The video for Duran Duran’s 1982 hit “Rio” is a dazzling, much-loved spectacle that cemented the band’s (hard-earned and richly-deserved) reputation as a bunch of worldly, decadent, hilariously excessive playboys. My film-school training prohibits me from counting “gorgeous nitwits cavort on a yacht” as a legitimate plot, so I have to dock the video points for the absence of a cohesive narrative. Still, what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in witty vignettes and vibrant images. It’s a riot of colorful body paint and spilled champagne, set against blue Caribbean waters and white sandy beaches and endless violet skies.
It is, in short, totally awesome.
In the opening moments, a broken full-length mirror magically reassembles itself until it reflects the image of a leggy brunette -- the titular Rio, one presumes, who is played by a gorgeous model named Reema. This whole business with the shattered mirror is reminiscent of the opening scenes of Duran Duran’s “Night Boat” video, which the band shot with director Russell Mulcahy in Antigua simultaneously with “Rio.” Of the two, my heart belongs to “Night Boat” (it has zombies!), but it’s impossible to resist the joyous, multi-colored charms of “Rio.”
While Rio sunbathes on the dock, Nick, the adorable little letch, lies on his stomach a short distance away and focuses his binoculars squarely on her ass. Nice, Nick.
Nick, Roger and John, all clad in bright designer suits, loiter on a yacht and roll little red balls around the deck. They look like a cluster of spoiled, pampered housecats, beautiful and lazy and waiting to be petted and adored.
On the beach, Rio strides out of the waves. She’s clad in a one-piece bathing suit cut almost down to her navel, with a sheathed knife strapped to her thigh. There’s every chance she’s far too much woman for any of the boys to handle. Roger bravely decides to give it a shot anyway. He swaggers up and starts putting the moves on her (Roger has moves?). Before he can get very far, a crab attacks his foot and clings to his toe, which pretty much blows his ultra-suave façade to pieces.
Rio rolls her eyes, raises a shapely leg, and kicks Roger back into the water. This seems like a wild overreaction to his klutzy yet endearing attempt to pick her up, but I like her anyway. While there’s never a shortage of gorgeous women in Duran Duran videos, they often turn out to be blank slates (the three lovely yet wholly interchangeable brunettes in “Union of the Snake” spring immediately to mind). Rio, however, has enough vibrant personality to make her a fitting romantic interest/adversary for the boys.
The boys swarm around the deck of the yacht, which is sailing at a fast clip through the water, and sing their hearts out. It’s iconic and decadent and fun. Fans of Andy had best get their fill of him here, because he’s going to be MIA for most of the video, apparently by choice (quote from Andy on filming “Rio”: “That’s when I really started my video avoidance phase”).
On the beach, pretty peacock Nick preens in a mirror. Rio slinks up behind him and spies on him, probably as payback for his voyeur act in the opening. It’s the strangest thing -- that’s very obviously Nick there (flame-colored hair, check; flame-colored lipstick, check), but damned if he doesn’t look a whole lot like John at certain moments in this video. I can’t understand it. Apart from both being pale, pretty English boys with fabulous hair, John and Nick don’t look much alike. For starters, one’s a leggy beanpole, while the other’s a wee, waiflike pixie.
Rio sunbathes on a raft. A pink phone on a silver tray is ferried to her across the water. On the line is a noticeably sunburned Simon, who’s calling her from the nearby yacht. Like Roger before him, he attempts to sweet-talk her.
Ever capricious, Rio yanks on the phone cord and sends him tumbling into the drink. Luckily, Simon has prepared for just such an eventuality by wearing flippers. Rio, who is a cold, cruel woman at heart, laughs and laughs and laughs.
Meanwhile, John curls up with the latest issue of Fightin’ Army comic. Can’t say I’ve ever pegged John as a rough-and-tumble army-comic aficionado. Still waters run deep, I suppose.
He drifts off into a weird black-and-white military-inspired fantasy of storming the beach, rifle in hand, where he lands on the sand next to a bikini-clad Rio. Champagne spills from the heavens and fills the glass resting on her abdomen.
Magical champagne showers. I swear, this is the happiest, giddiest, silliest video in the world.
Rio tosses one of the little red balls at a Speedo-clad Simon, who scampers to the end of the dock to fetch it for her, puppy-like. He slips on a banana peel and tumbles into the water.
When next we see Rio, she’s hauling a fishing net out of the ocean. There’s a Speedo-clad Duran caught in the net, and my linear brain naturally assumed this was Simon (one Speedo-clad Duran falls into the water, one Speedo-clad Duran gets yanked out of the water. Makes sense, right?). However! We have a mystery on our hands! In his memoir, Andy insists that he’s the Duran in the net, while the official Duran Duran website adamantly maintains that it’s actually Roger.
Then there’s a bunch of lively nonsense with Simon drinking brightly-colored cocktails under water. A whole lot happens in this video that I’m zipping past, mostly involving buckets of paint and colorful drinks and vast expanses of tanned flesh. It’s all mighty entertaining.
Back on the yacht, Nick lounges in a cabin, toying with one of those omnipresent red balls. It takes every ounce of good taste and decorum not to make a crass joke about how he’s lying on a bunk and fondling his balls.
Rio, covered in flamboyant head-to-toe body paint, creeps about the deck. She peeks in on Nick through the cabin window, which both startles and annoys him. Nick, my love, you were shamelessly ogling her ass earlier. It’s only fitting she harasses you a little in turn.
Then for some reason, we spend about forty-eight minutes watching Nick and John pretending to play saxophones, which pretty much brings the video to a huge crashing halt.
Back on the yacht, someone unseen -- oh, let’s just say it’s Simon -- tries to pour a glass of champagne for Rio. He does a rotten job of it, thanks to the way the boat rocks and bobs in the waves. This is the sort of problem that keeps Duran Duran awake at night.
Rio looks exasperated and annoyed by all these repeated attempts to charm her out of her bathing suit. Guys, look, you’re not getting anywhere with her. Cherry ice-cream smile or not, she’s immune to all of you. It’s time to cut your losses and move on.
Oh, and then Simon rides a horse on the beach. Just because.
Rio slathers her entire body in pink shaving cream. In the background, one of the Durans stands in waist-deep water and adjusts his collar in a mirror. Yet again, I can’t tell who it is. Andy? Nick? This is really making me doubt myself. I don’t even have the excuse of a poor-resolution copy to fall back upon -- crystal-clear copies of “Rio” are widely available.
Everybody cavorts on the yacht and sings some more. John and Nick are looking strangely like twins again.
Aha! We have a rare confirmed Andy sighting! John and Andy play dueling air-saxophones on the deck.
Then, as the yacht zips through the water, John cheerfully tosses Andy overboard. And no, that wasn’t a planned part of the video. John just decided on the spur of the moment to try to murder one of his bandmates. You know, just as a lark. Sometimes it seems like a miracle the boys all survived the decade.
And off they sail into the sunset, with sensible Roger at the helm and the rest of the boys still cavorting about the yacht, glamorous and gorgeous and happy.
A brilliant video. Nothing in there to unduly tax the brain cells, but it’s sheer, delightful fun. I love it to pieces.