With a whitewater smile it’s Burl, reviewing another sophomoric rip-off comedy for you! Ha ha, can you imagine an 80s raucous beer ‘n’ boobs cacklefest so devoted to the form that it features not one or two but three actors from two entirely different previous raucous campus comedy hits in the cast? Well it exists! The picture I’m telling you about is called, quite simply, Up the Creek!
Yes it’s a river rafting picture, but naturally, given the previous experience of its cast, it is in a larger sense a collegiate shenanigan film! Two of the actors are familiar to those many millions who saw Animal House: we’ve got Tim Matheson from Fletch and Impulse in the lead role of smarmy Bob McGraw; and in the Belushi role of Gonzer is Stephen Furst from Silent Rage and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion! And they join forces with Dan Monahan from Porky’s as Max, the loveable horndog! The principal foursome is rounded out by Irwin, who’s played by Sandy Helberg from Spinal Tap, and who evidently represents an attempt to come up with a new collegiate comedy archetype: the nerd with a terrible drinking problem!
These four, the bottom four students at LePetomane University and therefore in the country, are press-ganged by their angry dean, played by the Royal Emperor of Snob himself, John Hillerman from Chinatown and Blazing Saddles, into taking part in some kind of annual inter-school raft race that supposedly has gone on for fifteen years! Of course the competition is a gallery of stock 80s characters: toffee-nosed bad guy Rex played by Jeff East from Deadly Blessing and Pumpkinhead, along with his three bleach-blond fascist pals; plus a random rich man called Tozer who wants the all-blondes to win for some reason and is played by James B. Sikking from Outland; and, for extra value, a quintet of crazed military nutcases led by a lunatic with a serious case of Resting Ernest Face called Lt. Braverman! There’s also a boatload of co-eds, non-snobby variety, of whom the most important is Heather Merriweather and is played by Jennifer Runyon from Ghostbusters; and then there are some cowboys who don’t really factor in at all!
Of course the rivalry between Bob and Rex sharpens when Heather turns her affections to the insouciant hero Bob rather than the perpetually incredulous-looking Rex; this leads to a long exchange of dangerous pranks back and forth, but then, wouldn’t you know it, Irwin is kidnapped by the army guys and staked out naked on the ground! “We’ll find him even if it takes a hundred years,” McGraw vows! And all through this there is a long series of raft explosions – ha ha, truly, there are a lot more exploding rafts in this picture than you might ever guess – and ultimately it comes down to the final confrontation at the finish line, where Tozer conveniently keeps a riverbank summer house which may or may not be destroyed by raging waters!
Thinking of that summer house makes me remember that Up the Creek tries a lot of large-scale physical gags which it can’t always pull off – ha ha, this leads to plenty of reaction shots and astonished people getting covered with dust instead of the allegedly spectacular moments of destruction they’re looking at, which often happen off screen! Still, I give it points for trying that stuff with a mixture of miniatures and full-scale effects, insofar as they could manage it! It’s certainly one of the more ambitious of the collegiate sex comedies of that era!
As douchey as the frat guys are, our heroes, as is so often the case in these pictures, are no better! Bob is as smarmy as Matheson can make him, which is to say considerably; Furst’s character is a grotesque eating machine; the nerd drinks way too much and is kind of obnoxious about it; and Monahan especially looks too old to be involved in things like this, and in any case isn’t given much to do! Anyway, they’re all handily upstaged by a marvelous but oversensitive dog whose top-flight acting abilities are just this side of the furball charmer in The Boogens, ha ha!
In many ways the Platonic ideal of the R-rated 80s comedy, Up the Creek is lamely determined to hit all the bases but not exceed expectations, especially in, say, the screenwriting or acting departments! Still, the showmanship it musters now and then gives it a bit of personality! Of course it all seems to be occurring in a world in which the only authorities are university deans and rich guys who put on raft races, whose rule is so absolute that even army guys can only fume and fulminate uselessly against it; but if it’s plausibility you’re looking for, you’d better try Teen Lust or Goin’ All the Way or one of those! I give Up the Creek one and a half flume rides!