The Spirit of '76 Reviews
The year is 2176. A trio of American scientists from a gray, cheerless future aim to travel back in time to 1776, in order to find the forgotten Constitution and rediscover what once made their country wonderful. But their rickety capsule has a technical glitch, and they are sent back to 1976 instead. They soon meet up with two vapid teen brothers (played by Redd Kross' Steve and Jeff McDonald), and the plot doesn't go much further than this. Instead, we're just bombarded with a parade of campy '70s references, none of which are especially arcane or knowing. Disco, mood rings, Pop Rocks, feathered hair, smiley faces, the Bicentennial...you can guess the rest.
The casting may be more entertaining than the script. Former teen idols David Cassidy and Leif Garrett have prominent roles, and there's something oddly epic about seeing them share a scene near the end. Other vintage icons playing along with the joke include Rob Reiner (his brother Lucas wrote and directed the film), Carl Reiner, Barbara Bain ("Mission Impossible," "Space: 1999"), Tommy Chong and Iron Eyes Cody, while then-trendy figures like Moon Zappa, Julie Brown and members of DEVO also turn up in cameos.
Whoa! I just commented on this previously. Oh well.
I remember liking [i]The Spirit of '76[/i], an oddball time-travel comedy directed by Meathead offpsring Lucas Reiner, when I first saw it on video. In fact, I remember still liking it when I bought it again on VHS when I was lucky enough to find a copy of the then out-of-print tape. Last week, I picked it up on DVD, having not seen it all the way through in, well, close to a decade.
Maybe I was a different person then. Maybe it was the drugs I was doing at the time. Maybe the post-9/11 world has no place for a movie where a futuristic David Cassidy goes back in time to recover the Constitution and ends up in the suburbs of 1976. Maybe "That '70s Show," which does decade nostalgia without cramming every single trend of the era into an 82-minute space has changed things for all of us.
[i]Spirit of '76[/i] is not a good movie. Yet, strangely, I still like it.
David Cassidy, Olivia d'Abo and Geoff Hoyle play three residents of the future (run by Devo) who are sent back to 1776 to find the Constitution of the United States, a document that's been lost to time due to meteor showers (or something) wiping out all records. Instead, Cassidy's slipshot time machine screws up and they end up in 1976. Only they don't notice, so they continue upon their mission as if it's two centuries earlier, teaming up with a pair of stoner high school students (Redd Kross) to be led through a maze of self-help seminars, mood rings, streakers, "The Hustle" and disco dance-offs.
It's completely goofy stuff, and some of the humor works quite well. A bit in a head factory where Tommy Chong explains the problems with his bicentennial bong is a highlight, as are the scenes where Rob Reiner plays a motivational speaker who calls of all his audience (including Don Scardino and Barbara Bain) assholes. Redd Kross does an admirable job as the leads, though you can't tell them apart (they're better in [i]Desperate Teenage Lovedolls[/i]) and Liam O'Brien is downright amazing as their arch-rival Snodgrass, a squealing, yelping, shriek of a nerd that seems to have just stepped out of [i]Freaked.[/i]
Unfortunately, most of the jokes are pretty damn lame and the movie is content to simply throw references to the era all over the place rather than come up with any sort of recurring themes or extended jokes. (Example of the level of humor: The lead characters names are Adam-11, Heinz-57 and Chanel-6. Christ.) The casting of Cassidy only really works as an era-laden joke; he doesn't come off as much of an actor, and he constantly seems to be winking at the audience, sometimes even literally. Leif Garrett, playing Snodgrass's boogieing brother, fares much better.
Still, how can you not like a movie where the bumbling cops (The Kipper Kids!) in pursuit of the heroes slip and fall on an [i]advertisemen[/i]t for a banana? Okay, pretty easily. But I can't help it. [i]The Spirit of '76[/i] may rarely be funny, but it's frequently likable, and that's enough for me to watch it. I can't recommended it with a clean conscience, though.
(The Dickies' theme song is excellent, though, and sadly, only available on the disco-heavy soundtrack)