KEEP OFF MY GRASS (1972).
The Monkees were a pop-music sensation during the late-1960s, but only a couple years after the cancellation of their Emmy-winning TV-series, drummer Micky Dolenz -- who began his showbiz career in 1956, playing primetime's CIRCUS BOY -- was struggling to find acting gigs. In fact, Micky's supporting role in this sloppy, misguided mess was his first screen appearance since 1968's HEAD. Shot in and around New Orleans in early 1971, KEEP OFF MY GRASS received a justifiably spotty theatrical release in 1972, then quickly disappeared. And though advertised like some sort of wacky stoner comedy, the script (by Austin and Irma Kalish, a husband-wife writing team who'd penned episodes of FAMILY AFFAIR, F TROOP, MY THREE SONS, and also co-wrote the GILLIGAN'S ISLAND pilot) instead delivers an excruciating mix of tin-eared counterculture satire and insipid drama, with a well-intentioned but excruciatingly outdated story. The film is also notable as the directorial debut of comedian Shelley Berman, who'd appeared in such films as DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE and Marty Feldman's EVERY HOME SHOULD HAVE ONE [a.k.a. Think Dirty] but was obviously incapable of helming a coherent motion picture. No surprise, this was Berman's sole directorial assignment... When the city's uptight, old-fart local merchants (led by Louis Quinn and off-screen wife Christine Nelson) become concerned about the negative effect that all of the deadbeat hippies have on their businesses, they come up with a unique plan to get rid of these young nuisances -- purchase an abandoned shantytown, 50 miles away, where these lazy longhairs can all live peacefully and "do your own thing." Accepting this offer, a hippie caravan heads to their new, overgrown, ramshackle home before the first reel is over. But can these burn-outs build a community completely on their own? As these kids try to tidy up this dump, renaming the place "Violets" and starting their own craft-oriented businesses -- candles, leather goods, et cetera -- Gary Wood stars as the makeshift town's ad hoc leader Jerry, Marcus J. Grapes plays fellow resident Wolfman, plus 24-year-old, future-MAJOR DAD Gerald McRaney as nearly unrecognizable (due to his full head of hair) as a law-school-dropout who ditches his straight-laced life for the love of a cute hippie-chick and this groovy utopia. But where the heck is Micky, you ask? Dolenz plays a frizzy-haired goofball named "You Know," who has absolutely no luck with the ladies and spends most of his time tending to a sad, scrawny little marijuana plant (with dreams of someday owning a "pot plantation," once cannabis is made legal). Micky just randomly pops in every so often with his abrasive comic schtick, and even sports his old Monkees-era poncho in one scene. Amidst various vapid relationship problems (e.g., free-loving Jerry makes it with a dippy hitchhiker, to the chagrin of his longtime girlfriend), additional conflict arises from a local redneck doofus (Rick Hurst, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD's Cletus) who doesn't take kindly to his freaky new neighbors, while pretty Christina Hart (THE STEWARDESSES) livens things up as his "tramp" sister Rita. After failing to seduce hip physician Ed Kearney, slutty Rita decides to pop Dolenz's cherry instead -- with Micky ultimately cartwheeling down the road, screaming "I got laid!" and thrilled to learn that he's contracted gonorrhea, because it proves that he actually had sex. Alas, that's the comic highpoint of this entire underbaked enterprise. Its fragmented story shambles along, culminating with an impromptu wedding and the post-nuptials party turning chaotic after vindictive Rita laces their ice cream with LSD. But instead of the then-customary tripped-out visuals, we just watch everyone wandering about a misty field, writhing and babbling to themselves. The script also boasts a particularly cynical message, since these flower children, in trying to fix up their rundown homes and earn a little bread, end up ditching their anti-establishment values and becoming scruffier versions of the mainstream society they once rejected. Yo, that's deep. Even idealistic Dolenz becomes a disillusioned wreck. Bummer, man! Cinematographer Robert A. Weaver (who'd earlier lensed Joy N. Houck, Jr.'s WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR [a.k.a. His Wife's Habit], which also featured GRASS-castmates McRaney, Hart and Grapes) is incapable of concealing the production's obviously threadbare budget, while the screenplay's offbeat conceit is quickly sabotaged by blandly earnest performances, vapid characters and Berman's lifeless direction. Complete with forgettable soundtrack tunes sung by (future music industry executive and president of Warner Bros. music division) Gary LeMel and the short-lived rock band American Eagle, this is a fascinatingly awful, pseudo-hippie time capsule.
© 2019 by Steven Puchalski.