“American Drive-In” (AMC Century 14) is a truly stumbling attempt to cull social observation and belly laughs using the backdrop of the title gathering place. It’s the destitute man’s “American Graffiti.” In fact, it’s such a desperate stab at entertainment that if one were stranded on a desert island surrounded by sharks with only this movie to watch, you’d opt for water skiing.

Rather than a story, the plot is a series of familiar types. There’s the virginal teen-agers about to face adulthood, the tough gang whose leader will be exposed as a coward, a family of ravenous fatties, a dwarf actor who views his brief moment of glory on screen--as a zombie--whenever he can, and a local politician who believes he can expose scandal and cement his mayoralty race at the outdoor movie theater.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 29, 1987 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 29, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 3 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
In the review of the film “American Drive-In” it was incorrectly stated that the film was rated R by the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The film has not been submitted to the MPAA for rating.

At the root of the film’s failure is its insistance of superiority to the characters’ lot. This poor gang of misfits are to be pitied because they go willingly to these culturally suspect films for their social pleasure.


It goes without saying that the sensibilities behind this film, and it’s film-within-a-film (“Hard Rock Zombies,” a feature made by the same motley crew), have no right to be pointing fingers. They present a wholly undigestible set of cliches. Not a single image or thought smacks of invention--the obscure, similarly themed 1976 release “Drive-In” emerges as literature when placed beside this mess.

This pastiche, concocted by director Krishna Shah--who also gets co-script credit with David Ball--reminds one of the accomplishment of such films as “Nashville” and “Handle With Care.” “American Drive-In” (MPAA-rated: R, for language and some nudity) hasn’t the remotest chance of coming within a country mile of those achievements and if justice prevails, the guilty parties will be found lashed to their automobiles, and forced to view their handiwork on a perpetual loop.