by Anthony King
In the 1980s, according to the movies, it was every man's dream to become a pimp. Or a “business manager.” Or, as Billy Blaze so eloquently puts it in Night Shift, “Pimp is an ugly word. We could call ourselves 'love brokers.'” So, as a young man in the '80s you either wanted to get laid (Porky's, Revenge of the Nerds, My Tutor, et al.) or you wanted to help other people get laid (Night Shift, Doctor Detroit, Risky Business). Cocaine and sex. Life was so much simpler back then.
The opening frame of Ron Howard's Night Shift shows a woman's legs and high heel-clad feet walking past a shoe store where the camera expertly frames the store's sign to read “Emperor Hoes.” This, set to a catchy theme song written by Burt Bacharach and performed by Quarterflash, lets me know why I put faith in the opinions of people like Brian Saur, John Cribbs, and Brian Salisbury. As the song fades out we cut to a chase scene where two thugs (one being comedian Richard Belzer) are chasing a pimp (obvious from his hat). The pimp is thrown out of a window five stories up and smashes through a basketball hoop. So, within the first five minutes we get Emperor Hoes, Burt Bacharach, and a pimp swish. This movie is for everyone.
Billy Blaze, on the other hand, is another example of the characters Keaton excelled at playing before getting “serious” in Clean and Sober. Night Shift, Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, The Squeeze, and even The Dream Team showcased a Keaton we rarely, if ever, see nowadays. He had a manic energy that could have very well been fueled by cocaine (hello '80s!), but by all accounts, it was just pure, unfiltered, Keaton puissance. (According to a 2017 Guardian interview, “Keaton is not a straight Q&A kind of guy; his approach to conversation is a little like his eyebrows, looping in memorable and unexpected directions.”) Billy shows up to work every night with a different pair of hip sunglasses, he's an idea man – feed tuna mayonnaise so you don't have to mix it in yourself, edible paper, microwaved clothing – and after C&B Enterprises takes off he buys a car with a rolodex hanging down from his visor and vanity plates that read IM COOL. Like, say, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in The Producers, Winkler and Keaton match each other's energy but from completely different ends of the universe.