Masquerading as a wild romantic adventure, “Calender Girl” is actually a dull , sanctimonious morality tale about the meaning of friendship and manhood in the manner of James Dean’s melodramas. The timing for Columbia’s youth comedy is all wrong, as pic should have been released in late spring or early summer. This may initially appeal to fans of “Beverly Hills, 90210” heartthrob Jason Priestley, who makes his feature film debut, but will be quickly forgotten following a brief theatrical run.
Awkward narration intros the three heroes, who are fated to form a lifelong bond. They first meet at a Howdy Doody look-alike competition, at age 6, and at 12 experience their initial sexual urgings via Marilyn Monroe’s famous nude calendar.
Main story is set in June 1962, right after Monroe was fired from Fox’s “Something’s Got to Give,” with the three high school grads now experts on the star’s life and career. Preying on his friends’ fantasy of meeting the actress, Roy Darpinian (Priestley) talks his pals (Jerry O’Connell and Gabriel Olds) into a crazy plan: Why not leave their boring Nevada town and drive to Hollywood in his father’s sky blue Galaxy 500 convertible?
Regrettably, once the trio lands in Hollywood and starts a vigil outside Monroe’s house, pic settles into a static mood. Staying with Priestley’s uncle Harvey (Joe Pantoliano), an aspiring actor whose day job is selling bomb shelters, provides some amusing moments, but they aren’t enough. Chief problem is Paul W. Shapiro’s unfunny, schematic script, which consists of the boys’ interminable machinations to meet Monroe. One such effort is placing a cow in the star’s yard because of her alleged love of animals.
So long as Monroe is seen from afar and only her voice is heard, her charismatic mystique is maintained. But pic makes the mistake of letting the boys fulfill their dream; the “date” with Monroe (Stephanie Anderson) is a particularly weak sequence.
What Shapiro and first-time director John Whitesell do get right is the dynamics of the group, specifically Priestley’s leadership as a combination of persuasion, intimidation and manipulation. He is a misunderstood and rebellious son, and his emotional reconciliation with his father brings to mind “Rebel Without a Cause” and “East of Eden.” In its sticky sentimentality, pic bears the signature of Penny Marshall, who co-executive produced, though it lacks the shrewd savvy of her work.
“Calendar Girl” is afflicted with wholesome, beefy moralism: In an old-fashioned manner, everything is laid out and messages don’t flinch from the banality of the film’s “end of innocence” theme as the boys go their separate ways at the end.
Priestley looks handsome in a bland TV manner, but he’s not particularly interesting to watch. Olds and O’Connell register better, but all are hampered by uninspired writing and plodding direction.
Tech credits are adequate, the only energetic element being the pop songs of the era.