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Family Vacation Goes Awry In 'Last Resort'

May 09, 1986|SHEILA BENSON | Times Film Critic

Com'on, you just can't dislike "Last Resort" (citywide). It stars Charles Grodin , and that's already a plus. Its writers, Steven Zacharias and Jeff Buhai, wrote "Revenge of the Nerds," and a lot of that sweetness still remains. And it has a dippy amiable air of having been made for $47.81 by kids in the backyard. Well--Catalina. Practically the backyard.

Grodin plays a wholesale furniture salesman who, in a quietly suicidal conversation with his biggest client, manages to lose the account. At Christmas. Impulsively, he packs up his whole family, wife (Robin Pearson Rose, a real find), teen-age son and daughter and younger son and spirits them all away on a Club Med-type vacation.

This "Caribbean" Club Sand is staffed entirely by actors with deep tans and maladroit French accents. (Only Gerrit Graham as the camp director and Jon Lovitz as the quintessentially obnoxious French bartender are exempt from the bad-accent stigma.) They stage awful musical numbers that aren't sharp enough to be the parodies they are meant to be, and they all seem to be dressed like the aftermath of an explosion at L'Esprit.

The Club Sand's accommodations, of course, make boot camp look cushy. The walls between kids and parents are like shoji screens. And, as they discover to their mortification, their preteen next door (Scott Nemes), already has his imitation of his parents' lovemaking down pat. To the horror of Grodin, a husband and father with his black belt in worrying, what Club Sand offers full-time are sex, drugs and pineapple daiquiris. One by one, his little family peels off to try them all.

It's the feeling of Grodin as the muttering, dutiful cement in this family unit that holds the movie together--for as long as it can be said to be held. His timing, always a thing of beauty, has a clean serve and return with Rose as his partner.

Let us not kid around, though. "Last Resort" (MPAA-rated: R for language and sexual situations) under director Zane Buzby isn't great art or even always great fun. It is sometimes: in the opening quarter of the movie; in the steadiness of characterizations, such as that of the younger son ("You can't desert me," he pleads. "I'm your only son who talks to you") or the banter between husband and wife modified by affection, not sniping. But by the last third, desperation has clearly set in. The final scene has the impromptu air of having been put together by a cast who's suddenly been told that their movie ends in 150 feet, ready or not. The ending is rout, not planned withdrawal.

But it is unpretentious. It's not venal. Somehow, there's a high-school play jauntiness to it that's infectious. And Grodin has a retort that I plan to steal, when a snippy waiter tells him that the bill doesn't include a tip. "Good," he says cheerfully.

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