|year: 1979 cast: Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Cindy Williams, Ron Howard rating: ***|
Since it’s reported at the end of the original that Paul LeMat’s cool cat John Milner – the hot rod James Dean type with the fastest car in town – was killed by a drunk driver in 1964, the sequel’s starting point has all the main characters except Richard Dreyfuss (now a writer in Canada) meeting at a drag race course to cheer on Milner at the tail end of that fateful year.
|The gang reuniting in 1964|
Let's start with the most conventional characters of the original – Steve and Laurie, played by Ron Howard and Cindy Williams, who were both, at that point, known for their roles on HAPPY DAYS and the successful spin off LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, are still a bickering couple with kids and a hellish relationship going nowhere but down, down, down.
The unhappily married duo have only wedding rings in common. Laurie wants to work but Steve, an insurance salesman, forces her to stay at home with their bratty kids. This was before Women’s Rights and Laurie wants her independence.
|Laurie (Cindy Williams) and Steve (Ron Howard) circa 1967|
Laurie, like Jane Fonda in COMING HOME, is unrealistically oblivious to the counter-culture peace movement: at one point she even mentions that the kids should back the President.
|Suburban mom Laurie (Cindy Williams) learns about being a hippie|
The only thing truly worthwhile here is the music – the rest is an overly preachy agenda, proving that hippies aren’t very interesting characters: they all look the same, have similar motivations, and don’t stand apart from each other.
Actually, one hippie does stand apart...
|Debbie (Candy Clark) and boyfriend Lance arrested by Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) circa 1966|
Her jerk musician boyfriend is cheating and the ever-smiling bleach-blonde Debbie accidentally winds up hanging out with a rock band: touring a cowboy bar and other venues throughout a comically hectic day and night.
|Split-screen showing Candy Clark and Scott Glenn|
Aesthetically, the use of multi-screen (popular in 1960’s films like MEDIUM COOL, THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR and the WOODSTOCK documentary) attempts to dress up a non-story.
And Mackenzie Phillips' Carol is all grown up, now named Rainbow and appearing only sporadically: the epitome of a "guest starring" role.
|Terry The Toad Philips in Vietnam circa 1965|
Toad and the former lead Pharaoh Little Jo, played by Bo Hopkins, hang around the muddy barracks or fly around in Hueys, dodging death at every turn (the film opens with helicopters soaring to the song HEAT WAVE).
But Toad just wants to go home through being injured and he just can’t catch a break, literally.
|Bo Hopkins partners up with Toad in Vietnam|
Perhaps George Lucas, who executive produced this sequel written and directed by Bill L. Norton (director of GARGOYLES), wanted a piece of what he missed out from the Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War venture, which he was originally connected with.
|Huey Copters skim the river|
Most of the storyline is more befitting M*A*S*H than APOCALYPSE NOW: it’s all about Toad first trying to find a shortcut home and then teaming with a Gung Ho soldier (James Houghton), who eventually realizes war is a living/breathing hell: something Toad knew all along.
|John Milner's yellow dragster|
Milner is a good driver but can’t get a sponsor, and has to win a few quick jaunts in order for corporate-backed teams to take interest.
|John Milner with dream girl Eva (Anna Bjorn) circa 1964|
Eva doesn’t speak a lick of English but they have sparks. Ken Place (the cop in THE BIG CHILL and brother of Mary Kay Place, who has a small part) is a worthy antagonist as Milner’s drag strip rival, filling in the shoes of Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa (turning up as a cop in the Candy Clark segment).
|The dragsters prepare to race|
Plus, Milner doesn't have his entire reputation to lose this time. His character, although very likable, is somewhat pointless throughout, especially since we know his hours are numbered.
But this is still the second best story, ending with JM's famous yellow Deuce Coupe cruising down the midnight highway towards a pair of oncoming headlights – his death immanent.
|John Milner's Deuce Coupe heads for an implied disaster|
The soundtrack (highlighted by Donovan's "Season of the Witch" followed by Cream, The Grateful Dead, a live appearance by Country Joe and the Fish and concluding with Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone") stands out more than the actual film, and the acting makes it a more than worthy viewing.
So while this visual experience is basically an “eight-foot ballerina,” there are times she can actually dance.
|Naomi Judd (far left) sings "Baby Love" with Cindy Williams|
|Delroy Lindo as an Army Sergeant barking orders at Toad|
|Mary Kay Place as Eva's friend Teensa|
|Eva (Anna Bjorn) covers her ears from...|
|The roar of the dragsters warming up|
|Paul LeMat as John Milner|
|Antagonist driver Ken Place with Anna Bjorn|
|Anna Bjorn's Eva watches Milner race|
|Mary Kay Place with Anna Bjorn|
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