It’s probably hard to imagine here and now, but there was a point in time where the conventional wisdom was that Madonna was a flash-in-the-pan artist, and Cyndi Lauper would be the one to stand the test of time. This, of course, did not turn out the be case, but as Cyndi Lauper’s music career was losing steam, she decided the best course of action was to follow Madonna’s path and supplement it with an acting career. Somehow this led to her starring in Vibes, a movie that probably wouldn’t have been made without the novelty of putting Cyndi Lauper in the lead role. But, mind you, “Cyndi Lauper in the lead role” never became a common sentence in pop culture.
This is a pretty wacky, surreal movie, involving psychic powers and Incan ruins, and unless someone was trying to capitalize on a late-in-the-game Ghostbusters kind of thing, I don’t know how this movie was made.
So: Sylvia (Lauper) and Nick (Jeff Goldblum) are both psychics. Sylvia’s powers are that she has a spirit guide named Lucille who communicates with the dead or astrally projects her, or otherwise does roughly whatever the plot needs Cyndi Lauper to do at any given point. Goldblum is a psychometric, meaning he reads the history of objects by touching them. Sylvia is crass, coasting through life, and generally something of a loser, though its worth pointing out that she specifically doesn’t use her powers for cheap profit or screwing people over. She’s a loser with a heart of gold. Nick is more educated and refined—because he’s Jeff Goldblum—whose powers are more in the gift/curse territory. He’s not taken seriously in his job at the museum, where he’s expected to do party tricks. And he finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him when he picks up her underwear. (“This underwear was held by another man.” “My brother did my laundry.” “Your brother scored two goals that night? And an assist?” “I knew I should have burned that pair.” There’s something fundamentally hysterical about Goldblum’s delivery of “And an assist?”)
The two of them meet when they get involved in a psychic study run by Julian Sands, where they’re the best two in the group. Meanwhile, Sylvia gets contacted by Harry (Peter Faulk), who wants to hire her to help find his missing son in the Andes mountains in Peru. Sylvia doesn’t think she can do it alone, so she convinces Nick to join in. Given aforementioned party tricks and cheating girlfriend, Nick’s in. And it’s adventure time!
They get to Peru, and things get hairy. First they spot someone else from the study, which leads to awkward, “So, what are you doing in Peru?” “What are YOU doing in Peru?” stuff. Then a half-naked Elizabeth Peña tries to kill Nick. Which leads Nick and Sylvia to say, “Maybe this isn’t about a missing kid”. After Harry tries to muddle through some lies (which doesn’t work well, because: psychics), he fesses up to really being a treasure hunter, looking for an Incan “Room of Gold”. This whole middle bit is coupled with some wacky sequences involving Goldblum and Lauper dancing, and Lauper channeling an assassin’s dead mother so he won’t kill them.
Eventually they’re on the path to the hidden Incan temple, but then they come across the other psychic from the study again, and he’s travelling with Dr. Julian Sands. Julian Sands turns out to be the bad guy here, which is not a shock to anyone who’s seen Julian Sands in anything. He kills Harry, mostly because he’s a jerk. Seriously, for two thirds of the movie, Harry is sort of this lovable scamp, as only Peter Faulk could pull off, and then BAM. Julian Sands kills him dead just to be a jerk.
So Sylvia and Nick are brought to the Incan temple at gunpoint, where there’s a pyramid of raw psychic power, and shit more or less goes down. You get Jeff Goldblum saying, “Of course I know how to handle a machine gun. I was the captain of the machine gun team in high school.” You get Cyndi Lauper possessed, saying things like, “This is the tip of God’s arrow.” Bad guys are routed (or vaporized by pure psychic juju), and a bit of romance is tacked onto the end, and everything ends up as best as could be hoped for.
The romance really is tacked on, which is a shame, since Lauper and Goldblum actually have a rather nice platonic energy between them. There’s a rather nice bit in the middle—when they’re at the hotel—when they both have spotted attractive people that they’re interested in (the aforementioned murderous, half-naked Elizabeth Peña in the case of Goldblum), and rather sweetly help each other score their potential paramours. Nick then screws up Sylvia’s, but only because he presumed it was going to turn as murderous as his own did.
Given that the movie’s primary writer mostly only has episodes of “In Search Of…” and “Ancient Aliens” in her writing credits, I think she took this stuff pretty seriously. There was probably a movie somewhere in there that was a serious thing about psychics and ancient Incan power, but it got retooled to star Cyndi Lauper, and there you go. Though, in all fairness: Cyndi Lauper’s acting is fine. I mean, she’s playing a part that’s more or less in line with the Cyndi Lauper persona (and Goldblum is at his most distilled Goldblumian), but it’s not something she does a bad job with. But it’s nothing special, and by 1988, “Starring Cyndi Lauper” was not going to give your movie more credibility.
Vibes kind of fascinates me, though, because this is the kind of movie that could never, ever have been made any time other than the ‘80s. You would never see a movie like it today. Well, scratch that: you would, but only if they were explicitly making a remake of this movie, starring Ke$ha or something.
Dear Hollywood People: I would totally watch a remake of Vibes starring Ke$ha. Many, many, many times.