Tuesday, March 13, 2018

#2,489. Corvette Summer (1978)

Directed By: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Mark Hamill, Annie Potts, Eugene Roche

Tag line: "A Fiberglass Romance"

Trivia: Both of this film's leads, Annie Potts and Mark Hamill, were in car accidents prior to principal photography

Had it not been for Luke Skywalker, odds are most people would have never heard of Corvette Summer. Even today, it’s remembered as the first film that Mark Hamill made after his career-defining role in 1977’s Star Wars, and while this 1978 comedy may not have been a $200 million box-office phenomenon like George Lucas’s space fantasy, it’s actually not a bad little movie in its own right. 

Hamill plays Kenny Dantley, a Los Angeles-area high school student who loves cars. Kenny spends the majority of his senior year restoring a 1973 Corvette Stingray that he and his shop class rescued from the wrecking yard. Once the vehicle is road-ready, shop teacher Mr. McGrath (Eugene Roche) takes his class on an evening field trip to Van Nuys Boulevard, giving each student a chance to get behind the wheel and take the Corvette for a spin. Unfortunately, fellow student Kootz (Danny Bonaduce), the last to drive it that night, leaves the vehicle alone for a minute or two, during which time it’s stolen by car thieves. To make matters worse, the police tell Kenny and the others that, in all likelihood, they’ll never see the Corvette again. 

But Kenny, who loves that car more than life itself, refuses to give up hope, and after receiving a tip that it’s been spotted in Las Vegas, hitchhikes his way across the desert. During his travels he meets Vanessa (Annie Potts), a prostitute-in-training who takes an immediate liking to the young man. Once in Vegas, Kenny searches frantically for the Corvette, but with Vanessa’s help he may just discover that there’s more to life than sports cars. 

Hamill does a fine job as the shy, somewhat awkward lead character (Vanessa’s early attempts to lure the inexperienced Kenny into her bed end in disaster), and we root like hell for him to find his beloved car. The best performance in Corvette Summer, however, is delivered by Annie Potts, making her big screen debut as the wannabe hooker with a heart of gold. Well before Kenny realizes how special she is, we the audience have already fallen for Potts’ Vanessa, whose bubbly personality and street-wise sensibilities win us over in a big way. 

The movie does feature a few solid action scenes (the best being an extended sequence where Kenny, after spotting the Corvette at a car wash, hops on a bike and gives chase) and a plot twist that took me by surprise. But without Annie Potts (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Vanessa), Corvette Summer wouldn’t have been half the movie it is. 

Over the years, Mark Hamill made several attempts to break free of his Star Wars alter-ego, playing a pacifist soldier in Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One as well as a pothead cameraman in Lindsey Anderson’s 1982 comedy Britannia Hospital (he also had a hilarious cameo in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). In recent years, he’s lent his voice to a variety of animated movies and TV shows, garnering praise for his portrayal of The Joker in several DC Comics productions, including 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. And while audiences will likely always associate him with the role of Luke Skywalker, his other projects - Corvette Summer included - prove that Hamill is capable of so much more.

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