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On The 25th Anniversary of It Takes Two, The Oddest Film Set in Dallas

2251087On July 13, 1988, Universal Pictures released It Takes Two. It was not a full-length film treatment of the Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock song of the same name, though I would clearly be interested in such a project, and it should not be confused with the Olsen twins vehicle, which is pretty much the main result if you google “It Takes Two.” It starred George Newbern, Leslie Hope, and Barry Corbin, and made around $344,000 at the box office. Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times said, “For all its obvious faults, it’s a funnier, brighter, sexier comedy than most of its big-budget competition,” which I think is probably a bit kind, but then, this is my approach to reviewing movies.

It is also pretty much insane.

Here is the plot: Travis (Newbern, whom you probably recognize from various film and TV roles) is set to marry his childhood sweetheart, Stephi (Hope, Jack Bauer’s doomed wife from season 1 of 24). Before doing so — like two days before the wedding — he takes a bus to Dallas to buy his dream car, a Lamborghini knock-off called a Trovare. (It is referred to a Lamborghini knock-off so often you wonder why it would be anyone’s dream car.) It is his first trip to Dallas. It’s never said, but more or less implied, that it also is his first trip more than five miles outside of Waxahachie. It doesn’t really make sense that an adult human who has lived in Waxahachie his entire life would never go to Dallas for any reason, but you’re just going to have to go with it. After he gets married, Travis is supposed to take a B.S. job with her dad, Bull (Corbin). Literally: her dad calls himself a “manure mogul.” So Travis is anxious about that and also about getting married in general.

Upon arriving in Dallas, Travis heads for the Trovare dealership, which is the Rotunda at Chase Tower. There he meets sexy (in a bleached-out, neoned-up, 1980s way) Trovare sales clerk Jonni Tigersmith. Take a second to appreciate that name: Jonni. Tigersmith. Jonni takes Travis out for a test drive. The test drive is a few minutes of the same maybe 30 seconds of footage looped over and over, with quick cuts and so on. Travis shifts gears so many times in the Trovare that I think he gets to something like 45th gear at one point. Then Jonni suggests they take it out onto the highway. Though there are a number of perfectly good highways in the immediate area, apparently the production couldn’t afford to shoot on them. So the “highway,” instead, is the Zang Bridge. I don’t know exactly how long the Zang Bridge is, but if you drive the speed limit, it takes maybe a minute or two to cross it. The footage of the Trovare speeding across the bridge without another car in sight is looped so insistently and clumsily, it appears that the Zang Bridge stretches from downtown Dallas to somewhere around El Paso.

Meanwhile, Travis’ car buying trip is making him miss important wedding-related stuff, and everyone in Waxahachie is flipping out.

Anyway, Travis loves the car, and thanks to Jonni’s flirting, he adds every possible option, which he can’t even remotely afford. In his new car, he leaves the dealership, on his way back to Waxahachie and — the car dies, fairly spectacularly. The doors and windows open and close furiously, and the engine turns out to be mostly junk parts. So Travis has the car towed back to the dealer, and has to stay in Dallas for the night. Based on where the car breaks down, he gets a room at a flea-bag hotel somewhere in Deep Ellum, which the movie stage dresses with oil drum trash cans full of fire and central-casting thugs and hobos. It’s like the Pit of Despair mixed with South Central L.A.

That night, he happens upon Jonni, who has quit her job because she felt bad for swindling poor naive Travis. They go out dancing and, in short order, repair to Jonni’s place to have sex. It feels like I got to that part pretty quickly, right? Well, I didn’t get there any faster than the movie does. It’s just sort of like, “Oh, and now this is happening.” At this point, Travis has missed all of the wedding business, and everyone has given up on him, except Stephi for some reason. Travis’ dad convinces him to come back for the wedding, but Jonni has another idea. Break into the dealership and get Travis a real Trovare. So they enlist the help of the crazy mechanic who works there — played by General Hospital vet Tony Geary — and they do just that. The crazy mechanic, unbeknownst to Jonni and Travis, rigs the dealership to explode. (Sort of. I don’t think there was much budget for that either, so some things just kind of spark and fall over.) Jonni also messes with Travis’ paperwork so he owns the car free and clear.

And then he AND JONNI head back to Waxahachie for the wedding. Seriously. She tries to convince him to run away with her to California or somewhere, and the movie tries to play a little sleight of hand with where they’re actually going, but they end up at the church. They: Travis and the random woman he just had a one-night stand with. Jonni had planned to wait in the car, but comes in, sees the end of the wedding, and bolts in tears, leaving Travis’ car paperwork behind as a wedding present. That’s the end.

I talked to both Newbern and Hope briefly a few months ago, because I had watched It Takes Two on Netflix (it’s no longer available) and briefly became fascinated with it. Hope didn’t remember much about the experience other than it was where she met Newbern and they have been friends since then. Newbern had a better memory, recalling that director David Beaird wanted him to have a pierced ear, so he went to a department store downtown and had it done. Beaird also wanted him to chew tobacco — I guess more for background for the character than anything that appears on screen — and it made him sick. He recalled the experience and the film fondly. It wasn’t exactly Academy Awards fare, he said, but he thought it held up for what it was.

But Newbern also explained how the movie ended up with such an all-over-the-place feel. It was originally a fairly straight-forward teenage car picture (called My New Car, the title it was released under in Australia, as it happens), more like License to Drive. Then Beaird decided he wanted to add a Southern gothic element, so the stuff in Waxahachie was added in. And he wanted it be more of a coming of age tale, and so on and so on, until there were pretty much four movies stuffed into one.

“I don’t think the guy who put up the money was happy about that,” Newbern said. “He wanted the car movie.”

I don’t know who decided to make the Zang Bridge into the Autobahn. We didn’t talk about that.