Updated: Mar 16, 2020
Mark Twain once said, "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." There are movies people talk about favorably, but haven't seen. I contend that Cannon Films' 1987 release Mannequin is one of them.
Mannequin features a stable of '80s stars including Andrew McCarthy and James Spader back together, on the heels of the 1986 smash Pretty in Pink. Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls fame has a supporting role, appearing more accurate to her younger age than on the TV sitcom. McCarthy plays protagonist Johnathon Switcher, a struggling artist who can't keep a job, yet somehow affords a huge apartment. Kim Cattrall, the mannequin in question, is as hot as smoldering wood shavings. Her character in Mannequin is named Emmy, and that's the only time you'll see "Mannequin" and "Emmy" in the same sentence. The chemistry between McCarthy and Cattrall sits at zero. I've had more sultry encounters at stoplights.
Johnathon works at a department store as a window dresser. Emmy, a Caucasian who's supposed to be from ancient Egypt, travels through time and manifests in dummy form with no explanation. She comes to life for Johnathon alone, and inspires him to become a great artist. Now you've essentially seen the movie! What are you going to do with the time you've saved?
I was going to ramble about the non-existent setup, but here's a clip. The opening text gag is the only time I laughed during the whole film. I've seen a lot of movies in my day. Mannequin has to be on my bottom five, and I made it through Curse of the Screaming Dead. With its overall "What were they thinking?" premise, Mannequin is very much the spawn of the infamous Cannon Group.
Sports team mascots have more depth than this film's characters. Mannequin is rife with clichés such as the gay black guy, the backstabbing ex-girlfriend, the snotty rich twerp and the evil CEO. People this one-dimensional are harder to buy than a mannequin coming to life.
A chunk of the story seems to have been left on the cutting room floor: For most of the film, the store security guard's dog is a pit bull named Rambo. When we last see the pooch in action, he's stuck in a tree. Later, as the security guard is chasing Johnathon's motorcycle, we see Rambo's photo on his dashboard, the guard screaming, "This one's for you, Rambo!" For the remainder of the movie, the guard dog is a Dobermann named Terminator. What happened to Rambo? He was my wife's favorite part of the film! Maybe I shouldn't complain about the shortened running time.
Bizzarely, there's also a recurring use of sped-up footage played for non-existent laughs, a technique mercifully scarce since the silent era. Mannequin was inspired, if that's the proper word, when the film's writer thought he saw a dummy move in a department store window. There's no word on if he was high, but I guarantee drugs are somehow responsible for this turkey.
I picked up the DVD from Goodwill for $1.64, because it was half-price day. I overpaid by about five bucks. As Mannequin languished on, I kept thinking it would become good at some point, and my wife told me she felt the same way. After all, everyone seems to revere it as a quintessential '80s film and the theme song was a smash hit. In Mannequin's case, that song is Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." That video, which features clips from Mannequin, came on during my friend's birthday party the night before Adrienne and I watched the DVD. What we'd interpreted it as a sign was more of a warning.
Oh, sure, "Nothing's gonna Stop Us Now" is featured in Mannequin. But the editors knew the film stunk, and tacked the song on at the end as sort of a consolation prize.
As the song ushered in the credits to the train wreck we'd just witnessed, I thought of how another Cannon-related bomb, 1990's The Forbidden Dance, ended with the on-screen text, "This film is dedicated to the preservation of the rainforest." The tactic is called "Greenwashing" and it's a last-ditch studio effort to legitimize wasting a small portion of your life. Cannon, you dug your own grave.
On the same Goodwill excursion, I picked up Cannon's Over the Top. This father/son-bonding epic staring Sylvester Stallone opened theatrically on February 13, 1987, the same day as Mannequin! Over the Top mopped the department store floor with Mannequin, but that's admittedly not saying much. Mannequin aside, I love the quirky offerings of The Cannon Group! Check out the site's reviews of Masters of the Universe and the Breakin' films. (Don't be surprised to eventually see a Retro Injection feature on Over the Top.)
The JCPenny dumpster fire of Mannequin gave me the prime opportunity to feature my own mannequin! Witness the adventures of Creepy Mac, who serves as the model for my Ghostbuster uniform when I'm off duty. Seen here looming in the shadows, he's a welcome sight in the wee hours of the morning, and he even joined us on our our cross-country move. Unless I somehow wasn't listening, my wife loves him!
This Michael Gottlieb-directed alleged comedy reminds us that not everything from the '80s was awesome. But if watching this movie for a week straight would take me back to 1987 for one day, I'd gladly hit that play button.
Somehow, someone thought a sequel to Mannequin would be a good idea. Another inexplicable time-travel story, it's titled Mannequin 2: On the Move (1992) and stars a largely all-new cast, including Fright Night's William Ragsdale and Kristie Swanson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. If you can make it through the trailer, you're more of a masochist than I am.
In his syndicated newspaper column, Roger Ebert gave Mannequin half a star and commented, "'Mannequin' is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater." Mannequin falls completely flat on every level, and is an appropriately-stiff entry into the Galleria of failed '80s comedies. After the film was over, my wife and I sat there speechless, feeling like the real dummies.