Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
Test audiences. Just have to love them. Drag in random people off the street, a number of whom think magic is Satanic, nudity will make degenerates of our children and that the louder the movie is, the better. Unfortunately, the opinions of these random people result in major changes in movies, or in completed films never seeing the light of day.
Such was the fate of Nothing Lasts Forever. In all honesty I cannot understand why executives would drag in tests audiences for this. It's a small budget art film by former Saturday Night Live writer Tom Schiller, paying tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood while taking some jabs at people who think that art happens by osmosis. It's amusing, cinema fans would love it, and once it gets over some initial silliness it is quite enjoyable. However, no one would mistake this for a mainstream box office film, even with Bill Murray making an appearance.
Adam Beckett (Zach Galligan) wants desperately to be an artist, but can't figure out what he is good at. After having a nightmare he speaks with a Swedish architect (Jan Triska) on a train who encourages him to return to the United States to find his way. Problem is, America is not in the best of shape; earthquakes in Los Angeles have led to most of the West Coast migrating elsewhere, while a major transportation strike in New York has left the Port Authority in charge of the city. In order to prevent more problems they are severely restricting who can enter and stay, and have taken to administrating the Big Apple as if it were a work camp.
Adam fails a required art test and is given a job watching cars as they exit the Holland Tunnel. There he meets another failed artist named Mara (Apollonia van Ravenstein). He hopes to discover his true artist nature through here, but it happens to be his kindness to the city's homeless community that gets him his big break. He is introduced through a man named Hugo (Paul Rogers) to Father Knickerbocker (Sam Jaffe), who is the leader of the group of spiritual beings that truly control the lives of New Yorkers. They have a job for Adam: go the moon, spread their message and find the love of his life (Lauren Tom).
Turns out the moon is indeed populated, and open for commerce. Adam finds out he has his work cut out for him, especially when Ted Breughel (Bill Murray), the conductor of the bus that's headed for the moon, becomes suspicious of the young kid among the group of retirees that are headed for Luna.
Nothing Lasts Forever is a surprisingly light-hearted film in many ways, especially when it deals with future dystopia, genocide and cultural oppression as some of its themes. It's wrapped up in a surrealistic, yet optimistic, sheen, switching between black and white and color as Adam goes through different parts of his journey. Predictably it also takes some time to take some swipes at the New York art scene of the time as things go along.
Zach Galligan plays Adam with a wide-eyed innocence and drive that, at first, makes one question if the movie is going to be watchable. Some of the early pratfall style gags also fall stale, but his nature soon becomes a focal point of the story. I also like the early dream sequence that, while not as disturbing, has some comparisons to the one Henry has in Eraserhead.
That's also not the first time that I felt Tom Schiller took some influence from David Lynch's first film. The weirdly oppressive environment where everyone goes about their normal lives, the occasional detours and the idea of hidden controllers all feature large here as well. The difference is that, while Lynch intended Eraserhead to be somewhat of a comedy as well, Schiller, is a bit more adept at making sure the audience knows that this is supposed to be taken as satire even if there are no parts that are truly gutbusting.
I do enjoy all the weird characters, although I really wish there had been more real chemistry between Lauren Tom and Galligan. Then again, they are briefly together, and largely for a musical interlude. That part is a bit too authentic for old-school Hollywood, with love existing even when there is no real build-up to it. Even as an homage it's a bit of a stretch.
Still, this is a movie that draws the viewer in and which becomes more and more strangely appealing as it goes along. It still plays well if you like absurdist humor and strange fantasy stories, even if budget wise it may not reach all of its ambitions. In any manner Nothing Lasts Forever was done an injustice by putting it on the shelf just because a few random people didn't get it. If you have a chance it is worth the time.
Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
Time: 82 minutes
Starring: Zach Galligan, Lauren Tom, Apollonia van Ravenstein, Bill Murray, Paul Rogers, Sam Jaffe
Director: Tom Schiller