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Starlite Drive-In Theater: The Pom Pom Girls / The Van
The Pom Pom Girls (1976), about a gang of high school seniors living in the Pacific Palisades area of Southern California, tries to duplicate American Graffiti's sense of fun (while anticipating the Porky's-type sex comedies to follow) but there's one big difference. Where everyone in American Graffiti was enormously likeable, the entire cast of The Pom Pom Girls is thoroughly obnoxious, not the kind of people you want to spend 90 minutes of your life with.
Johnny (Robert Carradine), Laurie (Jennifer Ashley), Jesse (Michael Mullins), and Sally (Lisa Reeves) are much too self-involved and so lacking in consideration for anything other than their own instant gratification that you want to grab them by the collar and throttle 'em. Johnny, played with manic eccentricity by Carradine, takes a piss out a classroom window right in the middle of a lecture while Jesse gleefully vandalizes cars, just for the fun of it. In what was intended as a comic highlight, the foursomes steals a fire truck, run a police car off the road, and then simply abandon the emergency vehicle out in the desert. (Aren't you glad your house wasn't on fire that day!) But hey - these guys are, like, rebels without a cause. Totally!
Of course, Johnny and Jesse mainly want to have sex and lots of it, but are too geeky to get very fair with their beautiful babes. There's kind of a story involving Jesse's troubled relationship with his football coach (James Gammon) but most of the characters are interchangeable and unmemorable except for Carradine's annoying dweeb. (At the Big Football Game, at least 30 extras fill the stands.) The soundtrack surges with non-hits save for a cover version of the Diana Ross "Baby Love." Most have lyrics straight out of an AIP teen melodrama from 1957: "Mr. Rock-n-Roll, it's takin' a toll...on you-u-u-u...."
Director and co-writer Joseph Ruben was just 25 when this was made, so perhaps we should give him some credit just for getting it in the can, but his attempts at comedy are lame and derivative. A tit-for-tat food fight is shot from bad angles and has no sense of pace, and the climax is an obvious rip-off of American Graffiti's with a twist that's hardly a surprise.
The Van (1977) isn't much better, but at least it has a story and a main character whose indefatigable cheeriness and dense naivete unexpectedly come off as pretty likeable. Bobby (Stuart Goetz) is like a cross between the kinds of characters formerly played by Eric Stoltz and Eddie Deezen, a young lad so blinded by his innate horniness that he doesn't realize how ridiculous he looks hitting on women.
But after eons slaving away at the local car wash run by part-time bookie Andy (Danny DeVito), Bobby has saved up enough money for that down payment on his Dream Machine: a souped-up, lemon-yellow Dodge Van, fully-equipped with 8-track tape player, CB radio and, most urgently, a waterbed. (The picture was later reissued as Chevy Van to cash in on the semi-popular song.)
Before long, Bobby's luck is beginning to change, luring women with pick-up lines like, "Hey - do you want to share a joint in the back of my van?"
Although Bobby's ultimate aim is to score with sexy Sally Johnson (Connie Lisa Marie), it's a foregone conclusion he'll wind up with cranky "good girl" Tina (Deborah White).
Goetz, later a successful music editor, gives a good-natured performance and though his character's love-hate relationship with Tina has been done a million times before, he and White make it work, while the script by Celia Susan Cotelo and Robert J. Rosenthal has at least a modicum of shading. For instance there's a nice bit where Bobby proudly shows off his new wheels to his mother and father. Dad regards the yellow monstrosity as an embarrassment, but Mom is sweetly supportive. And unlike The Pom Pom Girls' attitude of giving the finger to anyone and everyone over 25, Bobby wins the audience's support by simply being a nice kid. When bookie Andy is caught short Bobby generously loans him his next month's car payment. The Pom Pom Girls' Johnny probably would have pissed on him.
Video & Audio
Both pictures were shot for 1.85:1 projection but presented full frame here. The Pom Pom Girls looks okay for what it is, and reformats well to 1.77:1 if you have a widescreen TV. The Van is less sharp and may be an older transfer. The framing may be a little funky, too, as it crops a bit cramped at the top of the frame when reformatted at 1.77:1. The single disc is a flipper, with one feature to a side. The mono sound is adequate, nothing more. More on the video quality below. There are no subtitle options or alternate audio.
After a VCI-style menu intro featuring computer animation of a drive-in theater, viewers can select to watch the films with or without the drive-in experience. The drive-in advertisements ("Our hamburgers are made of selected, inspected meat!") are in sorry shape and badly transferred. The Van is preceded by Wolf! Wolf! (1944), a Mighty Mouse cartoon in glorious green and white.
Also included are full frame trailers, mainly looking derived from video masters dating back to when the films were new, of Malibu Beach (1978), Weekend Pass (1984), The Beach Girls (1982), and Jocks (1987).
Those nostalgic for the '70s California youth genre may enjoy this unambitious double-bill, but most will find it a challenge not worth the effort. The transfers can't generate any enthusiasm, but at least this package does fairly accurately reflect the kind of fare that really did play drive-ins in those long-gone days.