Time: 98 Minutes
I hate to confess it, but this was one of my favorite movies as a teen. As a young girl who had yet to experience love, I was suckered in. Plus, I had a thing for musicals...and Christopher Atkins. He's not much of an actor, but he has other assets that are used to full effect here. As an adult I cringe. Movie musicals are either totally magical or worse than root canal. Most of the ones released in the 80s, including this one, fall into the latter category. I give them props for trying to incorporate a classic - in this case Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" - into a modern day romance, and it might have worked with better casting and better current music. The idea of having an ugly duckling become a swashbuckling swan in her dreams gives them a lot of leeway and a great entrance into the pirate world.
However, McNichol and Atkins are horribly miscast. Neither can sing and as a young couple desperately in love with each other, they have negative chemistry. McNichol is just too tough and sarcastic to pull off the infatuation. I know she's supposed to be tough, but she lacks any femininity or grace or sex appeal to be at all convincing as the woman every man in the film desires...which is sort of the crux of the plot. She is clearly not happy to be here and it shows. This actually could have worked with someone who got the humor and relished the silliness of it all.
Atkins' character is so dim and clumsy, there's nothing to recommend him except his looks. He's supposed to be sweet and naive but that gambit wears thin quickly. Sure he's the most attractive pirate in the film, but even simple love stories need more than that to be convincing. If you're going to dream up the perfect guy, at least make him worthwhile. I know the lead character has no experience with men, but even at 14 I could have dreamed up someone better than that. Ted Hamilton - as the Pirate King - is the most entertaining character and really gives it his all. He is sleazy and funny and clearly having a lot of fun. He gives the proceedings a burst of energy when he's onscreen, which sadly is not enough. When a secondary character steals the show, you know you're in trouble.
This version mixes classic numbers from the stage play - you will not be able to get "The Modern Major General" out of your head - with pop tunes written directly for the film. While I give them props for trying, it's the new music that really drags this story into the toilet. Filmed in an over-produced, music video style the songs are so sappy they make you laugh instead of swoon. They lack the charm, energy and wit of the stage pieces, even though those are decades older. The humor is juvenile and the story paper thin. Granted it's the dream of a young romantic, but that doesn't mean it has to be juvenile and stupid. There are brief moments of comedy, adventure and wit, but certainly not enough to make up for the rest of the drivel. Assuredly one of the films that caused the death of the big screen musical.