The Legend of Billie Jean (1985), or This Movie Was Rejected By The MTV Generation!? Far Out!

25 03 2009

Have you ever heard of The Legend of Billie Jean? I’m sure you’ve seen it playing on TV once or twice but were never interested enough to actually change the channel. I have to say, though, that if you shrugged this off on TV, you really missed out on something special. You see, this little slice of 80’s melodrama is somewhat of a lost movie. Never released on DVD and long out of VHS print, this movie is difficult to own. Why is that? Well, I’ve heard two versions of the story. One: there are too many problems with the song licensing to ever get an agreement from everyone, considering the soundtrack was so popular back then, so the DVD has been delayed for about 24 years now (!!). It seems plausible, but still more than a little ridiculous and deserving of some more scrutiny as a theory. And two: the master copy of this film was burned in a fire some time ago and that the only sources of this movie that still exist are on VHS. This was on WikiAnswers, but I have never heard any corroborating evidence, so I can only say that until I do it sounds just as suspect as the other idea. But I’m sure you’re wondering, “Am I really missing that much by not watching this?” And the answer to that question is both yes and no.

All right, so it’s the 80’s. Billie Jean Davy and her brother Binx (??) are having a good time in good ol’ Corpus Christi, Texas. They’re enjoying themselves, not desperate or depressed at all despite the fact that they live in our nation’s Bible Belt, when all 0f a sudden some miscreants, led by the foul-tempered Hubie (???), show up and start harassing them. After a bit of a tussle, Hubie tries to rough up Billie Jean, but Binx, in a fit of rage, actually rips Hubie’s arm off and beats him to death with it!!! Can you believe that?!?! Well, okay, that doesn’t happen, but instead, something much more insidious happens: Binx throws his milkshake on him! Oh, the humanity! Billie Jean and her brother then escape on Binx’s scooter, thinking they are in the clear. They go to some quiet lake to cool off and relax from the fracas, but OH NO! Hubie comes to settle the score. They trash Binx’s scooter in retaliation for the milkshake incident and speed away, pleased with their handiwork. Well, Billie Jean decides she won’t take this lying down and calls the police about the scooter, hoping they will do something about it. Unfortunately, it looks like there will be no doing of anything about anything, because the honorable Detective Ringwald, the officer they speak to, does not take the situation seriously and blows it off. Billie Jean is undetered, taking the matter into her own hands by talking to Hubie’s father at the store he owns. She asks for a couple hundred bucks to fix the scooter, which seems like a reasonable request. Hubie’s father, being the gentleman he is, takes her up to a room upstairs and uses this as an opportunity to try and rape her (!!!). Binx, while downstairs, sees a cash register behind the counter and opens it. It has a gun in it, and he picks it up for some reason. Well, when Bille Jean runs down the stairs in a panic and Hubie’s dad chases menacingly behind her, Binx panics and accidentally shoots Hubie’s dad in the shoulder! They run off, go back home, pack a couple things, and go on the lamb from the cops! The story spreads across the nation, attracting a lot of attention for our heroine, who becomes a poster child for the struggle of modern youth against the oppression of adults! Billie Jean cuts her long hair, opting for a more striking crew cut, and sends in a tape to the media explaining the situation, demanding only the money for the scooter and an apology from Hubie’s dad. Suddenly, girls across the country get the same haircut and dress like her to make a statement! And all the while, Billie Jean and brother Binx are skirting run-ins with the law at every turn. What is going to happen to these two upstanding youths who just aren’t understood by the establishment?

Crazy, huh? This was a very odd movie. I had heard from people who had seen it that it was a very inspiring message movie and that it was very eloquent in its statement. I can see where they got that, sort of, but more than anything I noticed that this movie was INCREDIBLY 80’s kitsch. If you were wondering if uptight Texas was as weird and wacky 20 years as the rest of the nation, well wonder no more. The haircuts and the outfits alone will send you through a time warp, not to mention the haunting melodies of Billy Idol, the Divinyls, and Pat Benatar.

I know that the message of the movie, a mix of youth and female empowerment, is very important and it is one that I happen to believe in very firmly, but I think it can be lost in the style that was custom-fitted right down to the ripped commando jeans for the MTV generation. This was obviously targeted to an audience of teenagers who were as confused about their futures as their clueless parents, so perhaps they did too good of a job relating to these people because the ideas come off as confused as they did, which might not only explain Reaganomics but the mired message of this movie. It wants to be fun, but it also wants to be dead serious. It wants to say something, but it also wants to be ultra hip and styling. That is not to say that these ideas are all mutually exclusive, but it must be noted that a balance should be struck, instead of an obfuscating tonal teeter-totter.

Oh, and what the fuck is up with these names? Billie Jean I can accept, but Binx? HUBIE? There’s a character named Putter?!?! We don’t all have idiot ranch hand names in Texas, I just want all of the rest of the world to understand that. I am from Texas, and my name is Eric; not Brick or Gump or Cooter. Let the world be made aware.

But I’ll admit that I had a good time for the most part. It was enjoyable at times. The moment Billie Jean dons the crew cut is pretty powerful, and it is one of the film’s really genuine scenes. Christian Slater as Binx is somewhere between completely shameful and tolerable; I’ll get back to you as to which one he is later, as I haven’t yet made up my mind. He is entertaining at the least when he shouts out “cool” one liners (when someone asks him what school he goes to, he proudly retorts, “No way, guy, we don’t do schools!”). And I love seeing all the Billie Jean look-alikes wherever the camera turns. It does assume a social conscience that I’m not entirely convinced most teenagers have, especially in the middle of a Republican decade, but it was inspiring to see teenagers caring about SOMETHING in a movie from the 80’s that had nothing to do with partying.

I would watch this picture again. Maybe not for a while, as I have to de-saturate the neon colors on my computer screen from all the embarrassing get-ups, but probably later. If you like Yankees pretending to be Texans and teenagers (kinda) speaking out against “the man”, well this is the movie for you. Otherwise, I would not bother paying for an import DVD of this or scouring your cable box for a showing of it. It can be fun, but there is a lot to wade through before that time comes. I give The Legend of Billie Jean 6 Eric “Cooter” Youngs out of 10.

Tomorrow is the PSA! And it’s also a surprise! So come on back for a heaping helping of professional reviews!