THE SURVIVAL OF DANA (1979).
Sixteen-year-old Melissa Sue Anderson attempted to ditch her squeaky-clean LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE typecasting by playing a girl who succumbs to the temptation of cheap thrills in this made-for-TV warning about the dangers of teenage delinquency. Unfortunately, the film's idea of rebellion lacks any wit or imagination and, despite his terrific cast, director Jack Starrett's approach is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the toes... Innocent, small-town teen Dana Lee (Anderson) has just moved from North Dakota to the upper-middle-class suburbs of SoCal, but unbeknownst to her, the place is a hotbed for bored white miscreants who break in and gleefully trash their high school at night. Hell, two minutes after encountering Rona (Talia Balsam), Dana is arrested for shoplifting! So will conflicted Dana choose a nice, boring boyfriend or link up with the Roadrunners car club, led by sullen Donny (Robert Carradine)? Since Dana has been banned from her true passion, ice skating, she's all too ready to ditch her drab life! When it comes to bad-ass behavior, these kids are rather lame. They visit a local disco (Just say no, Dana!), demolish a couple stolen cars and hang out in their van full of colorful beanbag chairs. Even after Dana spots Donny two-timing her, the girl is too dim to simply dump the loser. The gang's self-destructive stupidity eventually catches up with them after they plan a big, half-baked score and inadvertently piss off some real criminals... It's hard to decide who to sympathize with here. The adults are either preachy or clueless, the gang members are ridiculously dumb, Dana is a pathetic airhead without any will power, and only Talia Balsam (Mrs. George Clooney, 1989-93, and currently wed to MAD MEN's John Slattery) makes any lasting impression. In fact, her volatile supporting turn is a hell of a lot more engaging than bland Dana. Meanwhile, 25-year-old Carradine makes a cocky, credible sociopath; Judge Reinhold (in his first film) is gang member Bear, who cracks up after finally smacking his abusive father; HAPPY DAYS-mom Marion Ross plays Dana's collateral-damage grandma; Michael Pataki is a counselor; and Frederic Forrest (veteran of Starrett's THE GRAVY TRAIN) plays Donny's older brother, a crippled veteran. The worst offender here is the simplistic script. All of these teens have some dark shit lurking in their past (abuse, alcoholism, death, family pressure), and its leaden moral du jour is that even good kids have screwed up lives -- they just refuse to give up and turn bad! A more effective lesson would be to simply avoid hanging out with fucking idiots.
© 2012 by Steven Puchalski.