The late-80s Christian Slater vehicle “Gleaming the Cube” must have arisen out of the most breathless Hollywood pitch meeting in history. A California skateboarding punk teen (Slater) whose parents just don’t understand him avenges his adopted Vietnamese brother’s murder by some Vietnamese toughs that work for a shady arms dealer who’s posing as a legit pharmaceuticals salesman.
Out of breath yet? Too bad. We need a love story. Slater also falls for the dead brother’s girlfriend, who’s also Vietnamese; she rejects him not only because he’s white and her father (who happens to be one of the shady pharmaceutical execs) forbids mixed-race relationships, but because of his pierced ears and dyed hair and freaky wardrobe. So for about 1/3 of “Gleaming the Cube,” we see Slater in full-on preppie mode as he tries to clean up his act for the girl…and his parents. It is Slater who apologizes for being a disobedient son, not his parents who apologize for rejecting him, and for awhile we assume “Gleaming the Cube” will turn out like one of those old Billy Graham propaganda films, peddling a conservative, father-knows-best agenda while pretending to tout everything hip about those darned teens. But never fear–by the climax, Slater may be a little more conventional as far as his fashion sense goes, but he nonetheless returns to his skateboarding ways, skyrocketing over highways and creating a bodacious vehicle smash-up.
That’s not all. We need some salty “48 Hours”-type banter between this young misfit and a jaded cop (Steven Bauer), who of course tries for the entire movie to get Slater to back off the murder case before inevitably admiring his outlaw spirit and befriending him by film’s end. This means we get lots of wisecracks from Slater, the best of which make absolutely no sense: (“If I had a dog with a face like yours, I’d shave his ass and teach him to walk backwards!”)
Oh, and there are warehouse explosions. Dumb cops locked in portable offices that of course tip over. More warehouse explosions. Plugs for Pizza Hut (the final chase involves a Pizza Hut truck). And skaters that talk in all the latest California slang (but all five of the skaters in Slater’s crew combined don’t add up to the goofy energy of Bill and Ted alone).
Director Graeme Clifford tries to make some of this nonsense serious. There’s a subplot about the Vietnamese girl’s father trying to shed his Communist roots and assimilate in America, and the tragedies of him having to involve himself with a crime outfit to do so. But mostly, this is a silly popcorn thriller that isn’t quite campy enough to entertain fans of the “so-bad-it’s-good” genre. It does, however, give three types of female Christian Slater fans the chance to gawk at him in three incarnations: preppie Slater, punk Slater, Slater Slater.