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Heavy Metal Summer

(AKA State Park) 1990, Starring Kim Meyers, Isabelle Mejias, James Wilder, Jennifer Inch, Brian Dooley, Walter Massey, Christopher Bolton, Peter Virgile, Louis Tucci and Ted Nugent. Directed by Rafal Zielinski (Cinepix/ITC.)

As the always controversial tax shelter laws coughed out their last in 1987, Canadian genre films were on the verge of disappearing completely. Hardest hit were horror films and sex comedies--low budget movies quickly churned out for undiscerning teenage video renters--which were swept under the carpet to make way for new, serious talents like Atom Egoyan, Bruce McDonald and recent genre convert David Cronenberg. As with Canada's B-movie purging of the early 1980s, only a few, dedicated schlock purveyors managed to carry over into the 1990s by clinging to their reputations. Cinepix, once the biggest name in Canadian genre filmmaking, had only managed to squeak out a few titles in the competitive 1980s, but after merging with Famous Players to distribute its films in 1989, Cinepix experienced a second, short-lived burst of success. One of the company's more interesting productions from this period was 1990's Heavy Metal Summer, a slightly different take on the classic summer camp sex comedy that Cinepix had pioneered a decade earlier with Ivan Reitman's Meatballs.

Directed by Rafal Zielinski, one of the key players who helped spark the Canadian sex comedy boom with Screwballs and Recruits in the mid-1980s, Heavy Metal Summer finds Eve (Kim Myers, A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2) and her boy-crazy friends Linnie (Jennifer Inch, Screwballs) and Marsha (Isabelle Mejias, Meatballs III) headed to Weewankah campground for a weekend of fun. Eve, whose parents were forced to declare bankruptcy, plans to enter the "Weewankah Wilderness Challenge," a swimming, kayaking and orientation challenge, for the chance to win $5,000 towards her university tuition.

Meanwhile, ruthless industrialist Mr. Rancewell (Walter Massey, Zombie Nightmare) buys up some of Weewankah's conservation land to build a pesticide plant. Truckie (James Wilder, Zombie High), who runs the camp tuck shop with his young brother, Trailor (Christopher Bolton, My Secret Identity), opposes the sale, especially when he learns Rancewell plans to use his new land as a toxic waste dump. Disguising himself in a bear suit and calling himself "Weewankah Willie," Truckie sabotages the construction site in an attempt to save the park by exposing Rancewell's evil plans.

When Eve accidentally learns Truckie's secret, she playfully blackmails him into teaching her orienteering, which sparks up a romance. Her friends also find some male company for the weekend--Linnie, lusted after by Trailor, takes up with seemingly every guy except him, and Marsha falls for handsome Johnny (Peter Virgile, The Planet of Junior Brown), but when she realizes that he's a black-leather-and-make-up heavy metal head on his way to L.A. with his drummer Louis (Louis Tucci, Flying), she starts to have second thoughts.

For a frat comedy--especially a Canadian frat comedy--Heavy Metal Summer is surprisingly light on crude jokes, exposed breasts and lost virginity pacts. Seemingly aimed at teen couples, the film avoids the rampant testosterone indulgence of most of the other Canadian "Balls" comedies, and focuses the story almost entirely on the trio of girls and their search for romance. As a result, the guys are just as likely to be ogled as the girls are, and despite one strange scene of topless haircutting, the film bypasses the outlandish nudity ploys completely for more typical romantic comedy elements, such as prim and proper Marsha's struggle to jump the class barrier to have a relationship with tough rocker Johnny.

Even though Heavy Metal Summer doesn't offer up the exploitation goods like Zielinski's earlier sex comedies, it's definitely one of the better made Canadian teen films, with all the expected hijinks that have come to be associated with the genre. The film's abundant subplots are nothing that an audience hasn't seen before, but rarely have they all been squeezed into one film. Heavy Metal Summer really has it all: a young guy lusting after much older girls, a competition in which average shlubs can prove their superiority over stuck-up rich kids, and an evil industrialist threatening to harsh everyone's hard-partying buzz. It shouldn't work, abut despite the fact that Heavy Metal Summer can't quite figure out how to pull all these disparate plot threads together in a satisfying way, each individual storyline works on its own terms, and the end result is fairly enjoyable--if a little routine.

Although released in the U.S. as State Park, oddly enough, Zielinski's film was renamed Heavy Metal Summer for the Canadian market, as if it was somehow ashamed of its attempts to masquerade as an American production down south. The presence of quintessential American rocker Ted Nugent, who makes a surprise cameo in the film when he joins feverish fans Johnny and Louis on stage to jam, certainly doesn't boost the Canadian quotient at all, nor the film's implied musical allure--Pop Ballad Summer might have been a more appropriate title for this effort.

One of the least provocative Canadian sex comedies in a time when the genre had almost disappeared, Heavy Metal Summer is also one of the most accomplished. With half-a-dozen similar films under his belt by the 1990s, Zielinski expertly manipulates the time-honoured traditions of the genre and comes up with an adequate little time waster that rocks harder than The Nuge at a bow-hunting convention. Well, almost.

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