"Who am I?" I retorted. "The late Chris Penn?"
The departed Chris Penn, it should be noted, was not only famous for being the brother of Sean, but on a more local level, he was known for strapping on the old feed bag at the local Lone Star Steak House, ordering the biggest steak on the menu, and eating it. With his BARE HANDS. And this went on every night when he was in Lincoln shooting the cult movie To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. But let's face it: Chris didn't make his bones (pardon the pun) from eating steaks with his bare hands. He got a shot at the title for being Sean Penn's brother. Namely, because of our man Cameron Crowe, who hit the jackpot writing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a movie that in turn made Sean a household name and gave him lifetime membership in the "Best Stoner Performances Ever" club. He's up there with Matthew McConaughey and Rory Cochrane from Dazed and Confused and Brad Pitt in True Romance.
At any rate, somebody found another script of Crowe's called The Wild Life, thought it was another "Fast Times" and cast Sean's brother Chris in the lead role. Hell, even Cameron Crowe regular Eric Stoltz is in the movie. I'm one of the seven people who admit to actually seeing this in a theater. The BLAIR TWIN THEATRE no less. My memory of this movie is that it was as funny as a Boone's Farm Hangover. Evidently, Ronnie Wood from the Stones is in it. That little hottie Lea Thompson is in it (but she was also in Howard the Duck, the gal wasn't exactly great at picking out the best flicks). There's a weird subplot with Randy Quaid as a Vietnam vet that has no business being there. Eddie Van Halen composed and recorded the entire soundtrack. In short, it's a blatant Fast Times wannabe that never was. In fact, it's not even available on DVD, although now there is a cult following that's demanding a DVD release. My hunch is Jason Jorgensen and anyone else who liked the movie Real Men is in that group. If you desperately need this movie for your DVD collection, please click here and join Jason and the other minions by signing the petition. Some people love the movie, saying "Fast Times was great, but 'The Wild Life' was really what high school was like for me." These people are also categorized as mentally challenged.
By the way, if you're going to make another "Fast Times", you have to follow these simple rules:
- The killer, seemingly out of nowhere, nudity shot. Yep, we're talking about Phoebe Cates undoing that bikini top when she comes out of the pool. You don't need Judge Reinhold jerking off in the bathroom, but you gotta have Phoebe's tits. Just ask Kevin Kline. Something that American Pie got right with that minx Nadia running around the bedroom naked wanting to play with herself. Hell, even Sixteen Candles gives us that nice....long....shower shot of Jake's girfriends perfect bare breasts.
- At least one identifiable character who everyone recalls from their high school, like Spicoli in Fast Times or David Wooderson or any number of characters in Dazed and Confused (in fact, "Dazed" gets a pass on the nudity because they have so many characters that just nailed it, plus we all envisioned Parker Posey naked anyway). None of that in The Wild Life. I didn't know a Vietnam Vet in High School, I just knew of a few who acted like one while working at a local grocery store.
- Music. "Dazed" has the best collection of '70's rock songs from that era that they could get the rights to use. I mean the movie ends with everyone heading off on no sleep to go buy Aeorosmieth tickets. American Gaffiti does the same thing with 1950's pop songs. Irving Azoff got his clients to write great pop songs for "Fast Times", most notably "Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne, and the underrated "Love Rules" by Don Henley, which is played when Jennifer Jason Leigh first invites that virgin into her bedroom (a very uncomfortable scene that doesn't get enough credit by the way, it's right up there with the dozen phone calls that Mikey makes on that answering machine in Swingers, it's that hard to watch the virgin, ahem, blow his chance). There's even that great scene in "Fast Times" where Mike Damone tells virgin Mark Ratner to put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV when he's on his date, only to have Ratner screw up and play Kashmir from the "Physical Graffiti" album instead. The Wild Life, besides having Eddie Van Halen hit the axe for most of the movie, has "Who's Going to Break The Ice" by Peter Chase.
It should be noted that the movie's failure didn't exactly kill Chris Penn's career, although he obviously never scaled the heights that his chain smoking brother did. Later that year, he'd get to make an ass of himself with Kevin Bacon in Footloose, and of course got the role of a lifetime in Reservoir Dogs. But mostly, it was small roles in other obscure movies for Chris (one of which was in another of my all-time faves True Romance, but that movie's got Val Kilmer playing Elvis, Pitt doing the perfect stoner, James Gandolfini auditioning for his role as Tony Soprano, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in a scene that only the two of them could pull off, and Sam Jackson talking about how much he likes to eat pussy. Plus Chris had to share almost all of screen time with Tom Sizemore, and you have to figure the crew took bets on which one of those two actors was going to die in real life first). So at least Chris (or Cameron Crowe for that matter) isn't remembered for The Wild Life. My hunch is the Chris Penn you always think about is the one in Reservoir Dogs, and one day today's youth will shout out, "Hey, Do you know that's Sean Penn's brother?" Which is exactly the point. The Wild Life signaled he was never going to get out of older brother's big shadow.
But here's some nice trivia on Chris. In attendance at his funeral were Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn (wow, glad he could make the time), Mark Ruffalo, Jack Nicholson, James Gandolfini, Charlie Sheen, Tim Robbins, Tom Sizemore (he had to have said 400 Hail Mary's for it not being him in that casket) Robert Downey Jr. (see Tom Sizemore) and Michael Madsen. Chris also, according to his imdb.com bio, drank only Bookers bourbon, and liked to drink in the afternoon at burlesque great Betty Rowland's 217 bar in Santa Monica, California. I'll bet Heath Ledger spent some time there, too.
Everyone will remember Nice Guy Eddie Cabot. Unless you watched Chris Penn eat that steak with his bare hands, and really loved The Wild Life.