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The teen sex comedy is an ideal exploitation movie formula: all you need is some practical jokes, some pop tunes and plenty of nudity (the cheapest special effect and one of the best).

This subgenre’s heyday was the early 1980’s, when it seemed like there was a new jiggle & chuckle opus at the multiplex every week. The smarter schlock merchants pushed the formula’s boundaries to stand out from the pack, resulting in some amusing mutations. The most unforgettable from the pack to Schlockmania is The Last American Virgin, an early production from the Golan & Globus era of Cannon Films.

This film is a remake of Lemon Popsicle, a Golan and Globus-produced Israeli hit comedy about the travails of a horny teen buddy trio in the ’50s.  Cannon hired the same writer/director, Boaz Davidson, and had him update it to 80’s era Los Angeles, but the plot remains the same.  Like the original version, it’s built around a trio of teen buddies with specific personas: there’s sensitive Gary (Lawrence Monoson), studly Rick (Steve Antin), and heavyset comic relief David (Joe Rubbo).

This trio of sex comedy musketeers spend all their time scheming about how to get laid and pulling pranks. However, there is a disturbance in this smutty status quo when new student Karen (Diane Franklin) enters the scene. She turns Gary’s head but its Rick who’s got the moves to reel her in. He gets her pregnant, kickstarting a chain of events that take the movie in a different direction from the expected boobs and belly laughs.

The Last American Virgin is fascinating because it is the Jekyll & Hyde of the teen comedy genre.  One minute, it’s all gags: the most memorable are a bizarre penis-measuring contest in the locker room (with an even more bizarre winner) and attempt to score with a saucy pizza-delivery customer played by b-movie vet Louisa Moritz.  Such scenes are delivered with a certain Benny Hill-ish aplomb.  There are also some rather involved sight gags: the best-engineered is a bit where two couples making out in a convertible by the beach fail accidentally unlock the parking brake, thus sending them rolling into the surf.

Such hijinks soften you up for The Last American Virgin‘s hidden agenda.  Once you are laughing over something like the aforementioned gags, you get slapped in the face with something very dramatic.  A particularly grim moment comes when the boys find a hooker: she’s a bitter, angry harridan who taunts them and browbeats them through their short lived moments of ecstasy.  Another nasty stunner is the scene where Steve seduces Karen. Although a smooth ballad flows on the soundtrack, the scene shows the dark side of teen sex: she’s scared, he’s predatory and the end result is tough to watch instead of erotic.

And those moments aren’t the only shocks The Last American Virgin has in store for you.  The ending is one of the most unexpected in teen sex comedy history. Schlockmania won’t reveal its details, except to say that it is more honest about teenage behavior than any mainstream Hollywood film would ever have the guts to be. Those who see it never forget it.

This see-saw act works for a couple of reasons. Unlike a lot of sex comedy filmmakers, the people behind the camera here had a lot of experience and a solid template that worked elsewhere in the international marketplace.  Davidson directs with color and confidence, aided considerably by the glossy photography of future Terminator cinematographer Adam Greenberg and a surprisingly expansive array of pop songs by artists as diverse as The Cars, REO Speedwagon and The Commodores (there’s even a catchy original theme song by Tommy Tutone of “867-5309 (Jenny)” fame.  The slick, of-the-moment commercialism that the film is packaged with goes a long way towards helping you ride out its mood swings.

The other reason the film’s tonal change-ups connect is because it has a cast that can role with the punches.  Monoson makes a believably sensitive and awkward audience identification figure (he was actually 16 years old when this was shot) and Davidson uses expressive close-ups of his reactions to sell the film’s shifts into high drama.  Elsewhere, Antin cuts an appropriately arrogant figure of cocky teenage machismo and Rubbo makes a more likeable than normal source of comic relief.  Franklin was one of the more underrated actresses from this era of teen fare and her ability to convey the right emotion for the film’s tonal shifts – romantic, tragic, etc. – is impressive here.  Twin Peaks fans will also want to keep an eye out for Kimmy Robertson in a brief role here: she’d already perfected her “cute nerd” style.

In short, The Last American Virgin has outlived a lot of its competitors in the ’80s teen sex comedy sweepstakes because it delivered a lot more than the audience bargained for. Don’t let the bright colors and the pop hit soundtrack fool you: this little lark harbors a sting in its tail.