Until something more objectionable hits the fan, "Times Square" will suffice as the new movie most worth ducking.
In the year of "Little Darlings," "Foxes," "The Blue Lagoon" and the ad blitz which launched The Great Softcore Jeans War, it's quite a feat to take the art of pandering to woozier depths.
Teen-age girls owe it to themselves to take Times Square," a disingenuous fairy tale about two nubile runaways who become fast friends, budding rock stars and outlaw culture heroines, with about 24 grains of salt per second. Parents have a right to resent the mercenary intentions of producer Robert Stigwood, director Alan Moyle and screenwriter Jacob Brackman.
"Times Square" fails at a double-edged con: glorifying The Wayward American Teeny-Bopper while lyricizing Manhattan's lowlife. Nickly, portrayed by newcomer Robin Johnson as a Dead End Kid with features and affectations out of Mick Jagger, is a foul-mouthed, trouble-prone 16-year-old from the wrong side of the tracks. Pamela, played by Trini Alvarado, the doe-eyed ingenue from "Rich Kids,"is a demure, unhappy 13-year-old from the right side. They meet, with coy irony, at a New York Psychiatric clinic.
An abandoned child, Nicky is placed under observatin after being arrested for vandalism. A motherless child, Pamela ends up sharing a room with Nicky after a family doctor recommends she take a series of neurological tests. The source of Pamela's discontent remains a mysterious worry to her well-meaning father, a city official named David Pearl (admirably played by Peter Coffield) who heads a campaign to rehabiliate the Times Square area.
Nicky is impressed by Pamela's sensitivity, which consists of keeping a journal and comparing Nicky's spiteful, pithy epithets with the poetry of T.S. Eliot. A sheltered, over-privileged type, Pamela is naturally excited by Nicky's apparent fearlessness and ferocity.
Pamela and Nicky make a getaway from the hospital in a stolen ambulance. They set up housekeeping in an abandoned warehouse on the docks and evidently support themselves with odd jobs and hustles, including facetiously flubbed attempts at three-card monte and armed robbery. Watching these playful antics, one suspects that Pamela's bank account must be the fugitives' real source of income.
Show business beckons: The owner of a topless dive called the Cleopatra Club hires Pamela to dance without stripping, the novelty of the concept proving irresistibly tantalizing. Nicky joins the band and soon creates a sensation with her punk-rock manifesto, "I'm a Damn Dog." The catchy chorus: "Feed me, feed me, can't you hear me howl?/Feed me, feed me, I'm a damn dog now!"
(Typically, recording tycoon Stigwood has packaged a movie that can function as a promo for a record album. The scenes are backed up by 20 rock songs, often chosen for literal-mined reinforcement. Briliant example: The episodes at the clinic cue the Ramones on "I Wanna Be Sedated.")
Becoming a hot news item, the run-aways are egged on by a smug disc jockey called Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry, famous on the cult circuit as the Frankenstein character in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), who resents the efforts of Pamela's father to clean up his domain. In addition to inciting and romanticizing the girls over the air, LaGuardia arranges to promote their carees as punk rockers called the Sleaze Sisters.
When Nicky begins getting her violent kicks by dropping televion sets from upper-story windows, the girls have a falling-out, provoking Nicky to take a suicidal jump into the Hudson. She reconsiders and drags her drenched carcass into LaGuardia's studio to demand air time to denounce Things in General all over again. She doesn't get it, but Pam arranges a consolation which Somehow produces reconcilations and rosy futures all around: a free concert by Nicky on top of a Times Square theater marquee with hundreds of tackily costumed fans looking on.
This plot might accommodate a hilarious and even revealing social satire, but the filmmakers exploit the idea of promiscuous rebellion for sleazy erotic gratification and disreputable profit. While Pamela's father is taken to task for being a prig, the malicious deejay gets off scot-free for being a shameless pander.
The peculiarly amoral hypocrisy of the movie is thrown into stark relief by the setting itself. Nicky and Pamela frisk about in a picturesquely scummy environment. Miraculously, the scum refuses to rub off on them. The background of slum dwellings, porn theaters and shops, streetwalkers, pimps, addicts and watchful, solitary men serves as a constant reminder of the girls' sexual vulnerability. If anything, prostitution would appear to be the most logical avenue open to them.
While Nicky and Pamela remain chaste and unmolested, their brazen come-ons and gaggy criminal escapades amount to an incessant tease. The filmmakers even contrast Nicky and Pamela in a way that suggests a porngrapher's lesbian teeny-bopper fantasy: the crude, mannish, aggressive girl seduces the dainty little femme. Dropping vicious hints but never explicitly acknowledging the salacious implications, the filmakers contrive to have their dirty-minded cake and eat it too.