Back to the Beach (1987)
Directed by Lydell Hobbs
Starring Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Lori Loughlin
"What the hell is a kahuna, anyway? And is it good to have a big one?"
TV spokeswoman for Skippy peanut butter and Frankie, well who knows? And that's the premise of Back to the Beach. Released at a time when the baby-boomers who came of age in the early 60's were now settling in middle-age and feelign nostalgic for theit idyllic youth, the film presents us with an alternate universe what if: what if Frankie and Annette were actually their characters in the movies, and it was a couple decades later? Where would they be? What would they be doing? Would Frankie still be the king of the beach? And would Annette still fill out a one-piece so perfectly after gulping down all that peanut butter? Let's find out!
It's 24 years since their first beach party together, and Frankie AKA the Big Kahuna and Annette are married and they have an asshole teenager who explains the story so far. His name is Bobby (Damian Slade), and he's dressed more like the leather dude from the Village People, but I think he's supposed to be a punk rocker. Anyway, somewhere after the beach party movies, Frankie had a surfing accident, and he's afraid to go back into the water. Instead, he moved the family to Ohio and now he owns a car dealership. They live in one of those 1950's space-age houses and Annette gobbles peanut butter all day, you know, because of the TV commercials. As our story opens, Bobby is getting his lunch from mom, and he is not happy about what's in it. She's gone completely batty with the goddamn peanut butter. It's all they eat. There's jars stacked everywhere.
So, mom's gone insane, dad's stressed out from work, Junior is on the edge. Time for a vacation! So the family heads to Hawaii!
But first they have to stop off in LA to see their daughter, Sandy. Sandy? We'll find out about her in a minute, first roll the neon 80's credits and the neon 80's Eddie Money theme song! We're gonna catch a ride on a wave all over the world!
At LAX. Annette runs into OJ Simpson, who appears to be in a big hurry. You know, from those commercials. And also because he might've just murdered somebody.
So Sandy (Lori Laughlin) is living with some surfer creep named Michael and she hasn't told her folks yet because dad won't like it. So this surprise visit is really gonna open up a can of worms unless she thinks fast!
Frankie uses Bobby's head to bust the door down, but Mike gets out just in time.
Frankie figures it out though and he and Bobby head out to go find the guy and kill him. On the way, they run into a post-apocalyptic surfer gang, but even though Frankie knocks over their surfboards and goofs on their hair, they let him go. Some gang.
And then Frankie just gives up and they go shopping. Later on, they drop Sandy off at her job at Daddy-o's on their way back to the airport to catch their flight.
Annette insists that they go in because their old pal, Dick "King of Surf" Dale is playing, so what the hell, they go in. Frankie runs into Ed "Kookie" Burns, a reference lost to almost everybody at this point.
Annette gets hit on by some sleazy dude in a mesh shirt, which really pisses Frankie off. He demands they get the fuck out of there, but on their way out, he runs into his old flame Connie Stevens. She starts smooching up on him, and that really throws a monkey wrench into the works.
Turns out she has a Big Kahuna shrine in the bar. That's not too weird, is it?
Connie insists Frankie sings a song before he leaves. And so he does. Frankie and Dick Dale and Connie all rock out to a really terrible, really 80's rendition of California Sun. Dick Dale's hair is fucking crazy in this.
Because of all the carrying-on, they end up missing their flgiht to Hawaii. Annette's pissed and Frankie's pissed, and then he says he's going back to Ohio, and she tells him to fuckin' go, she's staying to hang out with Sandy and have some goodtimes. So Sandy kicks Michael out, and mom and Bobby move in. Sandy is not entirely sure this is the best idea, but what the fuck, she can do better. That guy is no big Kahuna.
Meanwhile, back at Daddy O's, Frankie is having a few drinks, and he notices that the bartender looks very familiar.
Back at Sandy's, they have a goddamn pajama party. More of a lingerie party, really. With dancing and mutant surf punks.
After a long night of drinking, Frankie wakes up in surf shack where, ironically enough, he meets Michael, who gives him the Keith Richards hangover cure (Coca Cola, instant coffee, and Alka Seltzer), and then politely informs him about his intentions for Frankie's daughter.
Frankie's first instinct is to kill him, but he's too hungover, so they try and work things out. Later on, in an unsuspected twist - spoiler alert! - we find out that Michael is Connie's son!
Also, meanwhile, Bobby joins the surfpunk gang. You might think, why would they let a poser like him join? Because he has his dad's American Express gold card! Surf punk partytime!
And then out of nowhere, Annette does a ska tune with Fishbone. It's better than Frankie's song, but the dancing is very complicated.
But listen, forget the dancing, we have three to four relationships to repair here. First off, Frankie finds out Michael paints surfboards, so he agrees to go into business with him. Problem solved there. But how do the fellas patch things up with the girls? Frankie has the solution: beach party. That always worked in 1964! Problem is, the harbormaster won't give out permits for night-time parties on the beach. But Frankie's got a plan. Incidentally, at this point, they're back at Daddy-O's and now Stevie Ray Vaughn is playing with Dick Dale, and his hair is even poofier than it was before.
Hey, that harbormaster looks familiar!
The fellas trick the harbormaster into thinking the party is in his honor, so now it's on! And it's working great! Michael and Sandy get back together, no sweat, But Annette goes looking for Frankie, and he's goofin' around with that housewrecker Connie. To make him jealous, Annette goes matte-screen surfing with Troy-the-asshole. She looks pretty foxy in her hot pink surfer suit.
Anyways, Frankie fuckin' punches his lights out. Which makes Annette mad, but not really. Then she stomps over to Connie to give her the business, but Connie straightens her out. And also compliments her on her tits. They get mentioned alot in this movie.
So she takes her advice and then they make up and make out and everybody is happy. The end. I mean, it seems like the end, but then Pee Wee Herman shows up and performs Surfin' Bird! The 80's version, so he throws in some "radicals" and "gnarlys". He's not very good at lip synching. And everybody gets on stage and dances with him! And then he gets on a flying surfboard, and ascends into heaven! What a party, the end.
But wait, can we really end the movie without Frankie getting over his fear and surfing again?
No, we can't, so he tells his goddamn story.
But then the mood is shattered by Bobby, who is now the king of the surf punks, because he bought them all dune buggies. He shows up to the ruin the shindig, but everybody just laughs at him, because he's an idiot. But as Frankie points out, we do have a territorial despute, so they'll have to surf for the beach. Michael versus the surf puhk dude. Except Frankie accidentally breaks Mike's foot, so now they're gonna lose the beach to the creeps unless..unless Frankie can get over his fear and surf again! Can he do it?
Of course not, he's a middle-aged car salesman. They get on the next flight back to Ohio. Fuck the beach.
Or do they? We will not reveal the shocking, but I will say this: the Beaver is involved.
In 1987, this was considered satire. We live in an age of sarcasm and snark and ill-will now, so you can't even tell that they were shooting for 'edgy' here, because at this point, it seems just as good-natured and fun-loving as the original beach party movies did. And that's good, because we need to be reminded once in a while that there is genuine joy out there to be had, and it may only be a conga line away.
Packed with fun cameos and goofy musical interludes and corny gags and good vibes, Back to the Beach is everything you'd hope a Frankie and Annette reunion would be. Except maybe for an Annette wardrobe malfunction. You don't get that. They didn't have those yet in the 80's. Anyway, goodtimes and not a hassle for miles.
- Ken McIntyre
PS: Listen to the MAG gang discuss Back to the Beach on Episode 169 of the Movies About Girls podcast!