Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lisa It's the '90s, Happy '90s Lisa

Ahhh, tweendom, a crucial time period in a young girl’s life filled with peer pressure, shopping malls, unrequited crushes, and Blossom hats. 

It’s a generational thing.
Quick Plot: Lisa (My Two Dads’ kid Staci Keanan) is a responsible(ish) 14-year-old with a close "we're like sisters!" relationship with her single mom (Cheryl Ladd) and mildly unsettling hobby of innocently stalking older men from afar and putting their pictures in a scrapbook she compiles with BFF Wendy. Nothing bad can come from that, right?

One day, Lisa bumps into Richard, a good-looking restaurant owner who instantly becomes her latest obsession. Before she can ask mother may I sleep with danger, Lisa is making late-night calls to Richard with a husky Cinemax caliber voice, teasing him with her secret identity while still wondering why her silly mom won't let her date until she celebrates sweet 16.

Oh Lisa, silly silly Lisa. Didn't you hear that ominously sexy smooth saxophone playing over the opening credits? Haven't you noticed the way Richard's dark eyes linger on attractive women who end up raped and dead the next day? Silly teenagers and their ignorance of the world. If only our precocious heroine had read a newspaper and picked up on the fact that Richard is so enamored by answering machines, maybe the little dear would have pieced together the fact that Richard is the infamous Candlelight Killer, the sort of criminal that only exists on Lifetime movies: handsome, wealthy, and classy in his kills of beautiful women.

Lisa was a 1990 theatrical release, although watching it today, the movie feels made for TV in a way most PG-13esque thrillers about romantic obsession usually are. Director Gary Sherman has a varied genre resume, with the interesting subway cannibal tale Raw Meat, the maybe Dan O’Bannon inspired Dead and Buried, and the tragic but not as worthless as folks say Poltergeist III. Lisa is more than competently made, but its target audience is currently in seventh grade.

In many ways, Lisa seems to anticipate the imminent chat room dating horror stories of the mid-90s. Lisa and Wendy’s afterschool hijinks are surprisingly believable for teenage girls who get excited by the notion of adult romance without considering any of its actual requirements. Sherman’s script (with co-writer Karen Clark) has a strong ear for the way middle schoolers might talk, and while the fashion and slang may be hilariously dated, the story and its dialogue hold up well.

The styling, on the other hand, extends past the title character’s straight-leg white denim. Lisa looks and feels like a TV movie not just because of its subject matter, but also in how it’s conveyed. The finale is scored to the most ridiculously emotive electric guitar riffs I’ve ever heard try to express danger. It’s weirdly wonderful, but not scary in the least.

High Points
Jeffrey Tambor alert! He’s credited as “Wendy’s Dad,” and hey, I’ll take it

Staci Keanan worked quite a bit in the late ‘80s, and her naturalness in front of the camera shows quite well. While Lisa is something of an idiot in some of her choices, we never doubt Keanan’s performance

Low Points
With its late-night Babysitters' Club tone, it’s just hard to ever really feel the danger Lisa might face

Lessons Learned
Setting your mom up on a pseudo blind date with the mysterious man whom you’ve been having tame phone sex will inevitably have some negative consequences

Between the cinematic years of 1982 to 1994, all little brothers were born with a gene that predisposed them to being obnoxious

Stabbing the guy trying to kill you is a great idea, but standing in fear as he struggles to pull the knife out of his shoulder? Not the brightest

Lisa is sort of like predator propaganda overprotective parents might have enjoyed showing their tween daughters back in the day. While the film is well-made for its ilk, I doubt it translates clearly to a world now run by Facebook and dating websites. Instead, Lisa waits on Instant Watch for viewers looking for some medium brew ‘90s nostalgia. It’s not sleazy enough for a drunken night of trash-talking, nor is it so good to overcome its original target. The film was a slightly better-than-average teenager thriller in 1990. Today, it’s just sort of there.


  1. I enjoyed this movie when I was a kid, watched it several times in '90/'91. Haven't seen it since, but it's waiting in my queue.

    - Cody

  2. "Before she can ask mother may I sleep with danger..." That line alone should win you blog of the year for 2012. I have to check this one out, even if I'll be disappointed that neither Greg Evigan nor Paul Reiser will be the killer.

  3. Cody: I'll be curious to see how it holds up for you. It's kind of adorably dated culturally, but I feel like it would have worked PERFECTLY in 1990. It's well acted and written, know, 1990.

    And thanks DtVC. SPOILER ALERT: It's not those dudes, nor is it anyone from Step By Step. At least that I'M aware of...

  4. Oddly enough, my sister brought up this movie a couple of weeks ago when we were hanging out. She wanted to see it again since she (and I) hadn't seen it in years, so a day or two later I rifled through my pile of old taped-from-TV VHS tapes and found it. Both of my sisters and I have always been fans of women in peril made for TV movies and the like--especially ones from the 90's. Hell, I've even bought some of those movies on DVD! Which probably explains why I taped Lisa all those years ago :) Anyway, I'll have to revisit Lisa with my sisters sometime soon for old times' sake.

  5. Funny! Who knew this is the season for the universe to promote a random 90s thriller? Gotta love that universe!

  6. Oh, this sounds like it's totally right up my alley. Regardless of whether or not it's only mediocre, I have a feeling it would make for a fun enough afternoon watch. Also, it should be said that I LOVED Staci Keanan as a kid. I wonder what ever happened to her?

  7. Matt, you will LOVE this! And Staci Keanan was great, wonder why she never fully transitioned into grown-up roles. I think she still works, but based on her confidence as a teenage actress, I'm surprised she didn't find higher profile work.

  8. Ah: thanks to some of the Made In The 90s TV trapped on Hulu Plus, I've been in that kind of a mood but unsure what to catch on Instant Watch. This sounds like a winner although I feel at the end I may conclude that I like your review so much more.

    Matt, I think the last thing Staci did was Step By Step? At least one of the last things that spanned fairly well into the 90s.

    And I will hear no Poltergeist III slander... None!

  9. I hope Keanan at least gets good residuals.

    And I won't slander PIII! I think it's pretty unfairly maligned. Yes, it's a mess, as anyone involved with it admits (primarily because of reshoots and the fact that after O'Rourke's death, nobody even wanted to finish it) but it has some SERIOUSLY creepy moments and good set pieces. Not a total miss by any means!

  10. Poltergeist III was one of those movies I watched obsessively as a kid. So my bias is blatant...

    I didn't know O'Rourke died during production. I thought I heard it was not long after post.

  11. I think it was during post or towards the end of production. I know there were reshoots, but those may have also been due to her condition. From an interview I read with the main actor, he discussed how they changed the ending, in part for logistics and in part to be more sensitve, but then everyone had to come back to set after she died in no mood to film a horror film. Sad story all around, though if you divorce yourself from that side when watching, I still think there's some genuine good filmmaking in there.