The Allnighter


I have nothing bad to say about The Bangles, the ’80s rock group that consisted entirely of women and wasn’t The Go-Go’s. “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Manic Monday,” and “Eternal Flame” are perfectly acceptable pop songs. I will fight anyone who says otherwise!

But the group’s lead singer and songwriter, Susanna Hoffs, made the same mistake as a lot of popular musicians and concluded that since she was doing pretty well for herself as a rock star, she could probably be an actress, too. No doubt she was emboldened by Madonna’s success in that area. “If Madonna can do it, so can I!” Susanna Hoffs might have thought, falling victim to a logical fallacy that has also been the undoing of everyone who has tried to wear a conical brassiere or maintain a relationship with Sean Penn.


Hoffs’ starring vehicle, called “The Allnighter,” was written and directed by her mother, which ought to have been a red flag. Generally speaking, if the only person willing to put you in a movie is your mom, there’s a strong chance you shouldn’t be in a movie. “The Allnighter” is set at a California beachside party school from which Hoffs’ character, Molly, is about to graduate with several of her friends. The place is called Pacifica College, but the students’ clothing, music, and behavior suggest it may have once been known as Eighties University. There is a lot of ’80s in this movie. In fact, the film used so much ’80s that the supply of ’80s had to be rationed for several months afterward.

Molly lives in a cool house with two other girls, Val (Dedee Pfeiffer) and Gina (Joan Cusack), and Gina is in the process of making a movie about their college days with her giant 1987 videocamera. (An amateur making a film that no one but the participants will ever want to watch? How meta.) A couple of dumb surfer dudes named C.J. (John Terlesky) and Killer (James Shanta) hang around a lot and say stupid things like “Love means never having to say you’re loaded” and “A babe in the kitchen is worth two on the beach.” Like the rest of the movie, and like surfers in general, those expressions are not nearly as clever as they think they are, and it would be nice if they would drown.

It is suggested that C.J. and Molly have dated, but Molly also complains that she is about to graduate without having had a proper love affair. So whatever she and C.J. were up to, it didn’t count. I can only imagine how this makes C.J. feel. While he and Killer spend their time surfing — this 96-minute movie somehow contains 45 hours of surfing footage — Val and Gina resolve to help Molly have a GREAT final night of college, if you know what I mean, wink wink. (SEX.) The college is throwing its annual graduation fiesta, and hey, if a girl can’t find some action at a school-sponsored on-campus cake-and-punch party, she’s not gonna find it anywhere.

I should mention that as an actress, Susanna Hoffs is blank-faced and lethargic, having apparently been directed by her mother to perform as though Molly were in the latter stages of a wasting disease. She wouldn’t be interesting to watch even if her character were doing something interesting, and her character isn’t doing something interesting. For as it turns out, “The Allnighter” doesn’t even do us the courtesy of being a shallow comedy about college students trying to have sex. If only! No, instead it’s all mopey and faux-introspective, like the final episode of a TV series on The CW.

While the girls are preparing for the party, guess who arrives at their house? You will never guess, because it doesn’t make sense. It is Mickey (Michael Ontkean), a famous rock star! An alumnus of this college, he once lived in the very house now inhabited by the girls and has stopped by for nostalgic purposes. Mickey is definitely a very cool and hip rock star because 1) his name is Mickey and 2) he has a diamond-stud earring. All the girls are big fans of his group, The Rhinos, and C.J. is jealous at the way Molly swoons over him. Whether Molly winds up with the surfer or the rock star, one thing is certain: her parents are going to be very, very disappointed.

The high point of the film’s plot, to the extent that the film can be said to have a plot rather than a loose series of incidents, is when Molly blows off the party and goes to Mickey’s hotel to seduce him. She is politely rebuffed, on account of Mickey has a girlfriend who is on her way over at this very minute. (The only way your final night of college could be sadder than being rejected for sex by a man 15 years older than you is if the college in question is Arizona State.) When the girlfriend arrives, Molly must hide on the terrace of Mickey’s hotel suite, potentially stuck there until morning. From one point of view, she’s trapped and alone. But from another point of view, she’s quarantined from society and unable to bore anyone.

Lucky for her, there is a telephone on the terrace (just go with it), and she calls Val and Gina to come rescue her. But before they can arrive, she escapes on her own through the ingenious method of tiptoeing quietly past Mickey and his girlfriend while they’re doin’ it, an idea that evidently had not occurred to her before. When Val and Gina show up in the hotel lobby, they are mistaken for hookers and are rounded up with a bunch of actual hookers and taken to jail, for comedy. Molly comes up with bail money, and in the meantime resigns herself to having sex with C.J. the surfer, in a scene that is erotic and steamy until you remember that it was directed by the actress’ mother, whereupon it is gross.

With a half-finished screenplay and a general tone of apathy, there’s clearly no reason for “The Allnighter” to exist except as a means of establishing Susanna Hoffs as an actress. This was her audition reel, something to be watched out of curiosity rather than a desire to be entertained. Hoffs’ acting career never materialized, but at least The Bangles are still going strong, probably, unless I’m thinking of Heart.