What a (Familiar) Feeling: Sunset Strip (1993)

Dave shakes his booty towards PM Entertainment’s spin on Flashdance, and finds Jeff Conaway in fine form and rude health.

Just when you thought Roger Corman had the strip joint movie market cornered with the likes of Stripped to Kill (1987), Dance with Death (1992), and, later, Stripteaser (1995), Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi come muscling in the on the act.

An agreeable time-passer, SUNSET STRIP takes its cues from Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance (1983), with Michelle Foreman adopting Jennifer Beals’ ambition to becomes a hoofer; Jeff Conaway sliding into Michael Nouri’s role; and the titular tavern taking the place of the fabled Mawby’s bar and grill.

Scripter Nick Stone, a PM regular, develops Foreman’s character of Heather in a similar way to Beals’ Alex, chipping away at her naivety and inhibitions. Dispatched with some degree of urgency is her long-term boyfriend, David (Paul Bond); a lad who considers an exciting night on the town to be sampling a new tofu place. Heather’s dance teacher, Michael (an uncredited Robert Beal), is also integral to her growth, and his dictatorial yet ludicrously camp approach is a highlight. “I’m your worst bad nightmare,” he preens, “And I’m not going anywhere until I turn you all into. . . Artistes!”

Prior to Sunset Strip‘s release, journalist Frank Lovece had a syndicated article on Conaway doing the rounds, with several publications running it with the headline “Taxi Star is a ‘B’ Movie King” [1]. Throughout Lovece demonstrated real admiration for Conaway’s work ethic (the actor made ten films between ’91 and ’92 alone) and the piece painted a positive picture of the troubled Grease (1978) favourite in the wake of a DUI conviction. “I’m getting my life back together,” said Conaway – and if Sunset Strip is anything to go by, he certainly was for a spell. Measured, focused, and sporting a spectacular bouffant, Conaway submits a great performance. Moreover, it’s clear that his experience and professionalism aided Foreman no end as well. Previously, Foreman had only briefly featured in two films – the aforementioned Stripped to Kill and Rockne S. O’Bannon’s Fear (1990) (she played a stripper in both) – but here she navigates the demands of a starring role very well indeed. It’s a shame Foreman wasn’t inclined to continue her acting career once Sunset Strip wrapped.

At the helm is PM’s utility guy, Paul G. Volk, who, during the fifteen years he spent with Pepin and Merhi, managed to assume every position in front of and behind the camera. Starting out as an editor on pre-PM outfit City Lights’ Dance or Die (1987), Volk served as a boom operator (The Art of Dying (1991)), post-production supervisor (Ring of Fire (1991)), music supervisor (Cyber Tracker (1994)) and more, presumably assuming each with the confidence he shows in this, his directorial debut. Aiding him is Pepin and Merhi’s Picasso, cinematographer Ken Blakey, who brings a degree of style to what could have easily been a meat n’ potatoes job.

At ninety-eight minutes, Sunset Strip could do with a bit of editorial pruning. Some of the girls’ routines overstay their welcome and weaken the momentum of Stone’s script. It’s a little frustrating: a leaner, meaner version of Volk’s movie would nestle comfortably in the rental shop beside Corman’s glut of superior pole swingers. As it stands, Sunset Strip jiggles a shelf or so below.

USA ● 1993 ● Drama ● 98mins

Jeff Conaway, Michelle Foreman, Cameron, Michelle Clunie, Shelley Michelle ● Dir. Paul G. Volk ● Wri. Nick Stone

[1] Taxi Star is a ‘B’ Movie King by Frank Lovece, Pottsville Republican, 23rd May 1992.

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