Director: James Beshears
VCI Home Video

Every young man needs a teacher, and who better in the early 1980s than desperate housewife Joan Collins for a little help with HOMEWORK, out on DVD from VCI.

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Tommy (Michael Morgan) has been impeached as school president, his grades have slipped significantly, and his attitude towards his teachers leaves much to be desired; the reason: he’s still a virgin when it seems that everyone else around him is getting laid. He’s got a girlfriend Sheila (Erin Donovan, MACK THE KNIFE) but her failure to place in the swimming team trials has caused her to neglect her relationships with Tommy and her best friend Lisa (Shell Kepler, CHEERLEADERS’ WILD WEEKEND); in fact, Tommy finds himself spending more time with Sheila’s mother Diane (Joan Collins, REVENGE). Discussing the dearth of substance in today’s music, Tommy and his pal Ralph (Lanny Horn, FAST FOOD) decide to form a rock band – positing such philosophical quandaries as “Who do you do it to when nobody wants to do it with you?” (a future rapists’ anthem) – and recruit Mix (Mark Brown) whose father has a recording studio. Lisa’s a terrible singer but she can play bass while riding a skateboard, a talent which she hopes to perform for singer Reddog (Wings Hauser, THE WIND) who she has written obsessively. Mix “discovers” Cookie (Renee Harris) for the band’s lead singer against the objections of her policeman father (Bill Knight), and also suggests exchange student Gilles (John Romano) as a drummer but Ralph objects after he misinterprets an intimate moment between the abused teen and the French teacher Miss Jackson (Lee Purcell, NECROMANCY) he has the hots for. With the school faculty warning him that he’ll amount to nothing unless he shapes up and his girlfriend obsessively focused on shaving seconds off her swimming times, Tommy puts his all into the band; but life (and parents) toss up obstacles for all of the members just before the senior show where they will be performing for the school as well as some music bigwigs invited by Ralph’s mother.

Although certainly an entertaining timewaster, HOMEWORK is frankly a mess of a film. In a blurb on the DVD cover, Leonard Maltin referred to it as a “young boy-older woman sex comedy a la PRIVATE LESSONS and MY TUTOR”, and that is certainly what distributor Jensen-Farley’s ad campaign (reproduced on the cover) would like you to think; but protagonist Tommy’s sexual anxieties and how he deals with them only make up a portion of this disjointed ensemble piece that also follows Ralph’s attraction to his French teacher, Gilles’ domestic strife, Lisa’s encounter with a rock star that leads to her contracting gonorrhea (there’s also an incredibly humorously dead-on VD-scare classroom filmstrip: “A rose by any other name is still gonorrhea”), Cookie fighting with her father, and Sheila’s drive to make the swim team next year. As Sheila’s mother, Collins spends most of the film in the bedroom getting ready to go out to various parties while chatting with her husband (offscreen) and pausing – actually, freeze-framing – to contemplate how different love and sex were perceived when she was her daughter’s age, prompting two lengthy 1950s flashbacks that serve not only as padding but also as a means of establishing the actress playing her sixteen-year-old self (Joy Michael, SURF II) as her body double in her the anti-climactic payoff scene with Tommy (Morgan – who died in 1999 at age 39 – may also have been doubled since his face is not seen in this or the fantasy scenes getting groped and stripped by groupies including an uncredited, and topless, Michelle Bauer or being administered shock treatment by stripper Annie Ample). There’s no tension at all from the fact that Tommy might, and eventually does, sleep with his girlfriend’s mother since Sheila is probably the least-sympathetic character (and that includes Hauser’s Reddog and Cookie’s father).

The self-destructive drive to be the best at a sport at the expense of everything else has been the subject of many an afterschool special; but here, it just seems like a way to give the character something to do since she’s not part of the band. For more padding, Tommy also walks the seedier side of the Sunset Strip and fails to rise to the occasion with a hooker. Collins gives a good performance, but it’s mostly a series of monologues in the bedroom. She only seems to share the frame with Morgan while otherwise yelling to her daughter outside from either the bedroom or the kitchen in intercut scenes that don’t really mesh well. Snodgrass is woefully underused here (in what was probably a one day assignment), and Purcell seems to be exploited here more for laughs than sensuality. In an early feature role, Hauser pretty much has his own "bad guy" persona down already. Beverly Todd (MOVING) has a memorable bit part as the “sassy” free clinic receptionist, and the clinic’s doctor is played by exploitation director Mel Welles (LADY FRANKENSTEIN).

Although the back cover lists the video specs as “NTSC 16x9” and 1.85:1 framing, the disc features a progressive, non-anamorphic letterboxed (1.70:1) transfer, and it doesn’t look like a new master despite being credited as "digitally restored to its present condition"; in fact, it’s probably a direct repackaging of VCI’s 2002 DVD. Compression is typical of their early releases with aliasing, shimmering, edge enhancement, as well as a digital glitch during the Joan Collins seduction scene towards the end; but the print source doesn't seem to have been all that hot to begin with. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in better condition. The only substantial extra is an interview with uncredited executive producer Max Rosenberg (27:18) conducted by Dennis Bartok. He discusses his return to the states after two decades producing films in England from ROCK ROCK ROCK! (1956) to THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977). He blames the shortcomings of HOMEWORK on the “lack of technical talent” (although, he’s nicer here in his remarks on director James Beshears – whose career otherwise consisted of editing [including THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN] and post-production sound credits – than he was about Ed Hunt on the interview on the VCI DVD of BLOODY BIRTHDAY). He acknowledges the film’s strengths, including the cast and the way – as Bartok suggests – it anticipates the slicker FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Rosenberg dishes about Collins – who he describes as once a serious actress who is now just a serious millionaire – and her refusal to do nudity after signing the contract and the use of the body double. Collins reportedly found the body double offensive, but Rosenberg was more offended by distributor Jensen-Farley’s grafting Collins head onto another body in a sheer dress for their poster art (and that the company managed to go bankrupt shortly after the film’s release despite taking in six million on the opening). Besides a Joan Collins text biography/filmography, the disc also includes the film’s trailer (1:25) and trailers for the Oxford-set Italian drama MAY MORNING and QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX. (Eric Cotenas)