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CAMERON CROWE FOLLOWS FAST TIMES WITH 'THE WILD LIFE'

Title: THE WILD LIFE Year: 1984 Writer: Cameron Crowe Stars: Chris Penn, Eric Stoltz Rating: ****

THE WILD LIFE, an underrated, extremely unappreciated and relatively obscure and unknown teenage summertime sex comedy directed by Art Linson and written by FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH creator Cameron Crowe has a somewhat deliberately facetious, misleading title...

Although two of the main characters — Chris Penn as Tom Drake, channeling brother Sean’s Jeff Spicoli in jock form, and Ilan-Mitchell Smith as stoner kid Jim Conrad — are rebellious enough, the buried lead goes to Jim’s big brother Bill, who, played by Eric Stoltz, moves into an apartment complex for his twenty-something independence...

Cari Anne Warder  and Ilan-Mitchell Smith in THE WILD LIFE with Dick Rude

For the most part, the "wild" in the title becomes something to avoid more than embrace but not for long because, after Penn's Tom, who works with Bill at the local bowling alley, moves in to share the rent, the pad becomes a dilapidated and eventually partying-till-you-drop hangout...

Meanwhile, Bill's ex girlfriend Anita, played by Lea Thompson, is a mousy donut store employee having an affair with a muscular, very married cop. And poor put-upon Bill simply gets no thrill out of life, wild or otherwise...

Ilan-Mitchell Smith in THE WILD LIFE

Unlike long-haired little brother Jim, who confidently wanders town with a ghetto blaster in hand, a cigarette always lit and most importantly, being a fan of APOCALYPSE NOW and friends with a real vet, he's entranced by the Vietnam War (when not trying to impress young cutie Cari Anne Warder)...

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, with an exception of OVER THE EDGE, not many films showcased heavy metal kids, making Jim liken to one of FAST TIMES scalper Mike Damone's customers, but in the forefront...

Chris Penn and Jenny Wright in THE WILD LIFE

And on the flipside, Lea Thompson’s Anita is overshadowed by her best friend in punk rock/new wave/new romance hybrid Jenny Wright as Eileen, working at a trendy neon boutique...

While dodging the advances of dorky boss Rick Moranis, she keeps at arm’s length with a persistent Tom, seeking her hand in marriage while drinking beer or trying to buy some with a fake ID when not smoking pot, partying at a seedy strip club, and making a real mess of everything he touches...

Eddie Van Halen recorded THE WILD LIFE soundtrack in his peak year of 1984

And yet, the characters aside... and despite Madonna, Prince and Billy Idol being deleted from cable and home video for copyright issues... the most important element is the uniquely awesome soundtrack by Edward Van Halen, providing an eclectic mix of instrumental tracks, equally rocking, funky, soulful and jazzy, one of the few times you’ll hear the iconic guitar god jamming (without a vocalist): The colorful riffs especially befit Jim’s head-banger odyssey: After all, he’s the one who’d probably spend quality time listening to Roth-era Van Halen on his bedroom stereo...

And while neither Penn or Stoltz are strong enough to carry the picture, their opposing synergy becomes that much more dynamic: An Oscar/Felix relationship tugging the apartment in a wishbone fashion, and, unfortunately for Bill and luckily for us, the partying Tom ultimately wins... but only somewhat.

Eric Stoltz in THE WILD LIFE

We’ve all known obnoxious guys like Chris Penn's Tom Drake (in those FOOTLOOSE days, Chris was billed as Christopher Penn) and have felt vulnerable, used-up and stepped-upon like poor Bill (who Drake calls The Bill Man), making this movie less WILD and more underdog-relatable… 

And while Crowe’s RIDGEMONT is more comedic and complete, LIFE is breezier and, to coin Tom Drake’s favorite word, way more casual: subtly borrowing from the sex comedy template without having to force-push the envelope.

Brynja McGrady and Leigh Lombardi in THE WILD LIFE
Jenny Wright in THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE with Eric Stoltz
Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson in THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE with Lee Ving
Ilan-Mitchell Smith with buddy Brin Berliner THE WILD LIFE
Jenny Wright in THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE
Sherilyn Fenn in THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE with Eric Stoltz
Jenny Wright in THE WILD LIFE
From THE WILD LIFE
Chris Penn as Tom Drake in THE WILD LIFE
Lea Thompson  in THE WILD LIFE
Ron Wood cameo in THE WILD LIFE
Eric "The Bill Man" Stoltz hangs with Chris "It's Casual" Penn outside the lanes in THE WILD LIFE
Cari Anne Warder as Julie (Jim's cute blonde crush) in THE WILD LIFE
Ilan-Mitchell Smith with buddy Brin Berliner THE WILD LIFE

Ronnie Wood in THE WILD LIFE
Eric Stoltz in THE WILD LIFE
Ilan-Mitchell Smith in THE WILD LIFE
Cari Anne Warder in THE WILD LIFE
Cari Anne Warder in THE WILD LIFE
Cari Anne Warder  and Ilan-Mitchell Smith in THE WILD LIFE
Ángel Salazar and Michael Bowen in THE WILD LIFE
Christopher Penn aka Chris Penn in THE WILD LIFE
DVD autographed by Ilan-Mitchell Smith from THE WILD LIFE
Edward Van Halen soundtrack for THE WILD LIFE
Fast Times Van Halen reference with Sean Penn
Eric Stoltz and Chris Penn in THE WILD LIFE
Michael Bowen in THE WILD LIFE
Ilan-Mitchell Smith in THE WILD LIFE
Ben Stein in THE WILD LIFE
Christopher Penn in THE WILD LIFE
Christopher Penn in THE WILD LIFE with Eric Stoltz
Christopher Penn in THE WILD LIFE with Rick Moranis
Lea Thompson  in THE WILD LIFE
Lea Thompson  in THE WILD LIFE
Jenny Wright  in THE WILD LIFE
Chris in THE WILD LIFE

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