Starring Robert Carradine, Michael Winslow, Malcolm McDowell, Lise Cutter, Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb, Ben Vereen, Tony Plana, Roddy Piper, Michael Goodwin, Fred Travalena, Mickey Knox, West Buchanan, Tony Carroll
Directed by Robert Boris
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
When a comedy opens with a suicide and it plays the scene for laughs, you know you have a tonally strange film on your hands. Buy & Cell is a hard film to get into, but once it finds its footing and kicks into the plot proper, it’s a pretty fun “Let’s stick it to the rich assholes” ’80s movie. I’d say this one is strictly for those that consider themselves ’80s aficionados, as just about everyone else will be left wondering why there’s crazy ideas like a schizophrenic character that thinks he’s a VCR (complete with rewinding himself) or how these prisoners could have an entire dance club and hot tub squirreled away in their rec room. It’s not so much a matter of “Why?” in an ’80s film, but “Why Not?”
Robert Carradine, the quintessential ’80s nerd thanks to Revenge of the Nerds, plays Herbie, an employee at a stock brokerage firm who’s been set up as a fall guy for the owner’s embezzlement of company funds. Herbie is sentenced to 13 years of hard time in the federal penitentiary, but he doesn’t go in scared or all that nervous. He knows he’s innocent, so he instead chooses to bide his time. The warden (Malcolm McDowell) is another shady asshole, asking Herbie to work for him on the side, trading stocks. Herbie refuses, but when his cellmate Sly (Michael Winslow) needs some fast cash to get out of some major debts, Herbie decides to give investment banking one more shot for the good of the prisoners. Like I said, why not?
What really holds this film back are two main issues. The first is the biggest stumbling block, and one that I’m sure tripped up many viewers, even in the ’80s. The film opens pretty poorly, especially considering that the film is a supposed comedy. There’s very few laughs, and the jokes that are apparent are met with crickets instead of guffaws. This slow, groundwork phase of the film lasts an incredible 35-40 minutes too, making sure that only the most stalwart of viewers are left when the plot and the comedy finally kick into high gear. And when that happens the whole film brightens. It never becomes a laugh riot, but the mood lightens and a lot of those fun ’80s touches rise to the surface. At this point, it also becomes apparent that the lengthy introductory period wasn’t a waste of time either, as the second act pays dividends on the slight plot threads, the character motivations and the prison characters in general. We know who these guys are (at least in terms of two-dimensional, ’80s comedy characters), we know what they’re capable of and now we’re allowed to see them set free to have over-the-top ’80s fun.
The second major stumbling block is that even after the plot kicks in, Buy & Cell still isn’t all that funny. It’s definitely amusing, and I chuckled a few times at some of the outlandish antics of the inmates, but the film is largely unfunny. Which is odd, because I still enjoyed it. It’s just one of those movies you coast through. They aren’t awesome, they aren’t horrible, but they’re just right if you want to put your brain in the cooler for a night.
I was hoping for a real hidden gem, but Buy & Cell just isn’t it. But if you miss the carefree ’80s, you like the cast and you’ve seen all the other “Let’s stick it to the rich assholes” ’80s movies, then Buy & Cell will definitely provide an evening’s worth of entertainment.
Next time on Full Moon Tuesday, I’ll be checking out the 2006 mummy film Petrified! See ya then!
Never heard of this but it sounds like it could be my sort of thing. At the very least it would be interesting to watch Winslow in something other than a Police Academy.
I’m going to take a shot in the dark here but does Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb play an large moustachioed prisoner?
It definitely has its moments, and I liked it overall. Winslow’s good, although I’ve never seen a Police Academy so I don’t know how the performances compare.
Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb actually plays a large moustachioed prison guard!
Well, it doesn’t sound great, but it does sound like it might be interesting. Thanks for spotlighting this one, Will.
No prob! I enjoyed it for what it was.
Can’t wait to see your eventual review of Brewster’s Millions, then. I haven’t seen this one, but BM is one of my favorite Richard Bryor films from the 80’s!!
Hahahaha, yeah that’s a classic for sure. And I just looked it up and found out that it was based on a 1902 book, and that Richard Pryor version is the 6th filmed adaptation of seven! The first two are lost silent films, though, so no hope for a complete Brewster’s series :). Oh, and the ’60s version is called Three on a Spree and it’s directed by good ol’ Sidney J. Furie of Superman IV and Iron Eagle fame! And the last adaptation is an Indian version! Who knew Brewster had so many millions to go around like that?