Schubert. On Film.

KILLER 80’s 3-PEATS: Curtis Armstrong

Posted in Killer 80s 3-Peats by schubertonfilm on February 2, 2010

A candid moment with Curtis

In the “Killer 80’s 3-Peats” series, I examine 80’s actors that made three classic characters and/or movies in a row.

In the inaugural edition of Killer 80’s 3-Peats, we discuss the amazing three movie streak of Curtis Armstrong.  The casual movie viewer will know him, of course, as Booger in the Revenge of the Nerds series. But to the 80’s stalwart, he is a character actor on par with a Malkovich or a Tobolowsky. Armstrong has made a ton of movies and TV shows in his long and successful career, but in the early to mid 80’s he reached cult status when he made three classic teen comedies in a row: Risky Business, Revenge of the Nerds and Better Off Dead.

Sometimes you just gotta say ‘What The Fuck’.


Miles: Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, “What the fuck.” “What the fuck” gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.

Risky Business is an interesting creature. I did not see it until around 1998, when I was 14, and, even though I purchased it on VHS, I hated it. With a passion. 80’s teen movies were my main thing, but this was not an 80’s teen movie in my books. I had heard so much about this “classic sex comedy” but all I saw was a slow-moving, unfunny movie with a terrible synth score by Tangerine Dream. Then a strange thing happened. I gave it another chance and I liked it a little more. Then I watched it again and I liked it even more. Finally, on the fourth viewing, I realized how wrong I was. This movie is an absolute classic. It’s an adult teen movie; mature, observational and patient. This is not some stupid Porky’s-esque gross-out sex comedy where every possible joke is made in total disregard for plot. This is a clearly thought out story of one kid’s rebellion against the man and it took me four tries to be totally blown away by it. And funnily enough, I now count Tangerine Dream’s score as one of my favorite film scores of all time. It’s slow, it’s dreamy and it’s perfect.

The entire cast is great, from Tom Cruise to Rebecca De Mornay, Bronson Pinchot and the always-reliable Joe Pantoliano. But one character always sticks out in my mind: Cruise’s best friend Miles, played by Armstrong. It’s hard to believe this was Armstrong’s debut performance with the amount of comic-timing and confidence it contains. His point in the movie is to push Cruise to say “What the fuck?” and question society’s standards. All Cruise wants to do is get good grades and get into a good university. But Miles pushes on, urging him to order prostitutes and live life on the edge. Easier for him to say, Cruise tells him, he’s already on his way to Stanford. When we hear this line of dialogue, it’s laughable that someone as scrubby looking and rebellious as Miles would be accepted into any university, never mind Stanford. But Armstrong pulls it off and simultaneously makes the movie that much better. It’s the kind of sarcastic/sardonic character that gets me every time, usually played best by the likes of Bill Murray and Jason Lee.