Two hippies (Roberts and Marin) flee into the jungle to avoid the FBI. Twenty years later they re-emerge with less brain cells, more addictions, and a couple of high horses about the state of 80's America.
Rude Awakening is the first of seven films from Aaron Russo's newly launched independent production company. Russo, who promoted The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin in the 70s clearly has a strong personal attachment to the times, and Neil Levy's story carries some of the craziness that enlivened his contributions to Saturday Night Live, but the film isn't sharply observed enough to carry you through its wincing subtext.
It's 1969: Hesus and Fred split to South America 'cause the feds are on their tail. Man, the revolution's getting closer every day but they gotta grab their stash and then lay low till the heat's off.
Reappearing in New York 20 years later bearing secret CIA documents that prove the U.S. is about to wage war on a tiny South American republic, and determined to expose the plot, Fred (Eric Roberts) and Hesus (the inimitable Cheech Marin) find that things have, well...changed. Fred's girlfriend, Petra (Julie Hagerty) has given up her splatter painting to become a black-clad fashion designer hooked on analysis and gorging on junk food, while Sammy (Robert Carradine) has ditched his dream of writing, and hitched himself to a hideous social climber (Cindy Williams). Only their friend Ronnie and arch enemy, agent Brubaker (Cliff DeYoung in an outrageous performance) have remained true to their stated aims of 20 years ago.
There are some bright, funny moments when Fred and Petra are finally reunited he explains that he spent the last 20 years in the jungle getting it on with anything he could tempt with a piece of fruit, to which she replies touchingly: "A safe, single man". The scene when they confront Sammy as he and his awful wife are being interviewed as prospective tenants for an exclusive apartment block also works well on a local, personal level the pair genuinely embody a happy anarchy that's in pleasing contrast with the self-obsessed, grasping denizens of the 80s.
However, the staggering ineptitude of Hesus and Fred makes the upbeat ending just too hard to swallow and worse, when making its grander pronouncements, Rude Awakening sidesteps the fact that these bozos have spent the last 20 years stoned out of their heads in the jungle, and look as though they need a sign over their beds that says "first flares, then sandals".
With ideals higher than it's leading men, this film can only fall short, failing to back up its flimsy philosophising.