Contemporary Film Talk: ‘Vibes’ (1988)

Today we reminisce about

Vibes (1988)

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Directed by Ken Kwapis

Starring: Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Julian Sands, Peter Falk, Googy Gress

* Published specifically for The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Emma at EmmaKWall Explains It All *

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Synopsis

Somewhere deep in the lower Ecuadorian Andes Mountains, two men who are looking for a lost Incan treasure are led up a secret path by a local tour guide. They finally find what they are seeking and proceed to uncover the prize, much to the chagrin of the tour guide who begs them not to continue. Displeased with the constant interruptions, one of the men, Eugene, fatally shoots the tour guide while the other, Burt, works on unearthing the treasure which is revealed to be a large luminous triangle. Unsure of what to do, Eugene places his hands on the triangle and an unstoppable energy begins to surmount that makes him speak in tongues. As Burt looks on in shock, Eugene dissipates into thin air for eternity.

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The story then moves to New York City and the Department of Paranormal Studies at New York University. Multiple volunteers who have psychic powers have gathered for a study being conducted by Dr. Harrison Steele (Julian Sands) and his colleagues. Two of these people, Sylvia Pickel (Cyndi Lauper) and Nick Deezy (Jeff Godblum) demonstrate impressive psychic abilities and are considered as the leading candidates for upcoming an in-depth study being conducted by Dr. Steele. Since neither is interested, they both go on their respective ways.

Nick goes back to his job as a museum curator and Sylvia continues searching for happiness in life with the help of her spiritual guide, Louise. One evening, Sylvia discovers a strange man in her apartment that turns out to be interested in her service as a psychic. Harry Buscafusco (Peter Falk) claims that his son has disappeared in Ecuador and that he is willing to pay Sylvia $50,000 to help find him. She is initially sceptical of his claim but eventually goes along with the plan, tracking Nick down at the museum so to ask for his help in the situation. He is also hesitant but agrees to go as a way to distance himself from his sticky personal and professional lives.

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After arriving in Ecuador, they almost immediately leave to go to the last place where Harry’s son was seen. Harry gives Nick a shirt that belonged to his son in the hopes that with Nick’s skills as a psychometrist will allow him to follow a trail. Instead, Nick senses that the shirt did not belong to Harry’s son, proving Harry’s story a falsity. Both Nick and Sylvia are disappointed but decide to give Harry a chance when he tells them the truth: Burt is one of his friends and he wants to find the treasure to keep for himself in order to become rich. However, Burt is unable to speak following the accident and has since been hospitalised in a catatonic state. Visiting Burt does not render much information, even with Louise’s intervention, although Nick does acquire a piece of stone from the Incan monument. This helps him navigate his team to the lost city and locate the treasure. Their search turns more complicated when one of the other volunteers from the NYU paranormal study, Ingo (Googy Gress), shows up in Ecuador working for a separate party that is also looking for the treasure. Ingo’s means of persuasion are force, violence and even death, which put Harry, Nick and Sylvia in great danger. Now that the treasure has been located, who will end up getting there first?

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Discussion & Thoughts

Los Angeles Times journalist Kristine McKenna wrote in a July 1987 review that the film “could be described as ‘Romancing the Ghostbusters in the Temple of Doom.’”* McKenna is very much on par with her analysis as Vibes does seem to exhibit a mélange of characteristics from these specific well-known ‘80s films: Romancing the Stone, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In fact, when you see the front door to the Department of Paranormal Studies and then immediately after the scene with Zener cards being used, the similarity to Ghostbusters is unmistakeable.

Beyond that, Vibes is able to stand on its own with a plot that is viable enough to keep your attention. It helped that producers chose to film on location in Ecuador, which gave the setting a more authentic feel especially considering that not too many mainstream American motion pictures have been filmed there. They took full advantage of the natural beauty of the Ecuadorian Highlands in the sierra of the Andes Mountains. There are times when a sound stage was obviously used, such as the hotel interiors and the major action at the end of the film. However, this is easily forgiven when you see how much handmade detail went into making the sets; something that I appreciated even more considering how often computers are used nowadays for digital alterations. At least real imaginations were at work on this picture.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the choice of Cyndi Lauper as a leading lady. Up until that time, Lauper had only been known as a songstress who had appeared in a handful of music videos. She had absolutely no acting experience and had a “colourful” reputation as a pop star, forebodings that eventually dissuaded Dan Aykroyd from being her co-star. Ironically enough, certain particularities of the film remind me of Who’s That Girl?, a  1987 romantic comedy starring Madonna and Griffin Dunne. Both feature a pop star playing an aloof, lower-class blonde who falls in love with a richer, more intelligent well-to-do guy. The two films would also have back-to-back filming schedules though it would only take 6 months for Who’s That Girl? to reach theatres while it took over a year for Vibes to do so. On paper, they were officially released exactly one year apart. By that time, the public had ample opportunity to be underwhelmed with Madonna’s performance which no doubt had a spillover effect on the critical reception that Lauper received.

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Blink and you’ll miss Steve Buscemi in one of his earliest on-screen speaking roles.
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Sylvia and Dr. Steele. Julian Sands remains somewhat of an enigma with his film career because he on the whole gives pretty cringe-worthy performances.

Vibes ended up being a huge failure at the box office and was torn apart by critics. Even supporting actors were not immune from the wrath of some reviewers. Los Angeles Times journalist Michael Wilmington wrote: “… (The film’s) most typical element may be villain Googy Gress’ appalling attempt at a Scandinavian accent. The rhythm is all wrong and he seems to be mixing up “Yumpin’ Yiminy”-style vaudeville Swedish with stage comic Nazi and Connecticut Yankee.”* A funny thing is that I spent the entire film believing that Gress’ character Ingo Swedlin was German, even before he refers to his deceased mother as “mutti”, which is a pet name for one’s mother in Germany. Although I am not gifted at evaluating accents, I thought that Gress did a pretty believable job at playing a foreigner. Wilmington’s attitude is a bit too sour and over exaggerated for a simple film review in my opinion.  Audiences at the time may not have cared much for Vibes either but luckily the film was given a rebirth by being designated as a cult classic, an honour that is befitting. If you are looking for some laughs and a bit of harmless fun, then this film is definitely up your alley.

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Aside from being a capable psychic, Ingo is also an efficient killer.

Jeff Goldblum

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I grew up identifying Jeff as an alternative kind of guy. His film Earth Girls Are Easy was extremely popular in my household and that certainly shaped my image of him. As time went on, I happened to also see more of his comedic performances such as in Nine Months and Holy Man. Nowadays, I still see him as a talented goofball who has become one of my favourite recurring guests on Conan. The man is just plain delightful. My stepfather happened to know Jeff personally, having initially met him teaching at a Hollywood acting school that was run by his best friend from childhood. He always had only the best things to say about Jeff and really enjoyed the time they spent together.

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When it comes to Vibes, it is not the best film in which Jeff has appeared but it is far from being the worst. I happened to really enjoy his performance and thought he was absolutely hilarious. There is one scene in which Nick is about to intimate with his fiancée until he realises that she has been cheating on him, something he discovered by holding her panties! The look on his face is priceless!

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“Oh my God, it’s true. Another man has been holding these panties! You know I can tell.”

Jeff already had his very specific mannerisms and hand gestures that he does to this day although they seemed to be more controlled. He was not yet in “full Goldblum”.  I happened to read that he and Cyndi Lauper did not get along during filming which came as a complete surprise to me because I absolutely loved their chemistry in the film. They played well opposite one another and were a very believable romantic couple. When they are dancing together at the hotel, I could feel that they had an appreciation for one another. Well, at least they both believably played their characters while the cameras were rolling. This is definitely a classic Jeff film that I would recommend to anyone who already appreciates him or who is just discovering him. Vibes is ‘80s gold.X195-Pressefoto-Cyndi-Lauper-Jeff-GoldblumTwo years before Vibes hit theatres, Jeff was enjoying his greatest critical and commercial success with The Fly. He received a Saturn Award for his performance and although he was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, many insiders believed he deserved to at least be nominated for the film. As it sometimes happens, Jeff’s career did not boom after The Fly even though he did continue working on a steady basis. His next great blockbuster would be 1993’s Jurassic Park followed by 1996’s Independence Day. Despite being recognised as a mainstream attraction, Jeff continued to take on a variety of different roles in both independent features and big studio productions. What also seemed to increase over time was the exposure of his distinct, zany personality that would also play-in to his on-screen personas. This has made him an audience favourite because he does not hold back in regards to his quirky senses of humour and fashion, often even amusing those who are supposed to be interviewing him. Jeff has become more than just a movie star –– he is a beloved pop culture icon.

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A compilation of eccentric Jeff styles, for your enjoyment. 🙂

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20 thoughts on “Contemporary Film Talk: ‘Vibes’ (1988)

    1. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to re-discover this film! I’m so happy to have been able to take part. 😊
      Ah, yes, well I heard endless stories about my stepdad’s famous run-ins and about the various premieres he and my mother went to. I always hoped to be invited by alas never was. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was never in it himself and only was a part of that world because he visited his friend quite often. At least his friend remained a down-to-earth country boy. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Vibes kind of fascinates me, because it sounds like the kind of movie that could only have been made in the ‘80s. I quite like the idea of Lauper and Goldblum together.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You really hit the nail on the head there, Paul. It’s very ’80s all around and definitely fit that specific era. I didn’t mention the fact that Ron Howard produced this film which did give the material a boost in quality. Audiences just weren’t buying it and Howard seized success that very same year with ‘Willow’, so it was perhaps no big loss to him.
      This is a tough film to get a hold of but I think it’s worth the effort. Lauper was considerably more talented than Madonna as an actress. I still maintain that she & Jeff did make a very believable couple. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite a cute film! I’m a huge fan of Madonna as a singer and even in some of her ’80s/’90s film ventures but I must say that Cyndi Lauper is more talented as an actress. The role suits her really well and believe it or not, she’s not very annoying at all in the film. That is unlike Madonna’s character in ‘Who’s That Girl?’ who is a real screecher at times! Definitely give it a *go* for Jeff who is very funny in this. Peter Falk also had some great one-liners! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had completely forgotten about this movie until now. Was it this film that had Lauper’s “Hole in My Heart” song? I seem to recall the song not doing well either. Thanks for the great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Michael! It’s funny because this film used to be on HBO all the time when I was a kid but I was never interested in watching it. I’m glad I finally got to see it in full for this blogathon. 🙂
      Indeed, her song “Hole in My Heart (All The Way to China)” was written and recorded for the film but to my knowledge it does not appear on the soundtrack. I think, however, that it is used during the opening credits of the film. The song was not a success Stateside but it proved popular in other parts of the world where it charted.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That would certainly do it, He is definitely a unique looking fella. I’m glad he’s had a very rich career because he’s a great actor. It was a very fun Easter Egg-like treat to find him in this film. 😀

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  3. It seems the Departments of Paranormal Studies in NY were working overtime in the 80s. Though I grew up in the 80s, I somehow missed this movie. Have to seek it out. Still love the original Ghostbusters to death.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😂 That’s so true! There’s still time for a Paranormal “Law & Order” spinoff!
      For some reason I always ignored this film whenever I saw it on HBO, perhaps due to Goldblum overrsaturation from ‘Earth Girls Are Easy’. In any case, this is a really solid movie and I think you would like it a lot. I love the fact that psychic abilities are taken seriously. 🙂

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  4. Well, I watched this movie few years back and I did not like it. When you start watching it, you get the feeling that it had the potential to be a better and more captivating film, especially, because of the cast. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

    Liked by 1 person

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