(US - 1979)
Directed by Michael Schultz. Written by Steven A. Vail and Henry Harper. Cast: Richard Benjamin, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Ruth Gordon, Cloris Leachman, Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowall, Robert Morley, Richard Mulligan, Tony Randall, Dirk Benedict, Willie Aames, Stephanie Faracy, Richard Masur, Meat Loaf, Vincent Price, Pat McCormick, Avery Schreiber, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liz Torres, Maureen Teefy, Carol Wayne, Stephen Furst, Stuart Pankin, Henry Polic II, Hal Landon Jr, Marji Martin, Jerado Decordovier. (PG, 116 mins)
When you go a couple of decades or longer without seeing a favorite film from your younger, formative years, you always run the risk of childhood nostalgia blowing up in your face, forcing you to confront the harsh realization that this thing you loved so much just might be a steaming pile of dog shit. Such is the case with SCAVENGER HUNT, a comedy that did only middling business in theaters when it was released the week of Christmas 1979. It found an audience on cable, where it was in constant rotation on Showtime and The Movie Channel in the early '80s, watched over and over again by latch-key kids like me who got home from school and had a couple of hours to kill before Mom and Dad got home from work. It was a movie I watched many times and always guffawed at the wacky, slapstick antics of the all-star cast of comedy stars and familiar character actor ringers I recognized from TV. I hadn't seen SCAVENGER HUNT in over 30 years and I still vividly recalled specific scenes. The film was just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and in watching it again, many of those scenes played out exactly as I remembered, but something was different this time. It's the same movie, but I wasn't laughing. So is it me? Have maturity, life experience and age combined to make SCAVENGER HUNT a miserable slog now compared to the uproarious classic it was when I was eight or nine? Other comedies from that era that I watched a million times hold up beautifully. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. THE BLUES BROTHERS. CADDYSHACK. AIRPLANE! PORKY'S. I still love the Three Stooges and Looney Tunes shorts I watched repeatedly at that age. But SCAVENGER HUNT? Was it always this awful and I was just too young and dumb to know any better? Because let me be clear: what was comedy gold at nine was excruciatingly painful to watch through 44-year-old eyes.
CAR WASH, and was a frequent Richard Pryor collaborator (WHICH WAY IS UP? and GREASED LIGHTNING, both from 1977, and he directed some of 1981's BUSTIN' LOOSE, though only Oz Scott received credit). Schultz's career hit a major speed bump with the expensive 1978 flop SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, which gathered a huge cast of non-singers in a musical starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. After SCAVENGER HUNT, Schultz stayed busy but he never lived up to the potential of his early hits. He enjoyed moderate box office successes with THE LAST DRAGON and KRUSH GROOVE in 1985, and directed the 1987 comedy DISORDERLIES, notable for its much-anticipated teaming of The Fat Boys and Ralph Bellamy. Other than 1991's LIVIN' LARGE and 2004's WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED, the now-78-year-old Schultz has worked exclusively in TV since the late 1980s, directing episodes of a myriad of shows, among them PICKET FENCES, ALLY MCBEAL, FELICITY, THE PRACTICE, BOSTON PUBLIC, EVERWOOD, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, JAG, BROTHERS & SISTERS, and most recently, BLACK-ISH and ARROW. Schultz contributes a commentary track to the SCAVENGER HUNT Blu-ray, and cites it as his most successful film in terms of people mentioning it to him. It's remained a minor cult classic beloved by those who saw it at an impressionable age, and part of that ongoing affection might be because it was out of circulation for so long unless, as Schultz points out, "you taped it off of TV years ago or found an old VHS tape at a garage sale or on eBay." If you want to keep having fond memories of SCAVENGER HUNT, then you'd be wise to just leave it alone, because revisiting this one was a soul-crushing disappointment.