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The Spirit of '76 Reviews

Despite having a topic ripe for satire--pop culture of the 70s--this rip-off of BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE falls flat on almost every count. Trapped in the ozone-less America of 2176, the Ministry of Knowledge (whose Ministers are played by Devo) has had its entire historical memory bank wiped out by a giant magnetic storm. They send three scientists in a time machine on a mission back to 1776 to recover the U.S. Constitution. A slipped digit lands them unknowingly in the bicentennial America of 1976. There the time-travellers--Adam-11 (David Cassidy), Chanel-6 (Olivia d'Abo) and Heinz-57 (Geoff Hoyle)--meet up with two bogus teenage dudes, Chris and Tommy (Jeff and Steve McDonald), who agree to help them in their quest. However, the CIA, the police and high school geek Rodney Snodgrass (Liam O'Brien) are all out to capture the visitors from the future, forcing them to split up. While on the lam, each team member encounters a barrage of 70s atrocities: Heinz gets trapped in an EST encounter; Chanel lands in a disco with Travolta wannabe Eddie Trojan (Leif Garrett); and Adam must rescue them all before their limited time runs out. While Chris and Tommy fuel up the time machine, Adam rescues his would-be love Chanel from a disco dance contest and Heinz escapes with an unlikely copy of the Constitution--printed on his EST partner's shirt. They return in triumph to the 22nd century where the heroes are honored with a parade of smiley faces, platform shoes, and bell bottoms--all presumed to be artifacts of the founding fathers. Borrowing on their family names, writer-director Lucas Reiner and writer-producer Roman Coppola hashed together this sophomoric comedy that has almost nothing to offer beyond its promising premise. For a 90s audience, the painful but oddly nostalgic memory of the trashy pop culture of the 1970s offers a potential embarrassment of riches: eight-track tape recordings of "The Hustle" and "Boogie Fever," pacers, mood rings, streakers, various "Me" philosophies, bean-bag chairs and cheap bicentennial souvenirs. While the recognition of these icons made for an interesting idea for a movie (as well as a cute ad slogan: "Don't pretend you don't remember"), THE SPIRIT OF '76 fails to provide a storyline of any interest. All of the central characters are so embarrassing to watch, as they lurch through flat scenes with nothing funny to say, that one is forced to scan the scenery hoping to catch a glimpse of another forgotten period icon: a Kiss poster, a bicentennial bong, anything to distract from the lifeless storyline and witless dialogue. Lucas Reiner calls upon father Carl, brother Rob, and other cameo players (Tommy Chong, Julie Brown, Don Novello) for help, but their competent turns do little to prop up the weak script. Those with a special yen for 70s nostalgia may want to sit through the pointless plot in order to partake of the film's time capsule qualities. Reiner has compiled many of the "essential" musical hits of mid-decade, though he omits any of the rich political references--Nixon, Agnew, Ford, Carter--available to him. But those who could live without the chuckles of hearing Grand Funk Railroad or the Starland Vocal Band again may want to skip the younger Reiner feature debut altogether. (Profanity, substance abuse, adult situations.)