Desperate Lives (1982)

Genres - Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 3, 1982 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This well-meaning but hopelessly out of touch film represents the made-for-television message drama at its most absurd. Desperate Lives is built on a script that pursues its agenda with sledgehammer subtlety, lacing its narrative with overblown shouting matches (the "hip" dialogue of the kids has aged badly) and drug freakouts that conjure up memories of Reefer Madness. The performances are suitably over-the-top: Diana Scarwid fumes and lectures endlessly as the well-meaning counselor heroine while Doug McKeon alternately rants and whines as the film's archetypal "troubled kid" and Sam Bottoms sleazes it up as the town's drug dealer (he also happens to own the local arcade!). A young Helen Hunt delivers one of the film's better performances as McKeon's older sister but her characterization is marred by an unintentionally hilarious PCP freakout scene that has become the stuff of bad-flick legend. Robert Michael Lewis's direction is bland but that actually makes the story's outrageous elements look all the more wild. In short, Desperate Lives is a disaster as an anti-drug film but it's also the kind of camp classic that bad-film devotees dream about. Anyone who is amused by misguided message melodramas should check it out.