Corvette Summer (1978) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Corvette Summer (1978)

Corvette Summer title

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Danny DISLIKECorvette Summer was released back in the heyday of the muscle cars, but, more importantly, in the heyday of Mark Hamill. The world's second whiniest Jedi Knight had just starred in the most unprecedented blockbuster in the world, and had the misfortune of making this his follow-up. The movie is a weird, sad endeavor, that makes light of things deathly serious and makes things deathly serious into some version of a sick joke. But I skip ahead.

Mark Hamill is Kenny Dantley, who suspiciously looks 25 despite being a high school senior. He's in a shop class, and, in the opening sequence, spots a Corvette being hauled off to demolition. In a long chase filled with high pitched screaming, he finally manages to stop the car from being demolished, and his class takes on the challenge of remodeling it. Most of the first half of the movie covers montages as Kenny spends his days looking longingly at the Corvette and polishing her. Slowly.

But then things get interesting, or about as interesting as they get. In one protracted scene of non-existent subtlety, we follow sad young Kenny through a day of his loneliness; a couple making out in the parking lot, walking past a couple in the park laughing, and, right when he makes it to school, oh, hey, there's a school dance going on. This is all under methodically mellow Dusty Springfield, taunting our loser of a hero to finally unscrew the gas cap and go to town on his cherry red Corvette. He's interrupted by the shop teacher Mr. McGrath who frantically tries to remind Kenny that it's just a machine, and machines disappoint. Kenny is thicker than a cylinder, though, and just continues to stare. Poor dope.

Next thing you know, the car is finished and exits its garage to the disco twangs one normally associates with Shaft. Mr. McGrath proves to be one of the best teachers ever by taking the kids out to drive around in the Corvette, and doesn't even demand that they come home after they start street racing it. It's hard to tell, between this and the bottle of scotch he hides in his office, whether or not he's supposed to be so obviously hiding something or if this is just standard teacher behavior back in the day.

But the clock is running and the end of Act I needs to get here faster, so one of the dumber drivers (and not even the one played by Danny Bonaduce) leaves the car out in front of a restaurant where it's stolen. Most everyone gets over it quickly except Hamill, who becomes obsessed. On a random tip, he leaves sunny LA for Las Vegas with not much more than the clothes on his back.

Hitching his way, he manages to get picked up by Vanessa, who's played by a very young and very grating Annie Potts. She's a prostitute (or, as she says, a prostitute in training) and is going to Vegas to finally go pro. Get it? Oh, it's funny. She seems bizarrely enthusiastic about becoming a prostitute (and no one seems to have told her that she'd probably have better luck in LA anyway), and this is only the beginning, as the character spends her entire time trying to sell Kenny her wares, then shortly thereafter beating and threatening him. I'm not a professional, but I think it's reasonable to say that the words 'bi-polar disorder' should be tattooed on Vanessa's forehead.

They end with a fight, and Kenny ends dumped out on the Vegas street. He sees the Corvette drive by at a crucial moment, and he decides to spend his summer in Vegas, trying to track it down. Luckily for him, this film is the embodiment of the idea that Vegas is the city of infinite coincidences. Hamill runs into, with no uncertainty or surprise, Vanessa or his lost car with a stunning regularity.

In fact, I can get away with a great deal by saying that that compromises most of the second act. Vanessa and Kenny fall in love (even though Vanessa is jealous of said Corvette) and they work crummy jobs to make their time. Things take a turn after an almost a painfully unrealistic bike chase (wherein Kenny is chasing the Corvette by bike) (yes), Kenny finally manages to track the car down to an autobody shop. The crooks have graciously held on to the car all summer and they all take turns driving it around. I guess it's just that sweet a ride.

Kenny escapes through another series of weird coincidences and Mr. McGrath shows up to inform him politely that there is a twist to the proceedings; McGrath had actually arranged to have the car stolen himself!

Kenny has a crisis of faith, and accepts McGrath's offer to work for the car thieves. He's suddenly rolling in the money, and begins to treat Vanessa, who had evolved to a decent fry cook at this point, as the prostitute she'd desired to be at the beginning of the flick. She soon reverts, and the whole film's inane message about 'stick with it' becomes the even more inane and insulting message to 'be true to yourself'. Kenny sees what he did to Vanessa and decides to steal his Corvette back.

This leads to a protracted car chase, a confrontation in front of the school, and a lesson everyone in the 1970's would never forget; Mark Hamill can't fake drive to save his life. Seriously, he does that exaggerated 'look, I'm driving a race car' thing you do, it's sad. And then, if you can imagine the delivery of his "But I was going to deliver some power converters to Tosche Station!" line from Star Wars and stretch it out into an entire performance, you might have a tenth of an idea of what watching him act in the rest of this film is like.

In the end, Vanessa's prostitution was a joke, but Kenny's love for his car is true and beautiful. No wonder the Stingray from this movie is still displayed in car shows across the country; it's the only thing in this movie that seems to be taken seriously.

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Corvette Summer (1978)

Directed by Matthew Robbins
Written by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins
Starring Mark Hamill and Annie Potts

Posted by Danny

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