THE SPIRIT OF '76 (1990).
In the wake of Bill and Ted's era-hopping adventures, THE SPIRIT OF '76 emerged as an equally ingenious, time traveling comedy which becomes a vehicle to send up the entire late-'70s disco era. Barely released, this is the perfect example of an entertaining movie that was a victim of bad timing. When first released in 1992, the disco era hadn't yet made a comeback, while nowadays, every form of media seems to be revelling in the kitschy nostalgia of that polyestered period. The story begins in the year 2176, with America shown as a grey, sterile place with no sense of their own past after a magnetic storm degaused all recorded history. In order to rediscover the American spirit, the Ministry of Knowledge (played by Devo) sends three scientists back in time, to the birth of our country, in the year 1776. Unfortunately, the makeshift time machine has a few glitches, and accidentally sends them to the year 1976, with the trio going about their information retrieval mission, unaware of the mistake. Two decades after his teen idol status on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, David Cassidy stars as time machine inventor Adam-11, while THE WONDER YEARS' Olivia D'Abo co-stars as the requisite lovely scientist, Chanel-6; and they quickly link up with two average long-haired teenagers (played by Jeff and Steve McDonald of the band Redd Kross), who hide their time machine in their mom's garage. In a limp subplot, klutzy government agents (played by The Kipper Kids, sans their usual get-ups) think the time travelers are actually a UFO, while the McDonalds try to win the science fair over a geeky competitor, who's also has stolen the time machine's all-important Tetra-cell. The gags are occasionally hit-and-miss, but the entire production is crammed with images and artifacts sure to bring a smile (or perhaps a shudder) to anyone who survived that era. From Pop Rocks, 8-Tracks, and Mood Rings, to Tommy Chong stumbling into camera range to admire some Bicentennial bongs. Cassidy (who must be pushing 40, but looks great) brings a good sense of humor to his role; and just in case he doesn't provide enough 'AM radio deja vu', Leif Garrett also turns up as the weaselly Eddie Trojan. Directed and written by Lucas Reiner (son of Rob, and grandson of Carl, who both put in cameos), this is a blissfully silly concept, pulled off with the appropriate enthusiasm. In addition, much of the film's success should go to godawful-actress-turned-costume-designer Sofia Coppola, who provides '70s-style fashions which are so gaudy and repellant that'd you almost think they were real.
© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.