“Kids are survivors’ says Matthew Hollis (Michael Caine) in one of a number of questionable lines from Stanley Donen’s notorious misfire. Sure, kids are tough, but that’s no reason to expect or anticipate that they should put up with whatever else is thrown at them. Taking inspiration from a 1977 French film, which presumably treated the subject matter with a bit more sophistication, Blame It On Rio deals with an older man falling for his friend’s teenage daughter, an edgy subject, even in a Hollywood where leading men in their 60’s are routinely matched with females in their 20’s (I’m thinking As Good As It Gets, but there’s plenty more).
Writer Larry Gelbart was a tv veteran, and after his successful work on Tootsie, Blame It On Rio was much anticipated before release, much reviled afterwards, and it’s easy to see why. This is a low-key farce, but from a very narrow male point of view. Hollis and his friend Victor Lyons (Joseph Bologna) are off for a break in Rio, with their daughters in tow, Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) and Nikki (Demi Moore). The pervasive sexuality and nudity the older men experience seems to cause a loss of moral compass, and soon Hollis is romping in the sand with his friend’s daughter, and disguising his nudity by making himself into a giant sand-castle; you really can’t fault Caine for being game for anything.
Donen’s film twists harder still for laughs; Victor suspects that his daughter is seeing someone, and gets Hollis to help him track the culprit down, little imagining that Hollis is that man he’s searching for. Hollis’s inability to confess stretches out the action without any obvious point; this situation would barely merit a 30 minute sitcom, never mind a feature. At least Valerie Harper from Rhoda seems to be having a good time as Caine’s wronged wife.
This is a painfully male film, given to ogling women without any shame, and seeing great providence in behaviour that might be more simply described as lecherous. And yet Caine does redeem something here that stops the film from being a total hate-watch; like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, he falls for someone outside his age group, and suffers deserved ignominy as a result. Caine’s straight-to-camera confessions at least fit the navel-gazing theme, and while hardly likable, at least Caine follows through on the despicability of the character. Blame It On Rio is probably best remembered for some casual nudity from Johnson and Moore, although Caine’s sky-blue speedos thankfully remain tightly adhered to his physique. We live at a time when some question the need for cinema to reflect diverse values; being trapped amongst the seedy male personas featured here suggests why we need to see more than one POV.