1/4, 1980s, Comedy, Ralph Bakshi, Review

Hey Good Lookin’

#9 in my ranking of Ralph Bakshi’s filmography.

It’s really not a surprise that Hey Good Lookin’ is a return to the mean of what Ralph Bakshi was making before Wizards since it was sort of made pre-Wizards as a live-action film combined with animation ala Robert ZemeckisWho Framed Roger Rabbit?. However, Warner Bros. got cold feet on the idea, nearly sued Bakshi, and Bakshi used his directing fees over the next few years to fund an animated version himself, releasing the completed film in 1982 after the more mature attempts at storytelling that were The Lord of the Rings and American Pop. Hey Good Lookin’ feels much more at home alongside Coonskin, Fritz the Cat, and Heavy Traffic than the output he’d had over the previous few years. It’s about of that quality as well.

Vinnie (Richard Romanus) is a greaser hood in charge of a gang in 1950s New York. He becomes attracted to the girl in the neighborhood Rozzie (Tina Bowman) while his best friend Crazy Shapiro (David Proval) begins to date Roz’s fried Eva (Jesse Welles), a heavyset girl with a penchant for sandwiches. One night, Vinnie and Shapiro fall asleep on the beach to wake up to find themselves under the boardwalk where they can see a group of old Italian toughs waiting for their wives to get into their bathing suits, which the pair can also see. It’s the same kind of mixture of grotesque caricature and perfectly rounded breasts that Bakshi had been using since Fritz the Cat but had completely dropped through The Lord of the Rings and American Pop in favor of more realistic looks at the human body.

These designs aren’t the only things to return, sitting alongside the puerile and juvenile sense of comedy that never sat comfortably with the effort of making an adult cartoon about adult things but was also zany and silly that Bakshi seemed to think worked so well. I mean, this is a story that, when you peel away all of the distractions, is about bravery and cowardice in the face of a self-instigated race war in 1950s New York. However, to get to that point, you have to get around a lot (A LOT) of tonally incoherent stuff that are attempts at comedy. There’s Roz’s father refusing to let her out of the house to meet up with Vinnie by literally handcuffing her to the bed, but she drags the whole bed out of the house, down the street, and almost meets Vinnie right before he and Shapiro head off for a while night on the town. The image of Roz cuffed to the bed in the middle of the street gesticulating as she tries to attract Vinnie’s attention is obviously meant to be funny (humor is subjective, and all, but yeesh). However, it really clashes with all the effort to tear the lid off of the violence of the 50s.

The race war stuff seems to start with Vinnie and Shapiro running into a gang on the beach, but nothing really comes of it. There are some minor threats back and forth, but I think it’s mainly supposed to just introduce Chaplin (Philip Michael Thomas), the leader of the gang, even though the film does a poor job of it. Apparently, Shapiro kills all of the Italians, but it’s never mentioned again. They just wander around for a while more, never really being anything more than a poorly animated, low-rent version of American Graffiti, until Shapiro chases down a couple of black kids in the wrong neighborhood and shoots them both. This supposedly is the spark that starts the race war later, but the connective tissue from that event to the actual conflict is so obfuscated by nonsense, like Shapiro’s dad Solly (Angelo Grisanti) who is a cop who likes to terrorize his son for reasons who approaches Chaplin with the news of the death of the two kids with the hope of tracking down the presumably black suspects so that he can kill them himself. There’s a really nasty undertone to pretty much this entire film which is what really interacts poorly with the weirdly violent and puerile sense of comedy throughout. I think that’s what Bakshi never realized in the films he wrote himself, that his comedy and his thematic points clashed.

The actual conflict ends up being really weird because it’s first an excuse to include the little bit of rotoscoping in the film with Bakshi bringing the live-action footage he shot of some street dancers to the screen, so it ends up being a dance fight before it is supposed to become an actual fight? I guess. Anyway, Vinnie runs away while Shapiro gets cornered on a roof and thrown from it. It’s…a mess, at best. There’s also a wraparound narrative about Vinnie coming back to New York thirty years later and meeting Roz to become the man he was supposed to be, but, again, it’s punctuated by comedy that both doesn’t work and clashes with the intended tone of the scene and even goes back and forth on its point.

This is a return to form for Bakshi, returning to the incoherent, ugly, tonal messes he was specializing in before The Lord of the Rings. The common factor is that Bakshi himself wrote everything he made except The Lord of the Rings and American Pop where another writer imposed a sense of narrative discipline on him that largely removed his unappealing sense of comedy.

In terms of the animation itself, this is also a return to form. The ugly designs are matched with his inability to make motion really work now that he’s largely abandoned rotoscoping for purely hand-drawn animation again (the interaction of the little rotoscoping that is there with the hand-drawn animation in the same shot, which happens a couple of times, is jarring to say the least), and the images are, again, largely flat and look like the sorts of things you’d see on Saturday morning cartoon shows. Rotoscoping gave him a technique that elevated his animation (though he still never hired an artist to do shadows or shading), and the return to the hand-drawn stuff at his direction is disappointing because he obviously stopped evolving as a visual artist right around the time he was animating Mighty Mouse. But there are finally some shadows. It’s on the older Vinnie in a couple of shots near the beginning because he’s supposed to be mysterious, and it looks awful because Bakshi had no idea what he was doing, but at least there were finally some shadows.

This movie is trash. It’s not the incoherent and dull nadir that was Wizards, but it’s close.

Rating: 1/4


3 thoughts on “Hey Good Lookin’”

  1. I am left with the uncomfortable suspicion that one of my favorite writers, Brian Azzarello (of ‘100 Bullets’ fame) has probably seen ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and worse, taken a scene from the movie and put it into his comic Magnum Opus. I’m referring to Crazy jumping onto his father from a rooftop, killing them both.

    So, apparently Bakshi thought he could make ‘Mean Streets’ but he’d have animated hoods. Yeah. He couldn’t and shouldn’t have tried.

    I don’t like the cartoonish animation but I do prefer his hand drawn style to rotoscoping, which just looks like a cheap shortcut. I really like the art style for Vinnie, actually, though he looks way more like John Travolta than he should, without lawsuits being involved. Anyway, Vinnie’s blue eyes are striking and so is his sense of style.

    As usual, Bakshi has a big titted woman that he clearly wants to bang in it, though I can’t tell if Vinnie or Shapiro is his self-insert….maybe a blend of both men are.

    The framing device mostly works, I’d almost think he’s improved as a storyteller. He damn well ought to after 10 years, though it’s very clear who the opening characters are after a few minutes of the flashback, so no real surprise revelation. Future Vinnie looks like an animal? Or is that him trying to draw black people again? It doesn’t really look like young Vinnie to me.

    But as usual, it all comes down to character and writing for me. I don’t like the characters and I’m not overly impressed by the writing. I will say it does tell a story and the caricatures are so precise that I assume Bakshi has been storing these sketches for decades with an eye towards using them. Still, they’re ugly and so is this film.

    God, I can’t wait for Kim Basinger. Have to have something to look forward to in this series…


    1. I suppose the designs of the hand drawn stuff is better, but he really struggles to maintain the design whenever he’s not doing the simplest of angles and poses. They warp constantly in weird ways that, when he’s using the crutch of rotoscoping, doesn’t happen. It is a cheap shortcut, but it’s honestly one he needed in motion picture animation as opposed to still animation.

      The movie is just further proof that Bakshi was never going to be able to let go of his formative years and seriously consider anything else. His mind was trapped in NYC and was never going to escape. The 50s sucked, the 60s confused him, and everything was awful and he was never going to move on from it. Hell, Last Days of Coney Island was made in 2015 and he lived in freaking New Mexico and it’s still all about NYC in the 60s. That man’s brain was fried. Still is, most likely.


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