Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
More American Graffiti is more than just a disappointment, it's an unqualified disaster.
Something happened between the original and this dismal followup, and it's hard to determine
exactly what. Bill (B.W.L.) Norton, of Cisco Pike, had just done
Convoy the year before, a sterling
recommendation credit if I ever heard one.
If there was a decent thought behind the idea of regrouping the American Graffiti crowd
for another go-round, it got lost in the mix. Or perhaps the project was ignored to death while
Lucas made The Empire Strikes Back. Whatever happened, an anonymous stranger to the
American Graffiti mythos couldn't have done worse than its creator did with this sequel.
Three different New Years' Eves are cross-cut: In 1964 local drag-race whiz John
(Paul Le Mat) gets ignored by the pros but puts together a great racing day, with the help of
his second Carlos (Manuel Padilla Jr.). He also falls in love with Icelandic exchange student
Eva (Anna Bjorn). In 1965, Terry the Toad (Charles Martin Smith) is part of a chopper crew in
'Nam, with Little Joe the Pharaoh (Bo Hopkins) as his closest buddy. As they go on more dangerous
missions, Terry looks for a way of getting himself sent home - any way. 1967: Debbie Dunham
(Candy Clark), thinking her boyfriend Terry is dead, tries to get married to her new beau, a
useless doper. But then she falls in with a wild band and meets Newt (Scott Glenn). 1968: Steve
and Laurie Bolander (Ron Howard and Cindy Williams) have a falling out. She ditches him with the
kids, ends up in a violent street demonstration, and Ron comes to rescue her.
First off, the major sins. There's no Richard Dreyfuss. He'd just won an Oscar for The
Goodbye Girl and wouldn't do free inserts for Steven Spielberg, let alone play along with
George Lucas. More American Graffiti isn't really a sequel to the original, it's a sequel to
the final 'what happened to them' titles that end the first film on a somber note, the titles that
tell us that Terry the Toad and John Milner both meet violent ends. So the fun feeling of the
first movie isn't here at all.
Not that it could be. The whole point of American Graffiti was that that was the 'magic night'
in 1962 when it all came together, where the personal adventures of 8 Modesto teens converge in a
night to end all nights. They all have dreams, and all their dreams are answered in ironic ways.
The dork gets a
date with a hot blonde who loves to make out. The little kid gets her fantasy of having a real live
boyfriend. The bookworm Kennedy fan gets to hang out with the hoods. And the square couple break up
but come back together for a clinch that will last a lifetime. It's the stuff (in '73) of extinct
teen behavior - sock hops, cruising, street drag racing, and the fantasy that dreams can come true.
sequel started the next night, covering the same kind of activity, it would be a joke - the
characters have already changed. It's all over so far as a story is concerned.
More American Graffiti was already trumped by the rip-off TV show Happy Days, which
upped Ron Howard's career and gave us a flattened, stupid version of the Lucas hit. What strikes
us about this
1979 turkey is how nothing about it seems to have a clue, and nothing in it even begins to work,
not even for a moment, no matter how much we want it to. The parade's gone by.
The story's '3 New Years' Eves' construction only seems to be a dodge for the fact that nobody could
concoct a film where these characters might be together. Instead, we get: 1) A poor man's version of
Apocalypse Now, probably before that show came out; 2) A re-run of campus riots in
The Strawberry Statement, only made into harmless fun; 3) A dull drag-racing story; and 4) a
psychedelic Rock'n Roll story that's as klunky as
Psych-Out. It's all topped off with
ersatz style in the form of trendy Fillmore West graphics, annoying split screens, a 16mm look for
the Vietnam story, etc.
Nobody gets out of this one alive. Charles Martin Smith is still a likeable guy, but he's stuck with
terrible material that wants to make sure we know how incompetent and unfair a place Vietnam is.
There's so much broad comedy out there that the episode finds no tone, and makes sense neither
as drama nor comedy.
Paul Le Mat has a hard day at the track - nothing fun, nothing special. We remember
very well what fate has in store for him, so there's little joy in seeing him triumph with the help
of a former competitor, or meet an adorable Icelandic girl he can barely talk to. There's no
emotional curve to his story, and we just don't stick with him.
Ron Howard (here by 'special participation', meaning 'pay me more, I'm the only one with a career')
and the wonderful, under-used Cindy Williams are just terrible in the campus demonstration section.
break up like Ricky and Lucy, and individually discover they're the only Republican Conservatives
at a draft card-burning, cops-club-the-hippies riot. Big laughs, there, especially when Insurance
square Ron slugs a cop and hijacks a police bus. Right on, yawn.
There's just so little wit to all of the above. It's a matter of finding a tone, and maybe there isn't
one to be found. American Graffiti was sort of a fantasy, but not really; we who were there
(okay, I was in the 7th grade) all recognized the feeings and the mythology in the first film. But
the characters just weren't meant to have afterlives. It isn't a fantasy like Into The Woods,
where extrapolating a cluster of Fairy Tale people into an uncertain future finds truths we can
all relate to.
The final sideshow of More American Graffiti has Candy Clark, the ditz who just wanted to
get drunk and possibly l__d, now a fairly mature 22 year-old dealing with a pothead loser of a
boyfriend before having a fling with a traveling band. Trying desperately to be wild and crazy,
they hit trash cans in their hippie van and drive through parks for kicks. They play at a
country-western bar (?) and a big donnybrook of a fight starts. Candy ditches her boyfriend for
a new beau.
Just about the only possibly clever thing that happens is the resolution of Charlie Martin Smith's
story, but we leave him just as it's getting good. Everybody else just sings Auld Lang Syne
on their respective New Year's Eves, and it doesn't mesh.
I implied above that I'd get around to the good stuff, but I lied. There really isn't any. Ron Howard's
kid climbing into a fish tank isn't funny. Charlie Martin Smith trying to shoot himself isn't funny.
Paul Le Mat failing to make out with his Icelanic acquaintence isn't funny. It just thinks it is.
Some original characters are shoehorned in, for recognition value. Loyal Harrison Ford returns as Bob
Falfa in a bit that goes nowhere. Mackenzie Phillips literally walks in and out of a scene: was
she too unreliable to be given a part, or was there just no real place for her? Pharaohs Bo Hopkins
and Manuel Padilla Jr. also have little to do.
Scott Glenn survives by being low-key (he doesn't know yet to what degree he's been cut out of
Apocalypse Now), but they've succeeded in making the charming Mary Kay Place somehow ugly
and obnoxious. I hope it was intentional.
Universal's DVD of More American Graffiti looks fine, and finally represents the film on
video as it was meant to be seen, with its split-screens and other attempts at visual distinction. The
string of radio hits on the soundtrack sounds good, but doesn't connect with the film.
The original, if you'll recall, motivated the oldies by having them mostly come from car radios and
other real sources. The perspectivized mix was brilliant, and the songs became a character by riffing
on the inner dreams of the adolescent heroes. In More American Graffiti, the songs are just
there to remind us what year it is. When it comes time for Candy Clark to talk about 'real' music
in the story, she says the names of a bunch of phony made-up bands.
Sorry about the whining, negative review. There's usually something positive to say about every
picture, and yet there's so little here - a few moments with Cindy Williams singing on the police bus,
Charlie Martin Smith being heroic (and not knowing it) in the Vietnam section. If someone wants to
bounce back with a hearty defense of the film, I'd be happy to print it.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
More American Graffiti rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 25, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson