MYSTERY DATE is uneasily poised between two genres, starting out as a teen oriented comedy, then turning into a slick thriller full of guns, explosions and sinister villains; in tone and execution it resembles Paul Brickman's RISKY BUSINESS, John Hughes's FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF and
Chris Columbus's ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.
Tom McHugh (Ethan Hawke) is a confused, unhappy suburban teenager, forever in the shadow of his handsome, suave, successful older brother Craig (Brian McNamara). Tom dreams of dating the beautiful girl next door, Geena Matthews (Teri Polo), but can't even bring himself to say hello. All that
changes when his parents go away for the weekend and Craig pays a surprise visit.
Within hours of his arrival, Craig has called Geena and set up a date for Tom, then made over Tom into the virtual image of himself, the personification of California hipness. He restyles Tom's hair, lends him money and clothes, and even tells him where to take Geena on their first date. There's
only one hitch: the limo Tom has called for--at Craig's suggestion, naturally--never arrives, so Tom borrows Craig's way-cool car as well. The date starts off fabulously. Geena is nice and smart as well as beautiful, and she seems to like Tom. But everywhere they go, odd things happen. Waiters
greet Tom effusively and ask where he's been lately; they're bought drinks on the house and treated as honored guests. More ominously, women slap Tom and men threaten to beat him up, all under the impression that he's Craig. Things take a turn for the ugly when Tom discovers a gun-toting body in
the trunk of Craig's car, a body that by a bizarre accident manages to shoot nosy Detective Condon (Jerry Wasserman) while they're stopped in a gas station.
Suddenly, Tom and Geena are being pursued by the police, the henchmen of a sinister Chinese businessman named James Lew (B.D. Wong), and a deranged flower delivery boy Dwight (Fisher Stevens) whom Craig stiffed on his tip. Tom discovers that his brother, far from being the paragon he seems, is a
liar, a thief, and perhaps even a murderer. By the time the evening is over, Tom has had it with Craig, who slips off into the night, and decided that he's better off being himself. Geena agrees wholeheartedly.
Like RISKY BUSINESS, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF and ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, MYSTERY DATE has a dark subtext that's fundamentally at odds with its sunny surface; of the four films, only RISKY BUSINESS comes close to exploring it. While superficially little more than outlandish comedies built on a
"can you top this?" model, all these films take off from the notion that the tranquility and order of suburban life is a fragile illusion, and that violence and chaos are only a minute's drive away (with this metaphor in mind, it's interesting that all their plots are propelled by cars, stolen,
damaged or full of secrets). The teenaged protagonists are all rudely awakened, plunged into worlds of danger and corruption for which their sheltered upbringings have hardly prepared them, aided by the coincidences and outrageous good fortune that make the films funny rather than terrifying.
For the most part, director Jonathan Wacks and screenwriters Terry Runte and Parker Bennett balance MYSTERY DATE's disparate elements more than adequately, aided by Ethan Hawke's endearing performance as Tom, but the film's innate weakness shows in its shallow treatment of its sinister
underpinnings. Tom's betrayal by his adored sibling and the very real danger Craig's criminal activities bring into his family's life are completely glossed over; whenever a choice has to be made between playing for the laugh and playing for something darker, Wacks chooses the laugh.
MYSTERY DATE's ending, in particular, suffers as a result--viewers want something more than Craig's disappearance into the shadows after the havoc he's wrought. But anything stronger, like Tom having to kill his brother, which is the conflict's logical conclusion, would undermine the film's
fundamentally cheerful disposition. (Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: MYSTERY DATE is uneasily poised between two genres, starting out as a teen oriented comedy, then turning into a slick thriller full of guns, explosions and sinister villains; in tone and execution it resembles Paul Brickman's RISKY BUSINESS, John Hughes's… (more)