“What happened to kickboxing?” are the first words uttered in the movie Teresa’s Tattoo. Unfortunately it isn’t a philosophical question, and the following 88 minutes aren’t a meditation on violence as art, and the ways in which humans try to replace war with sport, but ultimately it isn’t enough so we continue to kill each other and the cycle never ends. Instead, one of the gangsters who kidnapped Gloria has money on the fight, and he wants to switch the channel back. Gloria is sent outside and left to her own devices (which is not a good thing to let a hostage do, even when she doesn’t realize she’s a hostage), where she bounces on a mini-trampoline next to an indoor swimming pool, until an errant giant beach ball sends her flying off, apparently hitting her head and then drowning in the pool. Anthony Clark should have listened to his fellow gangster: the first rule of hostage taking is that you tie them up.
This sends Teresa’s Tattoo on a journey involving a dragon chest tattoo, mistaken identity, the FBI, NASA, a lesbian hooker party, Joe Pantoliano as a cigar smoking computer scientist, holograph earrings, and Mr. Carl’s Pizza Pillows. But before we get into it let’s take a look at this cast.
Adrienne Shelly, C. Thomas Howell, Sean Astin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Diedrich Bader, k.d. lang, Nancy McKeon (Joe from Facts of Life), Anthony Clark, Casey Siemaszko (Young Guns & 3-D in Back to the Future), Kiefer Sutherland, Tippi Hedron, Melissa Etheridge, Mare Winningham, Jonathan Silverman, Joey Pants, Mary Kay Place, Majel Barrett (computer in Star Trek and widow of Gene Roddenberry), Matt Adler (Lewis in Teen Wolf), and Melissa Etheridge also provided the songs.
A movie in 1994 with that cast should have easily made over $50 million and became a cult classic. It didn’t. It’s hard to say why, but if I had to guess I would probably go with it not being particularly well written or shot, interesting, or funny. That was probably the movie’s Achilles’ heel.
It’s a bad movie, but it’s also a very difficult movie to find, so I should at least provide a short plot synopsis for you. As I mentioned, the movie begins with Anthony Clark and Matt Adler holding Gloria (Adrienne Shelly’s first role in the movie) hostage while they wait for their boss, played by C. Thomas Howell. Their plan was to exchange her for holographs stolen from a NASA facility that contained all of the plans for space exploration for the next century. Since Gloria doesn’t make for a very good hostage as a corpse, the gangsters throw a lesbian hooker party (the movie’s words) in an effort to locate a suitable replacement.
Adrienne Shelly’s other role, Teresa, is a math Ph.D. student who lives with her friend Joe Pantoliano. Jonathan Silverman is also introduced as a friend of Joey Pants who accidentally stood Teresa up. Teresa and her friend Sara (Nancy McKeon) go out looking for fun, tag along to the lesbian hooker party, and the gangsters drug them after realizing that Teresa looks an awful lot like Gloria. Teresa wakes up the next day with a tattoo, new hair color, and a pleather outfit.
The gangsters go to make the exchange with Lou Diamond Phillips and Casey Siemaszko (Gloria’s brother), but Teresa runs away, then the gangsters crash and Teresa is taken into custody. Diedrich Bader poses as a cop and takes her statement, and it’s later revealed that he’s a FBI agent who hired the gangsters to kidnap Gloria so they could retrieve the stolen NASA holographs (which are in the form of earrings, and still on Gloria’s corpse, but that comes a bit later). Jonathan Silverman leaves jail with Teresa to find Sara at Mr. Carl’s (C. Thomas Howell) Frozen Food Factory. While there, they find Gloria and the earrings and send C. Thomas Howell and Anthony Clark to the hospital (after spotting Diedrich Bader plotting with C. Thomas) where they remain for the rest of the movie. The rest of the movie is Teresa and Sara trying to get home, with Lou Diamond and Casey chasing after them. Jonathan Silverman is captured by Diamond and Casey, gets away, is captured again, Sara and Teresa make it back to Teresa’s house and she and Joey Pants send all of the NASA plans to the school computer, the FBI shows up and a showdown ensues, and finally Teresa reveals to Diedrich Bader that he can’t cover it up because she’s set a voice control prompt allowing her to send all of the NASA information to the press if anything happens to her. The movie ends, the good guys win, Teresa still has a tattoo.
If that synopsis doesn’t make a ton of sense, it’s probably because I am bad at summarizing movies. Also, the plot itself isn’t super clear, so oh well.
I think it’s pretty clear that the movie was aiming for a campy chase movie, as evidenced by all of the cameos and some stylistic decisions, none of which worked. The first failed stylistic decision happened during a shootout, where every time a shot was fired the movie cut to a cartoon onomatopoeia word (“Blam”), like in the Batman television series. The other super dumb stylistic choice, which was repeated throughout the movie, was title cards announcing transitions in the movie, that were read out loud by a narrator. All of them were unnecessary, but the most annoyingly unnecessary one was the one that said “cameo” and then the movie cut to Kiefer Sutherland playing a cop at a sobriety checkpoint. Yes, it was self-aware, but that didn’t make it not dumb. Also Kiefer has been arrested multiple times for DUI, including in 1993, so I’m sure that’s why the particular role was chosen for him. Again, dumb.
If I didn’t mention any of the other prominently listed actors who had cameos, it’s probably because they didn’t do anything worth mentioning. And again, I’m bad at summarizing movies.
That’s pretty much all I want to say about this movie that exists, so let’s wrap up. My positive takeaways from the movie were that Adrienne Shelly was a joy to watch on-screen, and it’s terrible that she’s no longer with us. Joe Pantoliano’s character was fun. It isn’t often that he gets to play a light role, so that was nice to see.
As I said, it’s pretty much impossible to find unless you have an all region DVD player, because it was never released on DVD in the United States, just in the UK. It’s also available on VHS, and via other means.
Two more facts to leave on. The director of the movie is Julie Cypher. She is Lou Diamond Phillips’s ex-wife, and she left him for Melissa Etheridge. There must not have been any hard feelings since the split happened in 1990 and they all got together to make this. The other one is that the movie was dedicated to the memories of Fred Gwynne and Brandon Lee. As far as I can tell, neither one of them had anything to do with this production or team, so I guess they were just the favorite recently deceased actors of the production staff.
So that’s Teresa’s Tattoo. Don’t bother.