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THE BOY WHO DRANK TOO MUCH / STONED (1979 / 1980; Just For the Hell of It).

Run for the hills! It's a Scott Baio double bill! In the wake of his "Chachi"-success in HAPPY DAYS, teen-heartthrob Baio attempted to strut his dramatic potential in this anti-drug 'n' alcohol duet, and while the films were certainly heartfelt, they both suck in entirely different ways. Ironically, you'll need a six-pack and plenty of weed to make it through this heavyhanded pairing. First up, THE BOY WHO DRANK TOO MUCH was a preachy prime-time feature that pitted straight-laced teen Billy (JAMES AT 15's insufferably sincere Lance Kerwin) against his continually-inebriated hockey teammate Buff Saunders (Baio), whose fucked-up home life has led him to booze as an escape. 15-year-old Buff lives in a crappy apartment, in a bad section of town, with his widowed, alcoholic dad (Don Murray). Like father, like son. Buff is a sloppy drunk who can't hold his booze and keeps a bottle under his pillow, while Billy (who's so wholesome and boring that he belongs on 7th HEAVEN) wants to help out this teen-in-need. When passed-out Buff is rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning, shipped off to rehab and his pie-eyed pop won't face up to his son's problems, all-day-sucker Billy volunteers to help Buff with his bitter recovery. [Note: The program's director dumps on alcohol, but chain smokes and quotes from the Bible during group sessions -- but never mentions these equally addictive routes.] Even though his grades are dropping due to babysitting Buff, Billy pleads to his father (Ed Lauter) "He's got a disease, dad!...I'm trying to help a guy stay alive!" Packed with lies, this teaches kids that you can't just drink because it's fun; there has to be a secret burden that's eating away at you. The script embraces every anti-abuse cliche, and is so slow, sappy and self-important that it's difficult not to doze off. Kerwin's squeaky-clean square is ridiculous, while Baio plays it earnest yet empty, but has the easiest role. Oooh, he's a troubled, stubborn teen! Stand back, he's about to explode! And when Billy misses one lousy meeting (because it's his birthday!), Buff pouts and splits the hospital. What a fucking crybaby! Director Jerrold Freedman (A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH) utilizes realistic Madison, Wisconsin locales and casual moments of high school awkwardness -- if only its leaden, booze-driven melodrama was half as honest, and didn't take 99 excruciating minutes to arrive at the insipid conclusion.

Its companion piece, STONED, is a lot more amusing. First off, it's an honest-to-goodness AfterSchool Special, with its sledgehammer moral agenda crammed into a fast-paced 33 minutes! Secondly, Scott Baio plays a high school nerd, complete with glasses, pocket protector and the nickname "Melonhead." At first, clean-cut Jack (Baio) wants nothing to do with the burn-outs who sneak joints into the Boys' Room. Unfortunately, Jack's accomplishments are ignored, since Dad is too busy doting on his jock older brother Mike (Vinnie Bufano). Plus, a cute blonde named Felicity in Jack's Spanish class (Largo Woodruff, who later appeared in Tobe Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE) has him creaming his J.C. Penney slacks, but the guy is too scared to speak to her. These teen pressures have Jack prepared to do anything to change his boring life -- even smoke grass! Oh, no! Of course, a couple tokes later, he's instantly hooked! Jack takes off his glasses, undoes the top button on his shirt, giggles uncontrollably, and suddenly finds the nerve to hang out with Felicity. Only day later, the kid even has a stash hidden under his bed! Talk about efficiency! Unfortunately, when Mike sees Jack eating ice cream, he instantly deduces that his kid brother is high! And Felicity doesn't dig druggies either. Before long, his marijuana haze leads to near-disaster, when blurry-brained Jack nearly kills his brother in a boating accident. Baio goes from dweeb to "Super Jack" and back to dweeb again, yet still gets the girl, so obviously, this bares no resemblance to real life. But that's exactly what AfterSchool Specials were known for -- grinding realistic teen-topics into sitcom-level mulch. Writer-director John Herzfeld (who eventually moved onto features like 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY) also appears as a 'cool' Spanish teacher, lecturing his class about marijuana's link to chromosome damage and sterility, while Larry Pizer (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) was in charge of photography.

© 2002 by Steven Puchalski.