Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Spirit of '76 (Lucas Reiner, 1990)

Given that this film is saturated with references to the founding of the United States of America, I thought I was going to be completely lost when it came time to decipher it as a piece of filmed entertainment. Then it dawned me, I know a shitload, maybe even a fuckload (if such a load actually exists), about America. You could even say that I know more about America than most Americans. Sure, I couldn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance if you held a registered hand gun to my head and I'm a firm believer in three down football, but I can name all the state capitals and I know the names of at least half the presidents. Hell, I even remember watching Schoolhouse Rock! as a kid. In other words, my foreign ass totally knows how a bill becomes a law. Thankfully, having knowledge of any kind floating around in your head is completely unnecessary when it comes to enjoying The Spirit of '76, the righteously groovy slice of nepotism a go-go that's been endorsed by Devo. All you need to know is that the United States Constitution is a very important document and you should be good to go. (I thought you said the film was, and I quote, "saturated with references to the founding of the United States of America.") Nah, I didn't mean that. I was just trying to scare you. The film's message can actually be applied to almost any country that feels like it's lost its way. To be honest, I'm way more interested in the love triangle that forms between Olivia D'Abo, David Cassidy and Leif Garrett. (Hold up. You mean to tell me that while you were boring us about your supposed knowledge of American history and culture, that you could have been talking about a love triangle between Olivia D'Abo, David Cassidy and Leif Garrett?!?) I guess.

(Do you know how rare this is?) How rare what is? (Think about it. Year after year, we see the same stupid faces, acting in the same stupid movies.) I don't understand. (Remember that brief period of time when Kate Hudson–speaking of nepotism a go-go–was in every other movie?) Yeah. (Well, that's what I'm getting that. It's the same people appearing over and over again. Okay, now how many movies are there that star both David Cassidy and Leif Garrett?) I don't know, how many? (Zero!) Are you sure? You might want to double check that. (No way, man, I don't need to. I'm confident when I say The Spirit of '76 is the only film with the guts to cast David Cassidy and Leif Garrett as its leads.)

I don't want to cause you to spill maple syrup all over your maxi-pads, but don't they suck? (Oh my God! I can't believe you just said that. No, they don't suck. If anything, they're complete opposite of something that sucks.) You mean they rule? (Yeah, they kinda do...rule, that is. You heard right, David Cassidy and Leif Garrett rule in this movie. And they totally almost come to blows over the gorgeous Olivia D'Abo, the actress who first won us over in Flying, the second greatest leotard-centric movie to come out of the Great White North during the 1980s; the greatest being, of course, Heavenly Bodies.)

Hey, get your head out of the 1980s, this film, written and directed by Lucas Reiner, is all about celebrating the 1970s. (Are you sure about that? I mean, the decade is mocked pretty hard in this film.) That's true, there's quite a lot of mocking going on. But if you look at the film's final scene, it's clear that the mockery comes from a place of love. You could even view the film as confirmation that the decade was the nation's cultural nadir, and that if the country doesn't get back to the fun-loving and frivolous ways that defined the decade, it could find itself turning into the drab, colourless landscape that it becomes in the year 2176.

You know how nothing is hardly even written down on paper anymore? Well, that decision, according this film, is going to bite humanity in the ass in a big way. You see, when a magnetic storm wipes out all the computers, history, specifically, the history of United States of America, ceases to exist.

Members of The Ministry of Knowledge, who are, of course, played by Devo, want to repair the damage the magnetic storm caused by piecing together the fabric of America. Turning to Dr. Von Mobil (Carl Reiner), one of the last Americans who remembers what the country was like before the magnetic storm wiped everything out, Devo, mostly Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale, ask him for his advice on how to re-build the nation; it has become a grey, ashy place devoid of joy.

If you wanna fix America, you're going to have to start at the beginning. And according to what I have gleamed from American television over the years, it began on July 4, 1776.

The Ministry of Knowledge, along with Heinz-57 (Geoff Hoyle), who runs the sector of psycho-historical inquiries, and Chanel-6 (Olivia D'Abo), the nation's foremost epistemological anthro-sociologist, offer Adam-11 (David Cassidy), the inventor of a time machine, as much tetrahydrozoline-6 (the stuff that makes his time machine run) as he wants, if he agrees to take Heinz-57 and Chanel-6 back to 1776. Since he's only interested in visiting "Ikiki Beach" (the "wa" on the Waikiki post card he carries around with him are missing - anything with printing on it is cherished in 2176), he declines their offer.

Of course, I forgot to mention that he didn't know Olivia D'Abo would be going with him. And let's just say, his attitude regarding the mission changes greatly once he learns that he will be stuck in a cramped time machine with Olivia D'Abo for who knows how long.

Setting the coordinates to 1776, Adam-11, Heinz-57 and Chanel-6 should be hanging out with George Washington and Button Gwinnett in no time.

(Call me crazy, but I don't think any of the Founding Fathers looked like the guys from Redd Kross.) Oh, I don't know, put a powdered wig on them and give them some buckled footwear, and I'm sure they could pull it off. (Um, hello, I don't think Thomas Jefferson rode a banana chopper four with quarter spokes and full knobbies. And he definitely didn't have a Gene Simmons patch sewn on the crotch of his pants.) Actually, the patch was adjacent to his crotch, it wasn't actually on it. (Whatever, it's clearly not 1776.)

The year is '76, but just not the one they expected. Something must have went wrong with the time machine. It doesn't matter, 'cause, funny thing, Adam-11, Heinz-57 and Chanel-6 still seem to think that it's 1776. We know it's 1976, but to them, it's acceptable to think that people wore tube tops, listened to Grand Funk Railroad, and drove yellow AMC Pacers back in 1776; they have no frame of reference.

(Speaking of tube tops, when are you going to get around to talking about Moon Unit Zappa? After all, she's the real reason you watched this film in the first place, isn't it?) No, I watched it because I was interested in the subject matter. What can I say? I've always been fascinated by time travel and American history. (What can you say?!? It sounds like what you "can say" is a steaming pile of horseshit.)

(Word on the street is that your obsession with all things Moon Unit Zappa has become so pronounced, that you can't even think straight.)

Okay, you're right, I am obsessed. But can you blame me? I mean, look at her. Her beauty is, like, transcendental and junk.

Anyway, let me get this out of the way before I continue down this path. When Adam-11, Heinz-57 and Chanel-6 arrive in 1976, they're greeted by Chris Johnson (Jeffrey McDonald) and Tommy Sears (Steve Johnson), two best buds who use the sight of Moon Unit Zappa in a tube top as beat-off material. Keen to help the wayward newcomers, Chris and Tommy agree to hide Adam-11's time ship at their "crash pad" - you know, keep it from the prying eyes of a couple of C.I.A. agents (played by The Kipper Kids) and Rodney Snodgrass (Liam O'Brien), an obnoxious pustule who would look great in drag (his bone structure practically screams fabulous).

Now that we got that out of the way, let's head to "Planet Earth," a local clothing store, to get Adan-11, Heinz-57 and Chanel-6 some new duds, 'cause the colour grey has no place in 1976. And guess who works at "Planet Earth"? You guessed it, Moon Unit Zappa!

Reading "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler when the time travelers enter the store, Cheryl Dickman (Moon Unit Zappa)... (Hey, wait a second, if grey has no place in 1976, why is Cheryl Dickman's tube top grey? Answer that, smart guy.) Are you sure it isn't silver? (Are you kidding?) Whatever, man, Moon Unit Zappa is, like, wearing a tube top and a pair of super-short jean shorts. (Yeah, you're right.) So, where was I? Oh, yeah, Cheryl Dickman notices Adam-11 looking at shirts.

Asking if Adam-11 if he needs any help, Cheryl Dickman, making sure he catches a glimpse of her stunning calves as she approaches him, uses the old "my mood ring totally changed colours" trick to break the ice.

It obviously worked, as Adam-11 is hanging on her every word, even as she rambles semi-coherently about astrology.

The biggest tragedy about The Spirit of '76 is that Cheryl Dickman tells Adam-11 that she will see him later, but she totally doesn't. (Totally doesn't what?) She totally doesn't see him later. (Meaning?) Meaning, that's it as far as Moon Unit Zappa goes in this movie. (You must have been totally crestfallen.) You bet your ass I was totally crestfallen. I was also totally depressed, totally dejected, totally despondent, totally downcast and totally dispirited. In other words... No, wait, other words won't be necessary, as I think I totally just used all of them.

The second biggest tragedy is that Eddie Trojan (Leif Garrett) doesn't score with Chanel-6. (Who the fuck is Eddie Trojan?!?) Um, he's Eddie Trojan, a.k.a. The Bonemaster. Duh, where have you been? (Doesn't he, at one point, prevent Tommy Chong from dipping his cannabis-stained dick in some free range D'Abo pussy at Hocus Smokus?) Yeah, so? (I'm just saying.) Either way, I thought Leif Garrett and Olivia D'Abo had great chemistry together.

While Eddie Trojan is desperately trying to get inside Chanel-6's tight, lacey, purple pants, Heinz-57 receives a history lesson from Ms. Liberty (Julie Brown), a peepshow stripper/constitutional scholar in red stockings and red opera gloves, attends a self-help seminar being given by Rob Reiner (his way of helping people seems limited to calling them assholes), and gets in a heated argument with a large man waiting in line to buy gas.

In case you're wondering what Adam-11 is getting up to while all this is going on, he's hanging out with Red Kross at their crash pad. Nooice. No, seriously, it's pretty sweet. The art direction, the use of bright colours, the juvenile humour, the costumes (by a teenage Sofia Coppola), the music (every crappy/awesome '70s song you can imagine is featured on the soundtrack), Moon Unit Zappa in a tube top, everything about this movie is agreeable. Sure, I thought Eddie Trojan got shafted, but, in a way, Eddie Trojan, and 1976 in general, help save the future. I wouldn't be surprised if they put Eddie Trojan's face on Mount Rushmore in the year 2176. Don't tell anyone this, but if I could ovulate, I would totally have Eddie Trojan's baby.

While I didn't tear up during the final scene, I did catch myself trying to prevent a sly smirk from appearing on my face on several occasions. And you know what they say? Self-stylized sly smirk obstruction is the highest form of flattery.


  1. So... are there any other Moon Unit Zappa films left unseen by your discerning eyes?

    1. There's nothing on her filmography currently jumping out at me. But I'm sure I can find something.

      Oh, hello, what's this, "Dark Side of Genius." Moon Zappa is billed fourth! And one of the production photos has MUZ straddling Brendan Fraser in a burgundy bra.

      To prove how committed I am, I even watched her directorial debut "Ugly."

    2. Ooops, it's not Brenden Fraser Moon Zappa is straddling, but some guy named Brent Fraser. Either way, if Moon Unit was straddling a rarely sat on park bench, I would definitely watch.

    3. Well, maybe a better question would be..... when will you finally review Pia Zadora in "Butterfly"?

      You've done all her other movies. I read a little internet tidbit by an extra that Orson Welles was so drunk during his scenes that no one could hold it together. That's how bad the shoot was. Or something like that. Poor Orson.

    4. Damn! Butterfly! I keep forgetting about that movie. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I haven't seen Spirit of 76 since it first came out on video. We just had to see it, and I think we sang Kung Fu Fighting for the next week! I haven't heard the name Eddie Trojan in forever. That made me smile. Thank you.

    Btw, maybe it's on here, and I'm going to look, but I wonder if you've seen Party Line with Lief Garrett. OMG. I worship that film.

    I actually briefly helped Moon Unit Zappa when I was a bookseller in Los Angeles. She is super nice and gorgeous. It was exciting.

    1. I was quite taken with Eddie Trojan's plight in this movie. All he wanted to do was bone Olivia d'Abo, but circumstances (*cough*David Cassidy and his oily smirk*cough*) kept getting in the way.

      I've seen the VHS cover for Party Line in the past (it's amazing cover). But now that I know Leif Garrett is in it, my interest to see has increased tenfold.

      "Super nice and gorgeous." Awesome. I knew about the gorgeous part, you know, because I have eyes and junk. But the fact you said that she's super nice pleases me greatly.