Thursday, September 8, 2011

Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)

Directed by William Sachs
Starring Bill Adler, Cynthia Wood, Dennis Bowen, Melissa Prophet, David Hayward, Tara Strohmeier
Rated R

Written and directed by William Sachs (The Incredible Melting Man, Galaxina), 1979’s Van Nuys Blvd. kind of stands as a nominal tribute to the real-life cruising scene that during the ’60s and ’70s characterized the ten-mile strip running through San Fernando Valley. Although from what I understand, the film also kind of helped spell the end of said scene by drawing undue attention to it.

In any event, Van Nuys Blvd. also stands as indisputable evidence that when it came to movie-making circa late ’70s, all one really needed was access to (and the ability to wreck) a few cars and vans, tickets to an amusement park, enough change for an afternoon’s worth of fun at the arcade/go-kart track, a pair of handcuffs, an oversized submarine sandwich, some whipped cream, and a pig.

The story opens with Bobby (Bill Adler of The Pom Pom Girls and Malibu Beach) driving his cool '70s-van back to his mobile home where his girlfriend Jo (Susanne Severeid) greets him in bra and panties. Jo quickly loses even that as she delivers her hard-working man a cold beer after a long day.

Tough life, eh? Yet Bobby is somehow unfulfilled, and soon is distracted from his delightful damsel by a television news report. We watch with Bobby as Officer Al Zass (Dana Gladstone) is shown describing law enforcement's efforts to curb "a lot of wild stuff going on here" during "cruise night" on Van Nuys Blvd.

Bobby's bored with Jo and his small-town existence, where apparently he and his super cool van rule uncontested. "Nothing happens here…. I got no competition here. I wanna get out, I wanna move, I wanna race!" he says.

Soon he's out the door, leaving Jo behind and taking a trip to Malbu and that mythical land of adventure and fresh challenges -- Van Nuys Blvd.!

Night has fallen by the time Bobby arrives. The trip takes a while. Then comes a lengthy, tedious series of shots of cruisers, all accompanied by the blaring title song, an infinite loop of female singers' sexy whispering and a dude shouting "VAN NUYS!!!!" over and again. Enjoy:

Seriously, that singer is just a stoplight or two away from being Wesley Willis, ain't he?

At last Bobby arrives at "Pleasure," a drive-in restaurant, where carhop Wanda (Tara Strohmeier of Candy Stripe Nurses and The Kentucky Fried Movie) takes his order with a smile and some suggestive talk.

Cut back to the boulevard, where the incredibly-mustachioed "Chooch" is whooping it up, hollering non sequiturs to unseen pedestrians in a way that ensures we all quickly understand what we have here is some sort of homage and/or ripoff of American Graffiti.

As if to reinforce that idea, Chooch is suddenly mooned by a female passenger in a neighboring car, causing him to run a red light, and a moment later he's pulled over by Officer Zass.

The pair engage in some tough guy talk as Zass writes up Chooch, but soon we learn (a) both are more nerdy and insecure than tough, and (b) both are getting older and thus aren’t fitting well into the young-person's scene going on around them. (Indeed, later we learn the two went to school together.) Zass ends up carting Chooch off to overnight lock-up, apparently a much-repeated “cruise night” ritual for the two.

Meanwhile, carhop Wanda delivers Bobby his meal in the back of his van, and soon enough the two are no longer wearing their clothes, but rather wearing his burger, fries, and shake. Oh, and this is where the whipped cream comes in.

While they're having their fun, we meet red-haired, fresh-faced Greg who pulls into a gas station with his buddy. "One," says Greg to the attendant. "One what?" comes the reply. "Gallon or dollar?" "Dollar," says Greg with a smirk, adding "You think I'd waste your time for a gallon?" And he and his bud have themselves a chuckle.

It was a different time. Not only was gas less than a dollar a gallon, but more stuff was funny, too. Must've been, right?

While they wait, another car drives up with a couple inside. "It's her!" says Greg, again evoking American Graffiti. "I can't believe it… it's her!" As he explains, he's dreamed about the girl in the neighboring vehicle no less than three times, and thus feels compelled to go tell her all about it.

The boyfriend is predictably unamused, and soon things escalate to each driver taking tire irons and other implements of destruction to each other's cars.

The girlfriend, Camille (Melissa Prophet), finds the whole scene tedious and soon catches a ride out of there in the van of her friend Moon, played by 1974 Playboy Playmate of the Year Cynthia Wood.

The fetching, doe-eyed blonde Wood turns up in a bit role in Shampoo and a few other '70s films, although her most memorable moment on the silver screen was undoubtedly as the gun-toting, cowboy-hat wearing playmate in the "Suzie Q" scene in Apocalypse Now.

The mutual vehicular destruction continues, then weirdly peters out before tow trucks are called. Another girl drives up -- one who knows the dude whose car Greg has been smashing up -- and she gives the dude and Greg's friend a ride up to Van Nuys Blvd., leaving poor Greg alone.

But his fortune soon changes as a mysterious leather-clad vixen with blonde hair and rock star makeup arrives on a chopper and with a breathy "Hi!" invites the mopey ginger to hop on.

Next thing Greg knows, he's at an apartment party with topless dancing, then the motorcycle girl (Di Ann Monaco) leads Greg to a back room with weird mural on the wall that makes it look like a Yes album. After some goofy close-ups of licking lips and exaggerated winking, the rapidly-cut, sweet-’70s. lovemaking commences.

Soon Greg’s “teacher of dreams” (as the cornball soundtrack sings) drops him back at the gas station and after a goodbye smooch wordlessly rides out of the film.

Back at "Pleasure," Bobby and Wanda have finished up (and cleaned up) as well. Camille and Moon have arrived, and soon Moon and Bobby are challenging each other to a drag race in their vans. The night isn't even done, and besides getting laid already, Bobby is getting his wish for some fresh competition!

The race begins, but is cut short when police arrive.

Our characters are summarily deposited in a co-ed cell (all are full, we’re told, thanks to the increased patrol on “cruise night”). Chooch happens to be there as well. And Greg arrives soon, too, having been arrested for the heinous crime of trying to hitchhike without having at least one foot on the curb.

The five bond a bit, then plan an excursion to Magic Mountain together the next day. It’s Greg’s idea -- as he explains, it was part of the dream he’d had about Camille. All are game and soon we’re stuck in another lengthy montage of merry-go-rounds, carnival games, and rolly coasters.

Paul Le Mat-wannabe Chooch gets nauseous after riding the “Revolution” haha. Then the group attend a show of some sort where the Kansas City Glitter Girls present a brand new dance, the Van Nuys Blvd.!

The dancing lasts about two minutes, but feels more like 20. Plenty of time to learn the Van Nuys Blvd., though, if you so desire. Or perhaps have yourself a home workout.

Cut to the back of Officer Zass' black-and-white, parked on Malibu Beach, where somehow he and Wanda the carhop both have their shirts off and are involved in a bit of hand-to-hand combat. It was just the offer of a ride home she'd accepted from the cop, she points out, not an invitation to participate in any shaggin' shenanigans.

Wanda manages to wiggle her way out of the situation by tricking Zass -- actually only slightly more difficult than, say, successfully telling a knock-knock joke -- a ruse that leaves him handcuffed to his car in his boxers.

Back to more dancing. And dancing. And dancing. Finally, Bobby and Moon hook up.

As do Greg and Camille, although their liaison involves a Greg first accidentally climbing into her parents' bedroom and starting the lovemaking with ma, à la Screwballs a few years later.

Meanwhile, on his way home Chooch happens upon Wanda on the highway. She further shows her cleverness in her method of getting him to pull over to give her a ride.

Those two wind up a couple, meaning that as we move into the latter part of the film our ensemble of six have sorted themselves out into three convenient pairs. Incidentally, we realize somewhere along the way that while there are a few extras here and there -- including some who flash their boobs or butts -- the world of Van Nuys Blvd. pretty much begins and ends with these six.

The group goes to the aforementioned go-kart track where Chooch finds himself in some semi-humorous competition with an old lady over the track record. She’s not too happy about losing it.

There's some air hockey, video games, and pinball. And some bikini-clad fun at the beach...

...where for some reason a pig named Reggie shows up.

There’s also a reprise of sorts of that earlier mistaken identity scene, this time involving Greg, Camille, and both of her parents.

It looks for a moment there might be some sort of drama when Bobby (now with Moon) and Wanda (now with Chooch) reunite, acknowledging their earlier whipped-creamy liaison with an exchange of looks. But nothing really comes of it.

Indeed, the only real drama preceding the film's climax comes when Greg tries to eat a too-big-for-his-mouth submarine sandwich and has to visit the hospital because he can't shut his trap.

That and the plight of poor Officer Zass, who incredibly remains handcuffed to his car on Malibu Beach for an entire day-and-a-half.

Maybe that pig on the beach earlier was setting up some sort of visual pun here, I dunno.

One gets the feeling that as in American Graffiti our characters are all supposed to grow up or experience some sort of meaningful change during these couple of days we spend with them. And some of that does happen, particularly with the older Chooch who comes to realize it's probably time he moved on and left wild Van Nuys to the younger crowd. Bobby and Moon experience something along those lines as well, I suppose, when their relationship undergoes one last challenge once they find it necessary to race their vans once more.

That said, nothing here is nearly as deep or carefully orchestrated in terms of message delivery or plot as with Graffiti. Instead, Van Nuys Blvd. offers fans of '70s fashion, cringe-worthy dancing and music, and other dated goofiness plenty to enjoy without complicating things too much with dramatic twists or character development.

If you fall into that category, then perhaps check it out. Especially if you missed Van Nuys Blvd. back during its brief stay in theaters and drive-ins, when as far as I remember it came and went in a flash.

- Triple S

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