Your ability to enjoy Foolin’ Around depends entirely upon your willingness to accept a young Gary Busey as a romantic lead. Still in the afterglow of his Oscar nomination for The Buddy Holly Story (1978), he’s at the apex of his affability and talent here, so he delivers punchlines well enough and infuses dramatic scenes with real feeling. Yet he’s still Gary Busey, a massive galoot with possibly the world’s largest teeth and more than a little glint of madness in his eyes. Watching him romance delicately pretty Annette O’Toole, it’s difficult not to fear for her safety, especially when they’re making out in the back of a panel van. Still, it’s only fair to attempt watching this movie with 1980 eyes, before the more extreme aspects of Busey’s public persona took root. Directed with his usual indifferent professionalism by Richard T. Heffron, Foolin’ Around is a slick piece of work, benefiting from fine production values, glossy photography, and terrific supporting players.
The action begins at a college in Minnesota, where Oklahoma boy Wes (Busey) shows up for his first year of studies. Seeking part-time work, he signs up for an science experiment overseen by fellow student Susan (O’Toole), and he falls for her almost instantly. She declines his advances because she’s engaged to golden-boy businessman Whitley (John Calvin), who works for the company founded by Susan’s grandfather, Daggett (Eddie Albert), and operated by her mother, Samantha (Cloris Leachman). Over the course of the story, Wes draws Susan into an affair that threatens her impending marriage. While Samantha tries to prevent Wes from seeing Susan, he finds an advocate in Daggett, who likes Wes’ heartland gumption.
Not a single frame of Foolin’ Around will surprise anyone who’s ever seen a romantic comedy, but the movie goes down smoothly. Busey is likeably upbeat, O’Toole is wholesomely sexy, sunny tunes performed by Seals and Crofts enliven the soundtrack, the story moves along at a brisk pace, and colorful vignettes add novelty. A young William H. Macy plays a shifty used-book salesman, Albert and Leachman deliver nuanced work despite playing clichéd roles, and Tony Randall gives a weird performance as Samantha’s vulgarity-spewing butler. (Randall seems like he’s in a totally different movie.) Lest all this praise give the wrong impression, Foolin’ Around disappoints as often as not, thanks to insipid physical comedy on the order of crotch hits, a hang-glider ride, and a sequence spoofing Rocky (1976). About the highest praise possible is that it’s a palatable flick for viewers able to groove with the Busey of it all.
Foolin’ Around: FUNKY