Monday, February 6, 2012

Nobody's perfect

In the early to mid-1980s I found myself working in a health club. Basically, I worked behind the front desk, greeted people, signed them up for memberships and handed them locks and towels. Far from glamorous, the job had its perks: my co-workers enjoyed a good party and would throw down at any given moment and, for both sexes, there was the occasional eye-candy to keep things moving.

But this was also a time when journalist Aaron Latham wrote an article in 1983 for Rolling Stone called "Looking for Mr. Goodbody," making the claim that health clubs were fast becoming the "new singles bars."

Subsequently, the article's result was that every flabby testosterone stoked dude on the make came waddling through the doors looking for more sex than sweat - which, of course, wasn't even close to reality. Most of the customers joined the club for one reason - they were fat. The club I worked in wasn't even close to those Bally's Fitness Center commercials that showed health club members as hot and hotter.

Walk into my club and the first thing you saw was me, who - at that time - was gangly with barely an ounce of muscle. I wasn't lean, I was like skeletor. I was the polar opposite of the models you saw in those moodily lit, disco-throbbing TV ads that were based on false promises, including the promise to lose your gut.

By the time 1985 rolled around, the health club hype as singles bar was waning. This falling off pretty much coincided with the release of Perfect, directed by James Bridges (The Paper Chase, Urban Cowboy, Bright Lights, Big City) and based on the Latham story. Perfect starred John Travolta as Adam, a magazine writer investigating the "singles bar" scene of bump and grind health clubs. Adam becomes involved with a fitness instructor named Jessie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis who teaches aerobics with a stripper's flair), who wants nothing to do with writers (too pastey). Naturally, as Adam and Jessie fall in love, he starts to lose his journalistic objective point of view and the story suffers.

The movie is ridiculous and represents excessive Hollywood bloat supported by too much money-to-burn and cocaine-fueled studio meetings. What's amazing is how wrong Perfect got it. It was so far from believable that the movie became a Hollywood laughing stock and, while not totally shredding Travolta's career, it certainly slammed the breaks on it - albeit temporarily.

He came back big in 1989 as an out of shape cab driver in Amy Heckerling's popular Look Who's Talking - a film, while a box office hit, that ultimately didn't do Travolta any real favors. After Look Who's Talking, he was sequestered to a couple talking baby sequels and straight-to-video obscurities.

But, not completely down and not quite washed up, Quentin Tarantino found his man in Travolta, who left an indelible mark with his best role as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

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