Billy Zabka Double Feature: Back To School (1986) & Just One Of The Guys (1985)

Sometimes, you just want to laugh, you know? That was all I was thinking when I added Rodney Dangerfield’s Back To School to the top of my Netflix Instant queue. And man, did I have a blast. I know I’ve seen this flick before, most likely on television and probably never unedited, but I knew the basic premise: Rodney Dangerfield’s a rich dude who decides to join his son in college, but uses his money to get by until he learns an important lesson. He’s also super good at diving.

My memories weren’t too far off, but I didn’t remember most of the details. For instance, there’s no real stakes for Dangerfield. He’s going to still be rich even if he flunks out, so none of it really matters. However, it matters to him, his son and his pride so he winds up taking it seriously, but only after bringing his team in to help with his classes and even getting Kurt Vonnegut to write a paper about Vonnegut’s works. Other fun cameos include Sam Kinison as an intense professor, Adrienne Barbeau as Dangerfield’s rough-looking and cheating most recent wife and, of course, Robert Downey Jr. playing Dangerfield’s son’s anarchy-loving best friend. I love watching old RDJ movies and seeing that he really started off like so many other actors who never went on to do anything, like Dangerfield’s son…whose name I don’t know.

Anyway, as I noted in the headline for this post, legendary 80s asshole character actor Billy Zabka (Johnny from Karate Kid) plays a college jerk in this movie. He’s so good at being a jerk that I kind of wish he was involved in the Revenge of the Nerds movies. Anyway, he’s a bully on the diving team which is pretty laughable in and of itself, even feigning injury so that a 65 year old man can take his place and do one of the raddest dives of all time. Lame sauce.

Anyway, if you’re a younger movie fan and haven’t seen this one, but like movies like Old School or Billy Madison, give it a shot. Dangerfield’s like your funniest uncle, but you only have to spend an hour and a half with him.

After enjoying Back To School, I was torn between watching another Dangerfield movie and another Zabka one and Zabka won out. And man, oh man, does he come off way worse in Just One Of The Guys than the other flick. You’ve probably seen the basic plot of Just One Of The Guys before, where someone decides to dress up like someone else and sees how things work out! This time around, it’s Terry, a high school girl who likes journalism, but thinks she would have an easier time as a boy, so she cuts her hair, borrows some of her brother’s clothes (he and her friend are the only ones who know what’s up) and starts going to a different school. Oh, and their parents are gone for a few days, so there’s no problem there.

On the surface, JOOTG is an interesting look at what kids getting close to adulthood would do given more freedom than usual, but there’s also some sexual issues that could probably be examined by someone who knows about that stuff a lot better. Terry has a crush on this dude, but since he’s really a she, that’s weird. Meanwhile, Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks!) has a thing for the boy version of Terry. There’s plenty of context and subtext there to really be dug into. What I’m saying is, college students taking a love and sex or film theory class, do a killer paper on the sexual mores involved in Just One Of The Guys and I bet you’ll get a B.

Oh, and the Zabka involvement is pretty epic. He is SUCH a dick. He harasses nerds relentlessly and finally gets his comeuppance at the end after being a jerk for the whole darn movie. His rage aimed at a girl dressed as a guy could also be noted in that paper you college students are working on.

The movie had a good deal of laughs, but won’t be edging out any of my favorite comedies for their spots in my mental lists. It’s a pretty silly comedy, but like I said with BTS, that’s what I was looking for, some fun light-hearted goodness. Mission accomplished.

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