Do you remember Adam Coleman Howard? He is and shall forever be best known for his debut role as Joshua Greer, James Remar’s rambunctious murdering manchild sidekick in Quiet Cool. Three years passed before he returned to the big screen in Slaves of New York, a Merchant/Ivory production in which he plays a mustachioed artist and asshole boyfriend/manchild opposite hat designer Bernadette Peters. His next movie was 1990’s Pacific Palisades, in which he most likely plays the same role, but this time with ’80s character actor Anne Curry and future Bond girl Sophie Marceau.
I say “most likely” because there aren’t clips of it online. This is shit you can’t even find on THE INTERNET. The same was true of 1991’s No Secrets. No Secrets is a movie about three sixteen-year-old girls who invite ACH’s enigmatic and buff character, Manny Corea, into their cabin. (I made that spelling up; it might be Correa, Korea, Cuhreeuh, who knows it doesn’t matter.) For the girls, this results in much seduction, mistrust, and personal growth. Viewers, however, may experience feelings varying from deathly boredom to madness.
But unless you have your VCR handy, you won’t be able to see for yourself. This movie never made it off VHS, stamped UNWORTHY OF TRANSFER by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video and tossed carelessly aside. How many others met the same fate, relics of technology left to rot in someone’s collection until thrown up on Amazon or eBay for a fraction of their true worth? What will be lost in the transition from DVD to Blu-Ray? What gems may never be discovered?
Fortunately, No Secrets is no gem. It’s one of only three movies produced by a long-defunct company called Curb Communications, and was co-produced by a gentleman named John Hardy, in need of a swift cool-down after working on Steven Soderbergh’s breakthrough, Sex, Lies, and Videotape. (Or, he saw the magic of Adam Coleman Howard, and knew he needed to hitch his wagon to that star right quick! Both seem possible.) No Secrets opened just weeks ahead of Madonna: Truth or Dare and Hudson Hawk in summer 1991. “Surely,” one wise producer must’ve surmised, “this taut thriller, the English-language film debut of a Hungarian writer/director about three teenagers and Ann Landers’ grandson will hold its own against a documentary featuring the world’s biggest pop star and that dude from MOONLIGHTING. (Raucous, arrogant laughter.)” Hollywood seems like a magical place. [ACH really is the grandson of Eppie Lederer, writer of “Ask Ann Landers.”]
No Secrets is a stupid, stupid movie. It’s aiming for this eerie River’s Edge-esque sexy thriller/morality tale area, but fails so miserably that as you watch it, you literally feel the time slipping from your life like sand between your fingers. It has no spooky David Lynch-ian allure; it’s not the intense erotic thriller about three girls testing the bonds of friendship it thinks it is; it’s certainly not the dark, complex romance about self-discovery that it has the potential to be. It’s nothing. But this nothingness is not entirely bleak, for there was Adam Coleman Howard, and lo, he was good.
The plot of the movie: three longtime girlfriends – they’re all from Brentwood, CA, which is made clear because it shows they’re all well-off and of good familial standing, not that this actually matters – have been drifting apart, but were talked into spending “spring vacation” together at the family cabin of Claire, the dowdiest of the girlfriends. They dress like their personalities, so it’s easy to keep them straight. Red sweater blonde hair Jen is SEXY but INSECURE. Leather jacket and sort-of-dreadlocks Sam is CONFIDENT and COOL but also INSECURE. Khaki-to-the-bone Claire is REALLY DOWDY. And Adam Coleman Howard is Manny, the wildcard stranger who had been squatting in the cabin. He evades detection and fakes a bicycle accident out front, so the girls foolishly invite him in and allow him to stay. “I’ll show you a week you’ll never forget,” he promises, of course. One by one, they all fall for him, then reject his mysterious wiles, and I guess probably learn something meaningful. Despite some close calls, no virginities are lost.
The sole driving factor here is mystery. None of the girls know who Manny really is; for a long time no one really seems to be worried besides dowdy ol’ Claire, and even she gives in eventually. But this isn’t so great for the audience – nearly the entire movie passes before we learn that Manny deserted the Army after beating his drill sergeant to death. With nunchucks. How exciting! But it’s withheld in favor of so many scenes in which ACH acts completely fucking bananas for no reason besides to sell the idea that these girls would find him strangely compelling.
Even for the film’s simplest subdued moments – sitting on a couch or looking pensively at one of the girls or drinking orange juice from the bottle – Howard gives it 1000%, just really acting the shit out of each and every one. The viewer sees, with pained clarity, the choices he has made and his commitment to those choices. He so thoroughly lacks the quality of naturalness that most great actors are praised for that ACH somehow becomes the greatest actor of all. He peels the craft’s worn, crackling layers away from the body and exposes cold flesh to warm light.
“But Phil,” you may be saying, “what the fuck are you talking about?” Example: after he convinces the girls to let him stay, they demand to be entertained. Because he is “very entertaining,” this is easy. Immediately he drops to a crouch and mutters, “Did you guys know there are GOBLINS in this part of the country?” He retrieves the aforementioned nunchucks from the back of his pants, where they’d been resting comfortably for what must have been hours.
“What are those?” one of the girls, probably dowdy Claire, asks.
“These’re goblin getters.”
Then he starts screaming and swinging the nunchucks around until the room is goblin-free. It’s a mindblowing sequence, and as close as No Secrets gets to provoking intrigue. Like nearly every other scene in the movie, it’s too long, though not as interminable as Manny’s one-on-one scenes with each girl. Claire, Sam, and Jen all get away for some alone-time with Manny, and it’s always awful. Each relationship is less believable than the last.
The unbelievable-ness extends to way the girls interact with each other, too. There’s no mistaking any of them for friends, whether they’re talking intimately about their shared past or dancing together to nondescript faux-Phil Collins songs. Maybe that’s the point, since they’re supposed to be “estranged” friends? And that tension is meant to push every single line to a maximally awkward level? (“NO SECRETS, Jennifer – did ya fuck him!?”) But it’s hard to give that much credit to a movie like this. Most terrible films are neither self-aware nor competent enough to reach such depths.
It’s no secret that Adam Coleman Howard is what drives this movie. He’s like Nicolas Cage doing an impression of Cosmo Kramer. He’s completely inhuman. But for whatever reason, Manny is not the main character, which is foolish, because Adam Coleman Howard should play the main character in every movie. Manny is the only person who has anything interesting going for him, an unapologetically manic and aggressively strange man, whose facial expressions convey a range of feelings from “What did you just say to me?” to “Wait…you can see me?”, with groundbreaking notions about human interaction, perhaps even existence itself, that defy those of any average person.
Just before it wraps up, the movie realizes Manny’s story is it’s single redeeming aspect. In a turn edging dangerously close to unexpected and suspenseful, Dowdy Claire takes off for Canada with Manny. For just a moment, the characters meet on an intellectual level as two people struggling with their own pasts, futures, and identities. No Secrets lands a moment that actually resonates. Manny soon decides the best way to “lay low” while he and Claire are on the run is to break into a cabin he’s surmised will be empty, because of the season, or a feeling he has, or something. Naturally, the Canada plan immediately fails, Manny is arrested despite delivering on his promise to show the girls a time they’d never forget, and we all learned a valuable lesson: Nunchuck murder doesn’t pay.
Ostensibly, the point of No Secrets is that even decent people like good ol’ boy Manny Corea can be driven to indecent acts under generally difficult, albeit specifically vague circumstances. Pushed to extremes, what people are capable of can be surprising and frightening. What motivates Manny Corea, beyond his general fear of capture and imprisonment? Perhaps it’s best left to the viewer’s imagination. Though maybe just one hint wouldn’t have been so bad…
Adam Coleman Howard only has a few more credits after No Secrets, most notably two films that he wrote and directed: 1998’s Dark Harbor, starring Alan Rickman, and 1997’s Dead Girl, featuring Adam Coleman Howard, Seymour Cassel, Famke Jansen, and Val Kilmer. Dead Girl is the tender story of a man (ACH) who meets, seduces, and murders the woman of his dreams, then lives with her and takes her around town. It sounds like a somehow more fucked up Weekend at Bernie’s, but is also apparently a parody of the movie industry, as the titular dead girl “lands the lead in a major Hollywood movie” after her death. The Amazon listing claims that it was an “experimental production…not intended as a commercial theatrical vehicle,” and was never formally released in the US. In a fantastic trailer that tries to make it look like a normal movie for some reason, Val Kilmer’s character “Dr. Dark” appears to be a complete maniac.
Dead Girl, unfortunately and obviously, is impossible to find. There is one eBay seller in Australia looking to get AUS$30 (plus shipping!) for the DVD, which comes paired with the 1986 TV movie Brotherhood of Justice, starring Keanu Reeves, Keifer Sutherland, and Billy Zane. It’s the “Hollywood Hunks” package. Val Kilmer graces the cover.
Adam Coleman Howard, are you out there? How can I see Dead Girl? I need your help. Make no mistake, this isn’t just for me. America needs you, now more than ever.