The Gag Reflex
"I'm guessing this is pretty much the point of this movie, the reason it was made," says Bob Hoag, sounding disappointed.
The lead singer of Go Reflex and all-around impresario behind the thriving Mesa rock music scene is sitting in a theater at Superstition Springs Center.
On screen, meanwhile, two nearly naked twins from Texas appear to have gone into alarming diabetic seizures, their fleshy little bodies knocking into each other with all the rhythm of two electrocuted sows.
We're about 40 minutes in to The Real Cancun, a movie version of MTV's The Real World that captures 16 Americans on spring break in Mexico, and we've just learned that our twins, Roxanne and Nicole Frilot, can't dance for shit.
Teen boys in the audience, of course, will recognize their gyrations as variations on a time-honored spring break theme: college girls stripping topless on stage to music and engaging in lesbian frottage while being showered with water. These two don't so much boogie as they go into uncontrolled spasms, lunging into each other while trying to keep their hands over their otherwise naked breasts. It's actually a very odd sort of slam dance, with the obvious intent of turning on the several hundred boys on the beach taking in the sight.
The scene's as strange as it is titillating. But the Frilot girls, besides being somewhat plain and still saddled with a bit of baby fat, really haven't been worth paying attention to anyway. Hoag spotted right off that we weren't supposed to care about the Frilots, that they were little more than set decoration and would soon all but disappear from the film.
Sophisticated MTV viewer that he is, Hoag, 29, is plenty familiar with the manipulation that The Real World producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray subject both viewers and contestants to in their long-running franchise, the latest television version of which recently wrapped up in Las Vegas. But in this installment, shot just a month ago for theatrical release and taking place in only a single week in Cancun -- the TV versions last much longer -- obscenities weren't bleeped and nudity is plentiful, which turned out to be a disappointment to Hoag.
A self-avowed television masochist, Hoag lives for the kind of petty spats, major blowouts and unlikely seductions Bunim and Murray get out of the participants in their TV shows. "You watch The Real World for the conflicts," Hoag says.
Which is why Hoag wasn't down for all of the bikinis-and-beer-bongs stuff.
"The party scenes were a waste. I like attractive women as much as anyone. But it was too sloppy. Too degrading to the women. I don't mean that in a moralistic way, but in a degrading way to the beauty of the female body," Hoag says. "When I was younger, I liked Playboy's Book of Lingerie.' Arty and airbrushed, that's how I liked my porn. That probably says a lot about my ideals of feminine beauty and why I thought the [Frilot twins'] wet tee shirt scene was almost too much to take."
Hoag looks like he's stepped out of the 1950s to come fix your computer. In his trademark fedora and gabardine suit, the punk singer is nerdy in a fashionable way. Thin, too. Nearly gaunt, even. Which becomes even more noticeable sitting outside the theater after the film while an army of prodigiously obese young and elderly made their way to the theater's box office. It was impossible to know how many of the barely ambulant -- aided by canes, knee wraps, oxygen tanks -- had arrived to see The Real Cancun on its opening day, but the film's early showtime, Hoag pointed out, was set before lunchtime to accommodate Mesa's aging and infirm.
Still, you get the feeling Hoag feels nothing but love for his adopted hometown, despite its overabundance of the aged and, well, the overabundant. Several years ago, he ditched his native Pittsburgh after becoming fed up with lugging music equipment through the snow. "If we're going to be poor and in a band, let's go somewhere where it's like a vacation all the time," he'd told his companions. They headed west until they found Mesa. Today, he's become not only leader of the popular troupe Go Reflex but also a one-man studio who's recorded some of the best music coming out of the Mormon enclave. Discs he's produced include those by The Format, Tickertape Parade and Fifteen Minutes Fast.
He's also a movie fan, and he's very particular about his popcorn, asking the Harkins snack jockey to put butter in a bag half-filled with corn and then again after topping it off. Hoag was just as discerning about the film.
The Real Cancun invites more than a dozen horny youngsters to the Mexican resort town, but it's obvious that only those who engage in seductions or spats are going to get any decent face time. Some of them never get the clue. They're so boring, the filmmakers don't even bother to tell us their names.
But soon enough, it's plain that the star of the film will be Alan Taylor, the teetotaler Texas kid who's determined not to drink with the others but who's just as determined to "see some boobies." Awkward and completely clueless with the opposite sex, Alan serves as a kind of everyman and a welcome counterpart to some of the others, lunkheads like Jeremy, Matt and Casey, who were chosen for their rippling biceps and lack of brain cells. Alan was the good kid, a little creepy for his single-mindedness about breasts, maybe, but still likable for his innocence and ineptitude.
"Watching Alan was truly painful," Hoag says, which, in Hoag-speak, is a good thing. The more excruciating the on-screen action, the better. "It's been a lot of years, but man, his lines brought back some memories. I've probably looked as absurd and awkward as Alan."
Alan heroically holds his ground until about the third day, but the peer pressure simply becomes too much. He's finally persuaded to try his first tequila shot. After surviving it, he looks around and says, "You know what I deserve? Some boobies!"
Okay, he's still a dork. But the filmmakers seem determined to transform him, and later, after a clearly fixed hot-body contest that Alan wins (imagine Jim Carrey in a Speedo, and you get some idea), we see Alan become the sex god he was born to be. Suddenly, women can't get enough of him.
Hoag's assessment wasn't so sanguine. "The drinking only made him look stupid enough to resemble all of the other idiots," says the teetotaling singer. "I'm not a big moralist, but if you're a young guy watching the movie, that's the message you're going to take away. That without drinking you're miserable. With lots of drinking, everything's good."
Hoag wasn't thrilled about the film's fucking scenes, either. We get several. Jeremy, one of the pretty boys, beds three or four different women in the week, abandoning his partners as soon as they've succumbed and becoming a walking advertisement for everything women hate about men. Matt, meanwhile, gets a quickie in the shower. But the seduction everyone's been waiting for since almost the first frame gets derailed.
From the initial day on the beach, it's clear that Paul, one of only two African-American men along for the adventure, has designs on the lone black female, Sky.
Sky is a lovely young woman who utters the memorable line: "If you have a short dick, my favorite position is with another motherfucker." Alluring and statuesque, Sky makes it clear that she expects a man to pursue her with dogged perseverance. And for several days, the likable Paul does just that. And unlike Alan or the others, Paul's actually got skills. "Only Paul was smooth," Hoag says.
But after several days of hard work, Paul finally makes a move, attempting to kiss Sky in the pool, only to be flatly rejected. Sky jumps away and storms out, making it clear that Paul has gone too far.
Thus spurned, can Paul be blamed for picking up an attractive Asian girl at a club that night and bedding her?
And there's no question the act occurred. Infrared cameras in Paul's room show the naked man scurrying to get into his bed, followed shortly by the unrobed girl joining him. We're then treated to the animal with two backs -- under a sheet -- as we get to hear unmistakable forest sounds.
"You can show as much nudity as you want. But people doing it, even under a sheet? I'm kinda shocked, to tell you the truth," Hoag says, unhappy that any of the screwing scenes made it on screen.
"I read an article about the Osbournes, about how people at an awards show were pretty shocked by the Osbournes' obscenities because they'd always been used to their language getting bleeped on their TV show. I think it shows that we prefer censored reality. The Real Cancun did the same thing to me. The obscenities and nudity that would have been blocked in a TV version just made the film tawdry, not titillating."
Far more interesting to the punk musician was the aftermath of Paul's conquest, when he was confronted by an angry Sky.
"Sky's reaction to Paul was retarded. I don't know that she was hurt so much as her thing is to make the guy work hard. But Paul's sleeping with the Asian girl made Sky realize that she didn't have him wrapped around her finger the way she thought she did. I almost thought she deserved it. See what happens when you play too hard to get?" But Paul is the smooth one, so he manages to salvage the situation. On the trip's last night, he gets into Sky's bed and engages (at least) in some intimate touching.
Did Sky give up more? Like plenty of other story lines developing in the Cancun resort house, this is one that isn't resolved. Perhaps it's asking too much for The Real World to develop fully in only a week. Even Puck needed more time than that to become infamous, or for Trishelle and Steven to hook viewers.
Hoag was clearly not entirely unsatisfied by the experience.
"Now I'm going to have to feel even stupider, not just seeing this film but now going online to research these people and what happened to them," he says.
"Oh, I rue the day."
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