The finale of "Can't Stop the Music" revels in a foregone conclusion: The Village People, a terminally campy male disco sextet, hit the Big Time by wowing a packed house in San Francisco. Routinely associated with the word "magic" in the screenplay contrived by producer Allan Carr and co-writer Bronte Woodard, San Francisco might be regarded as a packed city for the Village People's act. Moreover, Carr and Woodward haven't been clever enough to invent a rags-to-riches myth that would justify an emotion stronger than fleeting bemusement on this night of triumph.
Nevertheless, as the repetitious lyrics of the title song throb in one ear and out the other, and the performers acknowledge the throng's ovations amid a blizzard of balloons and glittery confetti ("Can't Stop the Glitter" would be a better title, all things considered), a curious impression takes hold. The jubilant mood remains non-infectious. You can't help reflecting. "How often do you get to see a movie that really seems to be enjoying itself?" And there's the rub: "Can't Stop the Music" emerges as a peculiarly ridiculous, disillisioning spectacle of self-gratification.
Although the success of the Village People is the pretext for the show, it appears to be the outlook of Allan Carr that dictates the garish, ultimately unsavory style of presentation. "Can't Stop the Music" is a more diverting rhapsody of inanity than Carr's previous musical outrage, the unsightly and unspeakeable "Grease." It's difficult to work up a serious store of resentment against "Can't Stop."
The movie has transience smeared all over it despite (or becasue of) the pretense that the Very Latest Thing in pop music fashions is being showcased in the brightest, shiniest of cineamatic packages for an expectant, adoring public.
Does anyone believe that the Village People is a singing group with staying power or lasting appeal? If anything, the group appears to represent the latest facetious triumph of packaging over substance. When someone dreams up a freakier refinement on the Village People, whose members attracted attention by assuming mock-manly disguises (cowboy, Indian, hardhat, cop, GI, Hell's Angel) understand by the cognoscenti to be homosexual put-ons, another show-business sensation will succumb to instant obsolescence.
Maybe it has already. "Can't Stop" feels dated. While advertising itself as the musical vanguard of the '80s, "Can't Stop" appears to reflect all the lingering, blithely self-congratulatory fadishness associated with Tom Wolfe's Me Decade.
For example, a '70s tone of sentimentality and triviality leaps out of a buzzword song like "Liberation." The dialogue is a treasure trove of '70s platitudes. Valerie Perrine, a perversely ludicrous choice as leading lady -- she looks like she stepped out of an Al Capp comic strip -- is entrusted with many howlers in her role as a brainles model who masterminds the formation of the Village People, in order to promote the songs of buddy Steve Guttenberg, as aspiring disco genius. On one hand, Perrine specializes in boomerang soothers: "I love you very much; I care what happens to your life!" On the other hand, she hurls stingless scolders like the following, directed at Bruce Jenner as a square attorney from the Midwest who dares to call her friends strange before becoming infatuated with the heroine and liberated lifestyles himself: "You know something? I don't judge people, I accept them."
It's more amusing when Carr and Woodard appear to expose a dreadfully commercialized value system. There's no irony intended, for example, when one of the future VPs, hardhat David Hodo, confides that he wants "what every boy wants -- fame, fortune and platinum records" or Perrine is described as "a model of the first magnitude."
Making her belated feature-directing debut, Nancy Walker handles much of the situation-comedy staging and editing more fluidily than I expected. She seems to enjoy more rapport with seasoned actresses like June Havoc (who portrays the show-biz mother of the Village People's composer, named Jack Morell in the movie) and Tammy Grimes, who perks things up every so often as an overbearing fashion designer.
When the kitschy, charmless musical numbers leave an impression, it tends to be one of strenous, ludicrous carnaltiy. For example, Hodo is surrounded by slinky sluts in red on a set decorated with giant lengths of pipe. Perrine, Jenner and the VP's join a brigade of blond, bronzed muscle boys in an illustration of "YMCA" that endeavors to confuse the atmosphere of a New York City Y with a Holiday Health Spa for Aryan youth. The wholesome facade is clearly a big joke, undercut by the ceaseless suggestiveness of the lyrics, designed to provoke knowing smirks or chuckles from members of the audience familiar with the homosexual subtext.
In fact, the movie seems obsessed with the idea of fusing wholesomeness and smuttiness. The surface is systematically innocuous. Most of the characters, the Village People included, appear to be as naive as Terry Southern's Candy. The undercurrents are just as systematically lewd. The dialogue is saturated with indiscriminate double entendre. Every remark may be jumped on for smirky convenience by any given character.
The furtive tone is perhaps best summed up in a line given to Perrin when she feels the need for an ice cream cone. "I'm going for a Baskin-Robbins rush!" Precisely. It's the combination of the homely treat with the hint of stronger, even forbidden, stimulation. "Can't Stop the Music" seems designed for people who might want to watch a soft-core porn film while gorging themselves on ice cream sundaes.