the fact that it is too inane to be offensive on a deeper, crueler front, Paradise, Hawaiian Style does have the distinct qualification of being the film in which Elvis looks the worst, the production looks the worst and the songs are the worst.

It wouldn't be the only time that Elvis's weight would be an issue.  A year later, he had ballooned up before the production of Clambake, history citing depression as the reason.  Depression, so it is said, from plateauing out in the musical-comedy doldrums and seeing his career waste away.  In an awkward shirtless scene, Elvis drapes a towel over himself before exiting the frame to put his shirt back on.  We instead dwell on the bikinis because half the eye-candy equation clearly isn't living up to its end of the bargain.  But depression or not, I can't blame the guy after watching this movie.

Paradise, Hawaiian Style is an attempted return to the elements that made Blue Hawaii a success, general and specific: plenty of tropical locations, flowers and bikinis, Elvis's character leading girls around the island as a tour guide and getting into unsolicited hi-jinks and sings local color songs with cheeky children.  Only Elvis clearly isn't having it.

This is the first film directed by veteran second-unit director Michael D. Moore.  He worked as assistant director on six earlier Elvis films and must have been familiar with the quickie formula.  He shows no eye for making the inane interesting (though, to be fair, you only have so many options shooting inside a two-seated helicopter).  The film is even more of a travelogue than Blue Hawaii, but for a movie shot largely on location in Hawaii, the narrative decision to have Elvis in the air so much of the time limits what can be done with the cinematography.  We are often handed aerial photography and green-screen situations (funicular, helicopters) with for no narrative purpose other than to show a lush, moving landscape while Elvis just has to stand there.

Elvis plays helicopter pilot Rick Richards (even the writers coming up with character names got bored with this one) who comes home to Hawaii after a two-year absence and is surprised by the number of children his buddy Danny (James Shigeta) has had since he left.  The two start a charter helicopter business on the island despite Rick's irresponsible tendencies with women and otherwise.  And though Rick nearly destroys Danny's home and livelihood, there's not real sense of culpability.  Elvis as womanizer gets tougher to buy as these movies progress, not only because he is out of shape, but because the women don't age.  He's clearly dialing it in.

As did the songwriters, as we are forced to hear a particularly abrasive duet between Elvis and 10-year-old Donna Butterworth about adults acting silly on dates ("Datin'").  The relationship between Rick and Jan (Butterworth) is a little disconcerting as the two share the most numbers together, including on opening number in which Elvis is singing about (Jan's) "Queenie Wahine's Papaya". 

The film's idea of laughs is cramming dogs in Presley's lap while he pilots the chopper.  The film's idea of resolution is having a woman fall for him, though fully aware of his playing every other female in the movie.  We know all is forgiven because he performs his closing number alongside dozens of natives, clapping off-beat on top of a giant drum.  No one stood much of a chance with this one, and even the sidekick children are annoying.  It's another piece in which chance works everything out and waxes over any stakes.  Paradise, Hawaiian Style is the nadir of Presley's inane musical-comedies.  It provides nothing of interest and isn't even offensive enough to be unforgettable.  It just sits there, stagnant and fermenting. -- ½* / four stars

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