One of the magical experiences in schlock filmmaking is seeing a throwaway film that catches you off-guard with its sense of adventure. Even if a film is ground out purely for profit motives, it can be exhilarating if the right blends of energy, guttersnipe invention and likeable cast members are involved. Fly Me is a good example of what happens when the right elements fall together in a quickie: it’s daft and it’s cheap but it’s also paced like a bullet train and full of unpredictable entertainment for the schlock fiend.
Fly Me was an early attempt by New World Pictures to transpose its nurse flick formula — simply put, an ensemble drama built around three female leads with plenty of sex and soap opera plotting — to another setting. In the case of Fly Me, nurses are replaced with stewardesses, presumably in an attempt to cash in on the success of the 3-D, X-rated hit The Stewardesses. The facts that it was shot in the Philippines (standing in for both China and Japan at different times) and features a handful of scenes with the then-hot element of kung fu fights just add extra spice to this overheated combo.
These are the basic plot threads set up by screenwriter Miller Drake: Toby (Pat Anderson) is the new stewardess who wants to get frisky with a hot-to-trot doctor (Richard Young) but is constantly frustrated by the presence of her meddling Italian-American mother (Naomi Stevens). Meanwhile, veteran stewardess/kung-fu enthusiast Andrea (Lenore Kasdorf) is baffled when her Hong Kong boyfriend has suddenly disappeared and she finds herself trailed by martial arts thugs. She’s also got to deal with the attentions of a mysterious new would-be suitor Chiang (Pat Munzon). Finally, Sherry (Lyllah Torena) is involved in a drug smuggling ring but finds herself captured when she skims off the top and in danger of becoming a sex slave.
In other words, this is one crazy hodgepodge of exploitation-flick elements. Toby’s plot thread plays like an episode of a sitcom spiced up with R-rated nudity, Andrea’s plot thread plays like a hastily assembled cash-in on the kung-fu movie trend (complete with hastily assembled action scenes) and Sherry’s plot thread seems to have wandered in from a rougher, meaner sexploitation film. On the latter note, the final reel that brings everything together goes full sleazeploitation, feeling like the dénouement from something Lee Frost and Bob Cresse might have dreamt up.
This whiplash-inducing cocktail of low humor, cheesecake, awful kung-fu and roughie-style S&M elements shouldn’t work… but somehow, it manages to play like gangbusters. The madcap tone-shifting and adrenalized pace of the script ensures that the audience is always kept on its feet, wondering what goofball flourish will hit them next, and Cirio Santiago’s patented speedy, no-frills style of direction just amplifies these qualities. It helps that he maximizes the film’s production value by using the Philippines to picturesque effect. In fairness, a little credit must go to a young Jonathan Demme, who shot (but didn’t choreograph) those wacky fight scenes, including a pretty hilarious one that features a blind blow-dart assassin(!).
It also helps that the cast is quite likeable. Anderson shows a genuine skill for light comedy, Kasdorf offers a solid dramatic turn in the most serious of the plot threads and skin-flick veteran Torena is suitably uninhibited in a role that requires to be endlessly bedeviled while topless. Young makes a solid romantic lead, showing a nice chemistry with Anderson, and even Stevens’ shameless mugging ultimately becomes charming, even though she sounds more Jewish than Italian. New World fans should also keep an eye out for a fun cameo from Dick Miller as a randy cab driver and Santiago regulars Ken Metcalfe and Vic Diaz sleazing it up in supporting roles.
Simply put, Fly Me is the kind of goofball exploitation quickie that wins you over in spite of your better judgement — and if you’re willing to follow along with its spur-of-the-moment surprises, it can be wildly entertaining. Gather together some like-minded trashfiends for the best effect… by the end, you’ll probably all be hooting and hollering at its go-for-broke approach to skin, sin and cheap laughs.