Being raised Catholic and attending Catholic grade school it was made abundantly clear to me that if I was a good boy and followed The Ten Commandments I would go to heaven when I died. If I was mostly good, but not perfect, I would have to spend some time in purgatory first, but eventually, I would make it to heaven. But if I was a bad boy and didn’t attend church services every week (preferably with my church donation envelope) I would absolutely, positively burn in hell!
1985’s The Heavenly Kid reinforced what I had learned but put a twist on the realms of the Afterlife… heaven is Uptown, hell is Downtown and purgatory is… you guessed it… Midtown.
The movie begins sometime in the 1960s in the moments before a chicken race between high school rivals Bobby Fantana (Lewis Smith, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai) and Joe Barnes (Mark Metcalf, Animal House). The whole thing is a machismo-filled pissing contest, but Bobby tells himself it is an act of chivalry and he is defending the honor of his girlfriend Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), who doesn’t want Bobby to go through with the race. Bobby should have listened to Emily because he wins the race but loses his life when he can’t get out of his car and he plunges to his death.
When we next see Bobby he is on the Midtown subway train with an interesting assortment of passengers of all ages and seemingly from different points in history. What Bobby doesn’t realize at this point is that he and everyone else on the train are among the dearly departed. When the train stops, Bobby attempts to take the escalator to Uptown, but he is denied passage and that’s when Rafferty comes roaring in on his motorcycle. Rafferty is played by the amiable Richard Mulligan and serves as a caseworker for souls that aren’t quite ready for Uptown.
Rafferty gives Bobby the 411 on what has happened to him and what Bobby is going to have to do to go Uptown. Bobby’s assignment is to serve as a guardian angel of sorts for awkward high schooler Lenny (Jason Gedrick, Iron Eagle). Bobby is reluctant, but he wants to go Uptown, so he agrees to the guardian angel gig and it isn’t long before Rafferty is transporting Bobby down to a Florida that is much different than the one Bobby departed.
It is the classic “fish out of water” moment as Bobby gets acquainted with the fashion and music of the 1980s. Rafferty goes over the dos and don’ts of Bobby’s assignment, including the #1 rule that Bobby is only to reveal himself to his assignment, Lenny.
And speaking of Lenny, we get our first look at him as he bumbles his way through his job at the local burger joint. But it is not all bad for Lenny, in fact it is obvious his co-worker Melissa (Nancy Valen) is sweet on him. Unfortunately, Lenny doesn’t see the good thing that is right in front of him and is instead infatuated with the most popular girl at his high school, Sharon. The same Sharon who is dating the school’s most popular guy and #1 bully, Fred Gallo. Lenny ends up getting fired from his job after he is tripped by Fred’s buddy and dumps an entire tray of food on Sharon… Lenny feels lower than low at this point and Bobby realizes he has his work cut out for him… or does he?
The next day we find out that in addition to Sharon, another of Lenny’s interests is poetry. In fact, Lenny loves to ride his bike out to the ridge and read poetry… but on this occasion, Lenny’s awkwardness nearly kills him as he is not paying attention and he gets too close to the edge and falls off… but Bobby is at the bottom to catch him. A life saved has to equal an invite to Uptown right?? Wrong!
Rafferty tells Bobby his assignment is to be Lenny’s friend and boost Lenny’s sense of self-worth. Bobby’s first challenge is convincing Lenny that he is in fact his guardian angel. Bobby’s second challenge is much easier, as he gives Lenny a makeover via a trying on clothes montage!
Next up, Lenny is going to need some wheels. A trip to the junkyard and some angel magic is all that is needed before the “new and improved” Lenny is out cruising the main drag with a car full of young ladies and walking into school brimming with confidence. Lenny has so much confidence that he ends up successfully asking Sharon out on a date… and while some girls might not put out on the first date, Sharon is not one of them.
At this point, Bobby has the revelation that Sharon may not be the right girl for Lenny. But Bobby and Lenny still celebrate Lenny’s farewell to his virginity by drinking a bunch of beer and getting drunk. Bobby gets inebriated Lenny home well past curfew and that’s when Bobby is hit with some real revelations including Lenny’s mom is Bobby’s girl Emily AND Emily ended up marrying Bobby’s rival, Joe Barnes!
But perhaps the most shocking revelation of them all, Bobby realizes he has turned sweet and innocent Lenny into a teenage monster and if Bobby doesn’t do something it looks like history will repeat itself after Lenny agrees to chicken race Fred at the quarry… the site of Bobby’s horrific death nearly two decades earlier.
The Heavenly Kid is a little slice of 80’s movie heaven that feels like it has been largely forgotten. And while most of the visual effects do not hold up (the scene where Bobby and Lenny get high is especially bad), the story told and the lessons learned in The Heavenly Kid are timeless.