Fake-Out (1982)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

The Lonely Lady

Miami Hustle

Ulimate Desires


Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

"I don't care if this is the 80's, Miss...
We're still taking you downtown
until you do something about that hair."
Imagine our surprise. Here's a low budget movie starring Pia Zadora, set in Las Vegas, that's actually pretty good. It's well-acted, the comedy is funny, and it's got a great twist ending.

Faked you out!

What were you thinking? Fake-Out is as badly acted and pointless as you would expect from any Pia Zadora film. There isn't even a good fake-out in the movie, despite the title. Maybe the fake-out is that we are supposed to think there will be a fake-out, because the title is Fake-Out, but there is no fake-out, so we are faked-out.

Pia Zadora, appearing here between her most infamous turns in Butterfly and The Lonely Lady, plays a Las Vegas singer named Bobbie Warren, who is also the girlfriend of gangster Danny Parelli (Nelson Sardelli). In the film's first scene Bobbie is arrested by O.W. Thurston (Telly Savalas) right as she comes off stage. Surprisingly, he's not arresting her because of her singing. It seems that Bobbie's boy friend is a notorious gangster, and Bobbie is refusing to testify against him, so she's going to jail until she does.

"Ma, it's me... yeah, Little Desi...
look, nothing you taught me about showbiz
covers this kind of thing!"
Woo hoo! Bobbie is taken to an all-woman jail! We love "women in prison" movies! Things get off to a promising start when bouncy Bobbie offends the local alpha female by teaching an aerobics class. But then the movie loses its teeth. Sure, the alpha female arranges for Bobbie to be raped in the shower, but the shower rape scene is the most gingerly filmed, least offensive prison rape scene imaginable. If Jack Hill were to direct a sequence for Sesame Street, this would be it. Also, the butch female warden is supposed to be a lesbian (duh!), yet she has a line of dialogue in which she expresses the desire to sleep with Paul Newman.

After her mildly hellish experience, Bobbie decides to punch her own ticket out of Dodge. She tells the police that she wants to squawk. The police have no choice but to put her up in an expensive Las Vegas hotel until the D.A. can see her. Lt. Thurston assigns young cop Clint Morgan (Desi Arnaz Jr) to watch over her. Meanwhile Thurston and some other cops pose as gamblers in the hotel's casino. All this is necessary because Bobbie's boyfriend, Danny Parelli (Nelson Sardelli), will very likely try to kill her to keep her quiet.

Due to Mafia budget cutbacks,
the assassins arrive in a paddleboat.
Most of the film's humor allegedly comes from the interaction between Bobbie and Clint. Bobbie is supposed to be spontaneous and cute, but as with most Pia Zadora characters, she seems more dimwitted than anything else. Desi Arnaz Jr. is nominally charmed by Bobbie's cute and spontaneous antics, but Arnaz is so wooden, it sometimes sounds like he's repeating "ha ha ha" from memory. There are a few fun moments here and there -- as when Zadora greets Clint and the room service waiter in a towel and announces that she's ready for her "audition" -- but these scenes are mere bright spots in an otherwise cheerfully idiotic experience.

At this point in her career, Zadora was accused of having a career manufactured by her then-husband, a zillionaire named Meshulam Riklis. Indeed, Riklis did support her career in various ways, including the production of this film and its setting, the Riviera hotel, in which Riklis owned a controlling interest. Riklis himself appears early on in the film as a shady hotel owner who is inexplicably run over by a couple in a Winnebago, presumably at the behest of Danny Parelli. While it seems fairly clear that Riklis hoped to jumpstart Zadora's career by providing her with a few star vehicles, Fake-Out isn't what you'd call a rousing success. Zadora later found that her true medium was music, not movies.

"Listen, let me tell you about the Player's
Club..." Another out-of-place actor,
another "phoning in his performance"
Still, as Pia Zadora films go (now there's a heckuva lead-in), Fake-Out is pretty good. There is an amazing mix of character actors, from Zadora's manager Matt Cimber to fairly reputable professionals like Larry Storch and Buddy Lester. You can tell that most of the more experienced character actors at least having fun with their inane lines, almost as if the whole movie is an elaborate practical joke played on the core cast, who just don't quite get what all the winking is about.

If Fake-Out didn't exactly rocket Pia Zadora to stardom, it's not because she was particulary bad. She's certainly no worse than, say, Sandra Bullock in Love Potion No. 9 -- but not any better, either. Even if Fake-Out had made her career, though, that career would have been summarily executed by The Lonely Lady, which appeared only a year later.

Own it!

Review date: 06/12/1999

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* Cimber, in addition to being Zadora's (former?) business manager and "Assassin #2," also co-wrote and directed Fake-Out. Go back!