The Man in the White Suit

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OSS17-0209/0321FW101: One Crazy Night!

It was in autumn 1998 that a Sky Movies rebranding exercise separated the A-pictures from the everything else and for the latter created Moviemax, a mixed-ability corral for action and horror that also functioned as a bargain bin of little-seen sci-fi and straight-to-video comedy. Its diverse compendium suited a teenager with an open-minded approach to artistic reputation (me!) and its premiere slot of Friday 9 pm reflected my own transition to adolescence.

My weekend, long begun with Knightmare, Neighbours, TFI Friday, fish fingers and chips, Brookside, and a choc ice during The Fast Show, now by nightfall abandoned terrestrial to instead reach its occasionally illicit, occasionally even worthwhile crescendo with Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion or Office Space or something by Dimension. Alone and up late for the first showing of Wes Craven’s Scream was an event, of weeks-long anticipation and delirious payoff; Nightwatch, The Relic, Senseless, Anaconda, Beverly Hills Ninja and Phantoms were not.

Black guy-white guy buddy caper Nothing to Lose may be the quintessential Moviemax offering – in prospect, a tiresome action comedy with little of either featuring channel stalwarts John C. McGinley and Rebecca Gayheart and definitely starring Martin Lawrence, a performer of such towering comic capacity that my mother watched and indeed enjoyed Lawrence’s turn in Blue Streak while at no point even considering that the film was meant to be funny. Nothing to Lose isn’t even the best-known mid-90s film with a single by Coolio – in that narrow field, it’s The Three Musketeers to Dangerous MindsRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

NOTHING TO LOSE, Martin Lawrence, Tim Robbins, 1997, (c)Buena Vista Pictures

Plot: Lawrence carjacks Tim Robbins, who after a day of yuppie woe is having none of it; together they drive around Los Angeles County bickering through a night and a day and a night’s inconsequential misadventures, then they return home. Yet, Nothing to Lose proves to be a surprise – an amiable, enjoyable, fitfully hilarious Friday night. As I recall, it has the relaxed, benign silliness of a late Tube home shared with a family of happily sozzled football fans down from Huddersfield and out past bedtime, a permeating, uplifting warmth. I liked it, my dad liked it. It’s another minor entry in an immediately recognisable sub-genre I call One Crazy Night.

Nothing to Lose, and Trojan War and Can’t Hardly Wait and Risa Bramon Garcia’s 200 Cigarettes and Doug Liman’s Go are all One Crazy Night films, they were all Moviemax premieres, and in the three years before university I watched all of them a dozen times each. In the aughts, notable One Crazy Nights include Michael Dowse’s underappreciated Take Me Home Tonight and Greg Mottola’s tremendous Superbad. This decade, I enjoyed Wright & Pegg’s The World’s End and the Fey-Poehler starrer Sisters, both of which used its grown-up casts to explore nostalgia and a preoccupation with adolescence.

It’s a subgenre that can be most impressive when housing a sly indie, like Dylan Kidd’s Roger Dodger, and indeed half Dick Linklater’s oeuvre encompasses day- or night-in-the-life hangout flicks. But One Crazy Night means mainly fun-but-flawed party films and farces – Clue, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Date Night, The Sitter.

200 CIGARETTES, Guillermo Diaz, Gaby Hoffman, Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, 1999, couch

Perhaps the appeal of the One Crazy Night film, and why it spoke strongly to me as an anxious adolescent living mainly through film and TV, is its contract: a flirtation with excess or menace allied with the guarantee of a safe return and zero consequences. An enticing deal for a teenager ill-equipped for the burden of adult responsibility; more broadly, a mirror of the very covenant between film and vicarious viewer/voyeur.

Often the One Crazy Night film is predicated upon this reset – the protagonists break from routine, they agonise over their recklessness, they suffer continual punishment in the rush to put the pieces back together, but they always arrive “home” again generally unscathed, emotionally older and wiser but without any material change. Nothing to Lose’s catalytic infidelity was, of course, just a misunderstanding!, and the evening’s incriminating misdeeds are easily undone. In John Hughes’ Weird Science, Lisa straight up rewinds the whole weekend. Dazed and Confused’s all-nighter ends with Wiley Wiggins told by his (terrific) mother, “This is your one get-out-of-jail-free card. I hope you enjoyed it.” Go concludes with the central trio battered, sodden, exhausted but reunited, while moments before Desmond Askew’s chirpy Brit even answers a judicial bullet through the shoulder with a cheerful, “It’s alright. I’m okay!” And in After Hours, Paul ends up exactly where he started.

Away from comedy, we see John McTiernan’s action opus Die Hard fits the formula – East Coast cop John McClane hesitantly leaves his comfort zone (the hardscrabble physicality of blue collar Noo Yawk City) to fight for his marriage in a challenging West Coast environment (La La Land’s Nakatomi Plaza – digital, foreign, progressive) and then has to literally fight for his marriage. But at film’s end it’s business as usual – careerist wifey does still need her husband, and the family resumes, patriarch reinstated. White-collar European techno-crooks defeated by good old-fashioned American working class ingenuity. “Four more years!”

But my favourite One Crazy Night films, Into the Night and Can’t Hardly Wait, take time to dance a coda, by turns romantic and hopeful. Normality is restored, outlooks have been broadened, yada yada yada – but now our battle-hardened heroes are presented with a brand new path that could turn a dalliance into a full-blown affair. And my goodness, viewer, with all they’ve experienced over this one crazy night, don’t we bloody hope they have the guile to take it!



Further reading: Set your video to record this abbreviated list of One Crazy Night movies.

Further listening: We discuss these One Crazy Night movies and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours on this podcast.