Monday, September 8, 2014

Film Review: CORVETTE SUMMER (1978, Matthew Robbins)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Tag-line: "Mark Hamill who you loved in STAR WARS... Annie Potts who you'll never forget!"
Notable Cast or Crew:   Directed by Matthew Robbins (THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, DRAGONSLAYER).  Written by Robbins and Hal Barwood (THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, the video game INDIANA JONES AND THE FATE OF ATLANTIS).  Starring Mark Hamill (STAR WARS, BODY BAGS), Annie Potts (GHOSTBUSTERS, FLATBED ANNIE AND SWEETIEPIE), Eugene Roche (SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE, FOUL PLAY), Danny Bonaduce (THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY), Brion James (BLADE RUNNER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT), T.K. Carter (THE THING, RUNAWAY TRAIN), Dick Miller (CANNONBALL!, GREMLINS).  Music by Craig Safan (CHEERS, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER).
Best One-liner:  "I DIDN'T WANT NO COKES!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

–"What are we lookin' at here?"
"CORVETTE SUMMER."
–"Ugh.  Teenybopper trash.  A watered-down coming of age tale.  Luke Skywalker, reduced to an unwitting shill for Tiger Beat magazine.  No, thank you."

Note: disco ball font.

"Have you seen the movie?"
–"I don't need to see it, cause I already know what it is."
"Do you?  Do you really?"
–"I'm sure you're going to tell me, so why don't you just go ahead and get it over with."
"Here goes:  it might have seemed like fluff at the time, but CORVETTE SUMMER is a teen sex/car comedy packed with surprisingly potent life lessons.  It's got an off-the-chain young Mark Hamill performance that skates wildly between Brando-esque Angry Young Man and Lorenzo Lamas-esque unintentional hilarity."
–"'Potent life lessons?'  Surely you jest."
"Well it's the story of a D-average high school student (Hamill) whose only passion in life is cars.  He devotes his senior year to the auto shop, building and perfecting a candy apple red metal flake Corvette Stingray glitter-flame Dragon Wagon!"

–"That's a mouthful.  And holy cow, wouldja look at that thing!"
"Exactly.  You've seen Luke Skywalker tool around in a landspeeder before, but I'm guessing you've never seen anything like this!"
–"You may have won me over.  I could probably watch that car for 105 minutes."
"Just you wait.  Events take a turn for the dramatic when Danny Bonaduce takes it out to a fast food joint to grab some Cokes and it's stolen."
–"WHAAAT?!"

"He just went out for some Cokes in a top hat and left the car unattended on the side of the road, even though there was a drive-thru.  It could happen to anybody."
–"How does Hamill take it?"
"Not well.  He starts getting that crazy, conflicted look in his eye, like Al Pacino does in THE GODFATHER right before he guns down Sterling Hayden and the other guy in that Italian restaurant.

Then he lets the beast out:

'I DIDN'T WANT NO COKES!'
and leaps onto Bonaduce!  Cokes go flying everywhere!  It's brutal.  A well-deserved beat-down ensues."

–"That looks intense!"
"It is.  Now he's got nothin' to live for except that car.  And like Pee-Wee Herman in PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, he begins to hunt down the vehicle-of-his-affections with dogged and unwavering intensity.

'ATTICA!  ATTICA!!'  (Whoops, wrong movie.)

It's something to behold.  I mean, sure, he spends parts of the movie lookin' like a prettyboy and blowing his own wind-tousled hair with the aid of an air compressor:

but the other half of the time he's giving crazy-eye like the best of 'em, like Bolo Yeung in BLOODSPORT or Mel Gibson in LETHAL WEAPON or Brion James in almost anything.  I'll come back to this.

Anyway, he tracks the car all the way to Vegas and, broke and busted, has a chance encounter with career gambler Dick Miller who gives him his 'lucky $2 bill.'

Dick Miller's only in this thing for a few minutes, but he plays it with crusty élan, like a man who'd gamble on anything if he was bored enough.  He could definitely be a character in Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT or anything by Bukowski.
So after getting a head-start on the car hunt, Hamill embarks on a series of shitty jobs to support himself and has a romance with aspirant van-based hooker Annie Potts."
–"Whu-whu--whutttttt?!"

"Yeah.  She's got this amazing, sleazy-chic disco van with a waterbed in the back, where she says things like 'how do you like that ocean motion' and can be found after hours making cocktails in her mouth.

Sips of Sunny-D alternated with sips of a bottom-shelf vodka whose name you can't pronounce= the only kind of Screwdriver you're gonna get in the back of Annie Potts' sleazy-chic disco van.

Eventually, Hamill loses his virginity, resulting in mania:

and dazed melancholy:

–"Luke Skywalker gettin' laid.  Ohhh yah."
"Shut it.  So he's working at a shitty car wash with THE THING's T.K. Carter:

when he sees none other than Brion James (most widely known for telling Harrison Ford 'Wake up, time to die' in BLADE RUNNER)

driving his beloved, stolen Stingray.  After cruelly taunting him with the line 'Bye-bye little buddy,' James peels out, leaving Hamill fuming."
–"What's a poor Hamill to do?"
"This is where it gets amazing.  He hides behind a mailbox and ambushes an unassuming cyclist:

forcing a collision that easily could have resulted in paralysis for either party:


Then he steals the poor sap's bike and takes after Brion James."
–"What chance does a bicycle have against a Stingray?"
"Not much at all.  That is, unless the cyclist is using The Force."


–"You gotta be shittin' me."
"Indeed I am not.  And this happens only partway through the film.  I don't want to give too much away, but there's totally a portion of the movie when Luke– I mean Mark Hamill– turns to The Dark Side."

–"Wow, that's exactly what a 'Dark Jedi in a Shopping Montage' should look like."
"Yeah, and I haven't even touched on Dark Side Hamill objectifying Annie Potts when her character's at her most vulnerable."

–"Now you're starting to ruin my childhood, pal!"
"Well, in closing I'll say this: CORVETTE SUMMER isn't your typical teen sex comedy, not by a long shot.  Hamill's character has an absentee father (and even his surrogate father figure betrays him), a possible prostitute mother (further complicating his relationship with sex worker Potts) who doesn't care a whit about him, and his 'whacky summer' is beset by shitty jobs, grifter schemes, apathy, violence, and injustice. Potts' character is at one point beaten by potential johns, and throughout undergoes the ups and downs of being valued as a human being and then as a sexual commodity.  It's a true blue-collar teen movie, which is to say, it's about a crooked world full of disappointment, crushing disappointment."
–"Now I'm just depressed."
"Well, there's a lot of fun stuff in there, too.  CORVETTE SUMMER refuses to be defined by a single mood or sensation.  Not unlike real life."
–"Deep, man."
"Yup."

–Sean Gill

3 comments:

Mike Bradley said...

This is usually where I'd say that this reminds me of some other movie that I would then go on to ramble nostalgically about, but I got nothin'! You are really digging deep and mining some possible hidden gems these days! Keep 'em coming!

Jack Thursby said...

Always wondered about this film. Hammill's career (bar his excellent voice acting work) never really took off. Thanks for the review Sean.

Sean Gill said...

Mike,
Glad you enjoyed!


Jack,
Yeah, as a big STAR WARS fan this had been on my "to see" list for years, and I'm glad I finally did- it works well as a film and as a cultural document.