Tina Fey never gave Katrina Bowden much to say or do on her TV show, “30 Rock.” All Cerie, her character, had to do was waltz on screen in some tight, revealing outfit, and Bowden’s work was done. Jaws dropped and clocks stopped.
Fey’s approach was, “Fair is fair. She was dealt a full-house, looks-wise. Why add to that stacked, um, deck, by letting her act?”
So it takes a little getting used to, Bowden acting impulsive, doling out advice to teens as a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold in “Hard Sell.” She’s not bad, and neither is the movie, even if they’re both overly reliant on her other already-established assets.
Writer-director Sean Nalaboff has tried to cook up a “Risky Business” for a much MUCH more politically-correct era. No way you’d be able to remake the film that launched Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay to stardom. A rich teenager acts as pimp for a hooker he hires to entertain his peers? Come on. Mothers Against…something would be up in arms.
The PC version has Hardy Buchanan (Skylar Gisondo, of “Vacation”) as a working class kid living with his mentally-broken mother (Kristin Chenoweth), wondering how he’s going to get into a good college, pay for a good college or finance the cancer operation on the family dog, the only thing keeping Mom going.
“I could’ve SWORN I made dinner!”
Never mind how this unemployed Long Island mom keeps her boy in Spirit Academy, where the preppies come to play.
A bit of extra-curricular volunteer work at a homeless shelter is how Hardy meets “Bo” (Bowden). He says the obvious, as if that makes us forget how much the entire set-up strains credulity.
She is “WAY too hot to be in your position.”
Bo is a stripper with “stage fright.” Funny, because we’ve seen her flee a mental hospital in that backless gowns that do nobody (save her) justice in the film’s opening scene.
Bo is casual by nature, and a little off. His horny teen peers gawk at her, she flashes them for cash and a lightbulb pops on in Hardy’s head. She’ll overcome her “stage fright” by taking off her top, for cash, in the boy’s locker room. And that’s just for starters.
Next thing you know, Hardy is full-on pimping the woman out to country club kids who need a date to the dance.
“No touching. No photos.”
That goes for Hardy himself, who doesn’t merit so much as a “You have GOT To be kidding” when he talks about coming on to Bo. That dispenses with the pity sex/pity striptease dilemma.
Another tricky dilemma to navigate — Hardy knows that she’s a bit mental. “All the women in my life are crazy.” He’s taking advantage of a gorgeous crazy woman.
The twist in the story is Bo’s sympathetic ear for all manner of high school angst — pressure from parents about college, about dating “the right person,” about sexual preference. There’s nothing here to suggest she has the wisdom to be dispensing advice, but she does. You either go with it or you don’t.
“Kids are like penguins — always lookin’ for a place to chill!”
More promising is the “Ferris Bueller” turn the story could take, at any minute, thanks to Hardy’s friendship with the disaffected Goth he keeps running into in the school infirmary. (Each is using up excuses to get out of class/tests, etc.)
Hannah Marks of TV’s “Awkward” is beguiling in that ethnic girl-next-door Hollywood way. And Gisondo is a competent leading boy/man, if little more.
Chenoweth dials down her bubbly musical theater persona to play depressed and smaller-than life.
But this “Risky Business” is averse to risk. There’s no edge to it. Only the sentimental stuff works.
The clumsy, makeshift, steer-clear-of-trouble plot forces us to reckon with the leading lady. And Bowden is simply not up to the heavy lifting.
She’s more than “30 Rock” ever let her be, but not by much, judging from “Hard Sell.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, with adult situations, pot use and profanity
Cast: Skylar Gisondo, Katrina Bowden, Kristin Chenoweth, Hannah Marks
Credits: Written and directed by Sean Nalaboff. A Momentum release.
Running time: 1:36