Among the ranks of great sophomoric comedies are films like Animal House, Caddyshack, and Revenge of the Nerds, but you seldom or never hear about a fun little 1984 flick called Up the Creek. It’s a silly but quintessential 80s romp even I would have overlooked if Amazon Prime hadn’t continuously recommended it to me. It’s your classic slobs versus snobs premise; slapstick but charming, with a uniqueness that shines above the dozens if not hundreds of 80s comedies with the same idea. I would go so far as to say it’s the most overlooked comedy in history, but that’s a claim specific to fans of juvenile enjoyment.
The film stars Tim Matheson, fresh off his Animal House fame, as Bob McGraw, a smooth-talking, womanizing slacker who’s been thrown out of 16 previous universities yet still in college working on his English Literature degree. McGraw is well-read, and finds himself inserting classic literature quotes into everyday conversation. Even from the beginning, he has more heart and wit than your average underachieving heartthrob. According to IMDB, the role of McGraw was originally supposed to go to Michael Keaton. After he turned it down for other projects, it was meant for Steve Guttenberg, who then signed onto Police Academy, leaving Up The Creek without a star. My guess is this film would be a lot more known had it starred Keaton (and he would have done a phenomenal job,) and Steve Guttenberg too would have drawn attention. However, Matheson plays a funny, sympathetic, and very likeable lead despite being third choice.
Up The Creek also stars Stephen Furst (of Animal House fame,) Dan Monahan, and Sandy Helberg. Together, they’re forced to represent Lepetomane University, the worst academic institution in the nation, at the annual collegiate white water rafting tournament. Uptight Dean Burch uses McGraw’s tainted past to blackmail the boys into competing, and promises them degrees of their choice if they bring home “Lobotomy” University’s first ever victory in anything.
Their main competition is Ivy University, a crew of four comically preppy blondes who, with the help of Ivy alumnus Dr. Tozer, plan to cheat their way into victory using bombs, torpedos, rocket launchers, and (much less effective) darts. Additionally, they face Washington Military Institute, led by the psychotic Captain Braverman, who gets the crew disqualified before the race for attempting to sabotage other rafts. Braverman has it out for McGraw specifically, who foiled his early plan to destroy rafts by returning an explosive that was meant to blow up several teams’ equipment.
In addition to dangerous, conniving nuts, there’s a crew of beautiful girls who side with McGraw and the boys over their former love interests at Ivy University. The crew’s leader, Heather (played by Jennifer Runyon,) quickly falls for McGraw, and the two gradually develop their connection throughout the all-too-wild race.
Although Up The Creek has its stock characters, it separates itself by giving every character a thoughtful quality. Irwin, for example, is the group’s hopeless dork. He also happens to be an alcoholic who carries a briefcase of pre-made cocktails. Gonzer, the slob who eats everything in sight, is the most kindhearted and well-meaning of the group. The preps at Ivy University are so over-the-top rich, entitled, and nasty they can’t even be compared to other 80s comedy villans. Up The Creek takes cliches, adds a uniqueness, and makes them all-the-more likeable and funny.
Don’t get me wrong, this film is stupid, and intentionally so. Director Robert Butler knew exactly what he was doing. Up The Creek is almost Naked Gun level slapstick, but with more heart. It’s Revenge Of The Nerds juvenile, but more well-meaning. It’s goofiness you can empathize with, and that’s what makes Up The Creek an oddly warm, silly 80s comedy. There’s also plenty of action, as the race itself is quite exciting. All the rafting scenes are impressively shot, and the directing is artful for it being a meaningfully dumb comedy.
Up The Creek is sure to surprise you, as it did me. Throughout my first watch I kept finding myself asking, “How have I never heard of this?” In all my sad, extensive research of 80s comedies I never stumbled across this one on any lists. It took incessant Amazon Prime recommends for me to ever give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. If you’re not sold already, Up The Creek features some of the most outstanding acting from a dog I’ve ever seen – a noteworthy performance from McGraw’s pup. With all that said, Up The Creek is a must-watch for 80s comedy fans, or anyone simply looking for a lighthearted, nonsensical flick. Don’t sleep any longer. Get on Amazon prime and watch this criminally /best-1980s-comedy-movies-list/overlooked 80s treasure.