Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Blame It On Rio (1984)
Studio Line: MGM - She's the hottest thing on the beach. She's also his best friend's daughter!

Welcome to the most exciting and sensual city in the world… Rio de Janeiro! The "ultimate naughtiness" (Vogue) of Brazil's hottest town is captured in this "wild and wacky, zany screwball romantic comedy" (Los Angeles Magazine) with a red-hot cast that includes Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules), Joseph Bologna (Big Daddy), Michelle Johnson (The Glimmer Man) and Demi Moore (Ghost).

Upon arriving in exotic Rio, long time friends Matthew (Caine) and Victor (Bologna) and their teenage daughters (Moore & Johnson) barely unpack before this infamous pleasure spot begins to cast its torrid spell. Matthew quickly succumbs to Cupid's arrow, but when guilt gets the better of this married man, he vows to end the affair and keep it a secret… even from Victor. But as his white lies grow, so does his libido, and Matthew continues his indiscretions…until his wife shows up!

Director: Stanley Donen
Cast: Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, Valerie Harper, Michelle Johnson, Demi Moore
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9; audio English Monaural, French & Spanish Monaural; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; rated R; 100 min.; $19.98; 5/22/01.
Supplements: Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/C-/D-

Call it “A Tale Of Two Career Trajectories”. 1984’s Blame It On Rio featured a pair of fairly-successful middle-aged actors and another pair of largely-unknown young actresses. Within those pairs, the performers were reasonably well-matched in terms of experience and stardom, but after Rio, they would split into totally different career directions.

On one hand, we have Michael Caine and Demi Moore. Caine is the lead of Rio and easily the film’s biggest attraction. He’d starred in many movies by that point, though he never really became a strong leading man in the US. Nonetheless, he’d done quite well, and he’d continue to succeed in the future. Oh, Caine has had his share of ups and downs, but he still maintains an active presence in the business and has earned his share of acclaim; both of Caine’s Oscar victories - for Best Supporting Actor in both 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters and 1999’s The Cider House Rules - came after Rio. Hey, the dude’s even been knighted - that’s hard to top!

Moore has yet to become Lady Demi or win an Oscar. Actually, she's never even been nominated for an Academy Award, and based on her prior work, odds aren't good that she'll ever get such an honor. Nonetheless, after Rio, Moore went on to enjoy a fairly successful career. Other than 1990's Ghost, Moore never appeared in any true blockbusters, but she still became a true movie star and famous-type person.

Not so for her co-star, the lovely Michelle Johnson. Rio marked her motion picture debut, and though a trip to IMDB shows that she continues to work in the industry - with 2000’s The Replacements as the most recent item on her résumé - you’ll be excused for placing her in the “Where Are They Now?” file. One look at her roster of appearances shows a lot of unknown films and duds. Of course, Moore and Caine made their share of bombs as well, but at they had some hits and both enjoy strong name recognition. Most of the folks who know Johnson are guys who fondly remember her nude scenes from Rio.

Thankfully, Joseph Bologna showed no skin in Rio, but his career failed to prosper after that film. He made a minor name for himself prior to 1984, but his efforts since then have consisted mainly of small parts and duds. He did get a minor role in the 1999 Adam Sandler hit Big Daddy, but otherwise he’s largely faded from the map. No Oscars or knighting for Joe, I’m afraid.

Despite the differing career paths enjoyed by the four leads of Rio, I believe all of them share one thing: they wish they hadn’t made this lousy movie. Granted, that’s speculation, but I’d guess that pretty much everyone associated with Rio would prefer it didn’t exist. How can Singin’ In the Rain and this tripe come from the same director? I don’t know; perhaps pod people replaced the real Stanley Donen at some point.

Whatever the case may be, Blame It On Rio offers little pleasure. At the start of the film, two families plan to take a vacation in Rio. We have Matthew Hollis (Caine) who will trek with his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) and modestly-estranged daughter Nicole (Moore), and we also find Victor Lyons (Bologna) and his daughter Jennifer (Johnson). Currently going through a rough divorce, Victor hasn’t seen Jennifer in a while since she’s been away at school, so he needs some time to reconnect with his daughter.

Matthew also hoped to use the trip to help the bond with his wife and daughter, but both have other plans. Nicole simply tries to avoid her father - who she treats with disdain - while Karen blows him off totally; she decides to take a trip elsewhere because she wants to think things out away from Matthew. This state of affairs is bad enough for him, but things get worse when he lays eyes on Jennifer. Apparently Matthew hadn’t seen her for a few years, and she’s definitely grown up - and out - over that period. The 17-year-old is now a buxom babe, and she decided to use this vacation to satisfy a long-standing crush she’s had on her faux-uncle.

Thus starts a comedy in which Matthew continually tries to do the right thing and keep from romantic entanglement with a the daughter of his best friend, but inevitably matters complicate, mainly due to Jennifer’s roiling teen emotions. She declares her love for him and makes it exceedingly difficult for him to extricate himself from the situation. It doesn’t help that she’s darned sexy, and Matthew’s not getting any younger.

Blame It On Rio wants to be a sophisticated, witty “adult” comedy, but it fails in almost all regards. For one, the characters are pretty thinly-drawn with the possible exception of Matthew. He’s granted some breathing room and personality, though he seems to do little more than stammer and seem flustered. However, the others appear consistently one-dimensional. Jennifer is just a horny hotty who wants a Daddy-substitute, while Victor’s an angry lout who just wants to sow his own wild oats. Nicole’s also generally peeved about life and behaves in a sullen, withdrawn manner. Geez, with all that dysfunction, it’s no wonder Matthew is so willing to indulge himself!

Unfortunately, the ride on which we go doesn’t have a lot of fun associated with it. As a comedy, Rio seems to have been strongly inspired by 1979’s ”10”. Both share the theme of a middle-aged man’s romance with a much younger woman, and both leads have to discover something about themselves along the way. However, ”10” actually displayed some character development and wit, whereas Rio is little more than a muddled mess. As a performer, I’d take Caine over Dudley Moore almost any day, but the two-time Oscar winner can do little to enliven this flick. Actually, this might have been one of those days on which I’d prefer Moore; I’ve never much liked the little guy’s work, but Rio desperately needed someone a little wackier to spice up this dreariness.

Caine has some comic chops but he needs solid material, while Moore might have been able to create a little life from the script. Unfortunately, since Caine can’t conjure any sparks, that means that most of Rio drags along, and he gets little support from his castmates. Johnson was quite sexy, and her many nude scenes made the film much more palatable, but she couldn’t act. She provided a stiff and unengaging presence at all times, and this factor made her character less sympathetic and compelling than she could have been. Jennifer displays few positive characteristics; she just seems like a manipulative nymphomaniac.

Add to these problems some genuinely terrible music - the theme song made me want to destroy the entire continent of South America to ensure it would inspire no additional work of that kind - plus slow pacing and dull “action” and you have a thorough dud. Visually, Blame It On Rio has some positives. In addition to the lovely Miss Johnson, the movie shows some of the native environments to good advantage. However, I didn’t want to see a travelogue, and even if I did, Rio doesn’t include enough vistas to merit a viewing. Blame It On Rio was a bland and lifeless comedy that did little to entertain me.

The DVD:

Blame It On Rio appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without a few concerns, I was genuinely impressed with the picture of this DVD, as it provided a very strong presentation during most of the film.

Sharpness seemed excellent throughout the movie. At all times, the image looked crisp and well-defined. I saw virtually no examples of softness or fuzziness, and the picture stayed distinct and accurate even during wider shots. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, but print flaws occasionally marred the presentation. Actually, as the film started, I feared for the worst; the opening credits displayed a variety of nicks, speckles, and debris. However, the image improved after that point and the movie generally looked clean. I still saw occasional examples of specks and grit, and I also witnessed a few small blotches, but most of Rio was acceptably fresh.

Colors proved to be the best parts of the movie, as Rio featured a stunning palette of bright tropical hues. Most flicks don’t show such a variety of tones, but this film really went nuts with lush and vivid colors, and the DVD replicated them to magnificent effect. Many movies from the Eighties present colors that are bland and lifeless, but that definitely wasn’t the case here. I think the hues were just one step down from “eye-popping”; they always seemed terrifically vibrant and dramatic. Those elements really took the image to a higher level and made Rio more of a visual treat.

Black levels also often suffered in the Eighties, but I saw no indications of those issues here. The dark tones seemed nicely deep and dense at all times, with no signs of muddiness or drab qualities. Shadow detail also appeared well-delineated, with good accuracy and clarity in the low-light sequences. Lose the periodic print flaws and Blame It On Rio would easily quality as an “A”-level image. As it stands, the movie earned a very solid “B+”.

Less positive was the film’s monaural soundtrack. First of all, mono mixes really had gone the way of the dodo by 1984; they still showed up on occasion, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect more from a movie made in that era. If we have to be saddled with a one-channel track, it’d better be a good one. Unfortunately, the audio for Rio was passable at best.

As the film started, I expected the worst. The movie’s terrible theme song sounded thin and scratchy, and combined with the many print flaws witnessed at that time, I thought I had a painful experience ahead of me. The audio improved a bit as the film progressed, though it didn’t even remotely approach the heights offered by the image. Still, the music became more listenable as the movie moved along; I thought that the upper registers seemed flat and lifeless, but the songs offered pretty decent depth that made them more listenable.

Otherwise, the soundtrack failed to deliver much pleasure. Much of the film provided poorly-looped dialogue; a significant amount of speech was weakly integrated and really stood out from the rest of the mix. General dialogue quality seemed lackluster, as the lines were usually brittle and muted. Intelligibility was adequate, but edginess cropped up on occasion. Effects were the least important facet of the mix, and they showed qualities similar to the rest of the sound. These elements seemed to be reasonably accurate but they lacked dynamics and felt drab and lifeless. Ultimately, I thought the soundtrack of Blame It On Rio was a weak affair that had few positive components.

The DVD provides virtually no extras. All we find is the film’s theatrical trailer. What, Moore and Caine didn’t want to provide an audio commentary for this lost gem?

That’s sarcasm, folks! Blame It On Rio isn’t a terrible film, but it seemed overly bland and dull. It lacked many signs of life, and the characters failed to become interesting enough to generate much interest. Ultimately it stands mostly as a historical curiosity since we can see pre-implants Demi Moore topless. The DVD offers a surprisingly fine visual image but falters with its fairly weak sound and non-existent extras. Die-hard fans of Michael Caine or Demi Moore may feel compelled to give this dated dud a whirl, but otherwise it should probably stay on the shelves.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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