Eric's Bad Movies: Hunk (1987)

There is an actor you have not heard of named John Allen Nelson who appeared in the TV soap operas Loving and Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, playing such men as Duke Rochelle and Warren Lockridge, whose names were taken from the book 1,001 Generic Soap Opera Character Names. Like many men who appear in soap operas, John Allen Nelson's primary talent was that he looked good with his shirt off, a skill that is difficult to parlay into big-screen success. Lucky for him, an inept writer/director named Lawrence Bassoff was looking for just such a person to star in a movie called Hunk -- and a quasi-star was sort of born, for a minute!

John Allen Nelson plays the title character, Hunk Golden, a handsome, bronzed, feathery-haired he-bimbo who sets all the ladies' hearts a-flutter in the California yuppie beach community of Sea Spray. But as he explains to his psychiatrist, Sunny Graves (Rebeccah Bush), at the beginning of the film, he isn't really Hunk Golden. Inside, he's actually Bradley Brinkman, an average-looking dweeb who became Hunk Golden via supernatural means. Sunny Graves assumes that Hunk is delusional and is simply having trouble accepting how hot and awesome he is, and she pledges to help him come to terms with his issues (i.e., to sleep with him).

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Hunk makes Sunny and us listen to his story, which is not fair, since at least Sunny is being paid. A few months ago, he was indeed Bradley Brinkman (Steve Levitt), a computer programmer whose boss assigned him to write a program that would be lucrative for the company. Desperate, he typed "I'd sell my soul for a moneymaking program," whereupon the computer came whirring to life and printed out The Yuppie Program, a lifestyle guide that subsequently sold thousands of copies. What we realize here is that every time the movie says "computer program," what it actually means is "book." Bradley is a writer. But writers apparently aren't nerdy enough (I beg to differ), so the movie made him a "computer programmer."

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Whatever. The point is, after this mysterious success, Bradley rented a beachside house in Sea Spray to spend the summer coming up with his next "program." Everyone in Sea Spray is a cartoon exaggeration of an '80s yuppie. They're wealthy, snobbish, attractive, and they have names like Alexis Cash, Skeet Mecklenburger, and Coaster Royce, courtesy of the book -- I'm sorry, the program -- 1,001 Generic Yuppie Character Names. Bradley does not fit in with this crowd, nor with his wacky neighbor, Chachka (Cynthia Szigeti), a loud-mouthed gossip whose gaudy jewelry and tacky outfits are outrageous even by 1987 standards (which means in 2011 they would be considered an act of war). When Chachka introduces Bradley to the beach yuppies, one of them literally kicks sand in his face, courtesy of the program 1,001 Things That Happen in Old-Timey Comic Strips That You Could Maybe Put in Your Movie.

Remember, all of this is a flashback that Hunk Golden is narrating to his psychiatrist. The dialogue is peppered with phrases like "there'll be HELL to pay" and "I'm having a DEVIL of a time," with the operative words always emphasized unnaturally, like we're idiots who don't know foreshadowing when we hear it 50 times.

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Bradley keeps seeing a gorgeous, enigmatic brunette all over town who gazes at him lustily and then vanishes into thin air. She is played by Deborah Shelton, a former Miss USA who also did three seasons on Dallas and had thus made a career out of being ogled without really having to do anything. This mysterious woman finally speaks to Bradley, in a very seductive manner, and reveals that she knows a lot about him. "Aroused?" she says. "Your curiosity, I mean." (Either way, no.) Her name is O'Brien. She works for the devil. Would Bradley like to be good-looking and popular? She can make this happen if Bradley signs a contract in his own blood. Thinking O'Brien is a nutcase and wanting to play along for fun, he signs a contract in his own blood -- Bradley's commitment to playing along for fun is admirable -- and wakes up the next morning fully transformed into HUNK GOLDEN. The camera lingers on his underwear-clad body for a full 80 seconds without cutting away, then frequently comes back to it for the rest of the movie, with Hunk generally wearing as little as possible. This is inept writer/director Lawrence Bassoff's way of establishing the film's central premise, which is that actor John Allen Nelson is hot. You start to wonder if the reason Nelson agreed to appear in this film was that it was easier than filing a restraining order.

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In addition to being a fine physical specimen, Hunk is also rich, refined, a good fighter, and generally awesome at stuff. The Sea Spray yuppies love him! Hunk is the toast of the town. He has sex with as many women as he possibly can, which is many women indeed. He sets fashion trends by ripping the sleeves off his jacket and wearing it, bare-chested, with a popped collar and a necktie, as if he were both a Chippendale's dancer and a douchebag. Life is great for Hunk-who-used-to-be-Bradley.

But inside, Hunk is conflicted. In further conversations with O'Brien and the devil himself -- played with Borscht Belt yuk-yuk sensibilities by James Coco, who is the over-the-counter version of Dom DeLuise -- Hunk learns that after he dies, the only way to prevent being tormented for eternity will be to recruit other souls for the devil to torment instead, as O'Brien did to him. Hell is basically a big multi-level marketing scheme, which sounds about right. Hunk doesn't want to do this. Fortunately, he is only in his current situation on a trial basis, and can go back to being Bradley Brinkman anytime before Labor Day, no questions asked. So it's hardly a conflict at all. He can be handsome and popular all summer long, then return to his mundane life without hurting anyone. It's pretty much the best of both worlds. I don't know what Hunk's problem is, apart from being a stupid whiner.

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At any rate, Hunk is depressed to think he'll have to be a demon in the afterlife, but not depressed enough to stop having threeways with trashy Sea Spray women. And also not depressed enough to just opt out of the devil's contract, as he is permitted to do anytime before Labor Day. That's why he's seeing the psychiatrist, I guess, because he's conflicted. But guess what?? It turns out the psychiatrist, Sunny Graves, is actually the demoness O'Brien in disguise!! This twist is genuinely surprising because it doesn't make any sense. O'Brien knew that Hunk would want to talk to a professional about his inner turmoil, and she couldn't risk letting him talk to an actual shrink (why not?), so she created a fictional one, rented office space, bought an ad in the Yellow Pages, and then hoped Hunk would choose her. Even for the devil, that is a very elaborate ruse, and one with a very high risk of failure.

Hunk becomes even MORE conflicted about this easily solved non-problem when Bradley escapes from hell, where he's being temporarily detained, and urges him not to continue on this path. This makes us say: Buh-wha? Hunk IS Bradley. We watched O'Brien work her devil magic and turned Bradley into Hunk. How can Bradley exist as a separate body and soul? Is this like the scene in Superman III where bad Superman fights good Clark Kent? Because just FYI, Superman III is not a movie you should emulate. You should not take cues from Superman III, particularly when they raise such complex theological questions.

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But anyway, Hunk now has the following reasons for NOT finalizing his deal with Satan:

- He will have to spend his post-mortal life being tormented, which is not desirable.

- The only way to avoid being tormented is to recruit other souls to be tormented in his place, which is also not desirable.

- His former self, Bradley, will remain in hell forever, which is also not desirable.

On the other hand, he has the following reasons to continue being Hunk Golden:

- He can keep having sex with many women.

So it's quite a dilemma. Since this is a comedy (technically), you may rest assured he makes the right choice in the end and goes back to being Bradley Brinkman. But this makes us wonder what becomes of Hunk Golden, since he and Bradley were evidently two different souls. Does Hunk cease to exist altogether? Or, worse, is he in hell now? That would be an interesting subject for a story! Someone should write a program about it.