Echo Park (1985)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Comedy  |   Release Date - Apr 2, 1986 (USA)  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - Austria , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Echo Park is the kind of film you might stumble across late at night on cable, and ask yourself what the blazes you're watching. This strange nugget of '80s cinema is purportedly a character study about eccentric residents of L.A.'s Echo Park neighborhood -- May Greer (Susan Dey), a single mother who pays the rent via stripper-grams, and Jonathan (Tom Hulce), a pizza delivery guy who wants to be a musician. But, a byproduct of the film's Austrian roots is that there's a bizarre third character infiltrating their boy-girl romantic dynamic, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-worshipping Aryan body builder named August (Michael Bowen) suited for no greater function than the "wacky neighbor." He instead becomes a central figure, perhaps even the protagonist. This unconventional structure informs numerous other plot points, and the overall sense is that aliens are playing the roles of humans. The most glaring problem is that Dey's character is essentially profane and unlikable, an unfit mother who doesn't achieve the redemption that's usually in store for her type of character. Never mind her profession -- rarely is she home at the times a mother should be, and she thinks nothing of letting her son ride around in Jonathan's ramshackle delivery truck, which (for reasons unknown) is missing its doors, possessing only a flimsy chain on each side to separate a passenger from certain death. Undoubtedly intended as a quirky comedy, Echo Park wildly shifts tones, veering off into melodrama one minute, corny slapstick the next. The saving grace is that despite bearing the undeniable stamp of the '80s, it's also got a grungy recklessness that makes it seem like a holdover from the '70s, possibly explaining some of its failure to play by the rules. Consequently, Echo Park is intermittently interesting, but more often, it displays the peculiar abruptness of a cult film.