Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 11, 2019)
After Star Wars catapulted him to fame in 1977, Mark Hamill clearly received a lot of offers. What did Hamill choose as his follow-up to the massive George Lucas hit?
1978’s Corvette Summer became Hamill’s next flick, and it did little to give the actor a career outside of the Star Wars universe. While the movie didn’t flop, it also failed to provide audiences a reason to embrace Hamill as anyone other than Luke Skywalker.
Teenager Kenny Dantley (Hamill) obsesses over cars, and he uses high school shop class as an outlet for his passion. Kenny restores a Corvette Stingray with astonishing results – such good results that someone steals the vehicle.
Kenny doesn’t take this theft lying down, so he traces the purloined vehicle to Las Vegas. There he meets teenaged “hooker-in-training” Vanessa (Annie Potts) and mixes his quest with romance.
Like every other 10-year-old boy in 1977, I adored Star Wars, and that film’s impact left me interested in projects that involved its cast – to a degree, at least. Harrison Ford’s initial post-Star Wars efforts failed to attract my attention, but Summer seemed much more like something up my pre-pubescent alley.
Did I like Summer as an 11-year-old? I have no idea – it’s one of those movies I know I saw but it failed to impact me in any way that allowed it to stick in my brain.
More than 40 years later, I find it intriguing to revisit Summer and assess it from a different perspective. Was it a film with actual independent value or was it just product shoved onto screens to capitalize on Hamill’s newfound fame?
I’d opt for the latter. Largely devoid of charm, Summer feels like an excuse to put a quick, cheap flick on screens and suck up some of those sweet, sweet Star Wars bucks.
Summer provides an odd tale, one that dabbles in drama but does so at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. We get a major subplot about a teenager who wants to become a prostitute, and we also get indications that Kenny’s mother neglects him.
Both of those themes could result in effective drama, but Summer doesn’t go down that path. The film elects to treat Vanessa’s pursuit of prostitution as nothing more than a funny lark, so we never get any kind of crisis or substance there.
Why does Vanessa so strongly desire to turn tricks? The movie fails to tell us. I get that casual sex came with a different connotation 40 years ago, but it still seems perplexing to see a film treat a very young woman’s embrace of prostitution in such a humorous, casual light.
Kenny’s family issues barely register, so one might assume Summer shoots to give us nothing more than the goofy, light romp its subject matter implies. To a degree, it goes that way, but the film also attempts odd stabs at drama.
Again, Summer ignores the logical choices for dramatic content, but it picks other domains to explore – sort of. Really, these come across as window-dressing, as the movie doesn’t delve into anything with much investment.
Summer takes this scattershot approach to all its aspects, a factor that makes it disjointed and inconsistent. It doesn’t try to bring us a real drama, but it also avoids the screwball comedy it promises, and its action beats sputter as well.
So what exactly purpose does all this serve? Cinematic product like I mentioned, I guess, as the creative side of things leads us nowhere.
It can be fun to see a young Hamill immediately post-Star Wars, though Summer gives us hints why he never enjoyed much success in other live-action films: he’s not much of an actor. Granted, Olivier couldn’t have done anything with this nonsense, but Hamill nonetheless can’t form an engaging, interesting on-screen presence.
Though 25 at the time, Summer represented Potts’ big-screen debut, and she manages more personality than Hamill. Actually, it’s a miracle that she doesn’t turn Vanessa into a relentlessly annoying character, but Potts does the best she can with the underwritten, sketchy part.
I most enjoyed glimpses of the supporting cast. Longtime favorite Wendie Jo Sperber pops up in a criminally small part, and talented character actors like Philip Bruns and Dick Miller also appear.
Heck, we even see post-Partridge Danny Bonaduce as the classmate who loses the Corvette! Our time with these minor characters doesn’t add much, but given the failure of the rest of the film, I take pleasure wherever I can find it.
And make no mistake: you’re unlikely to locate much entertainment in Corvette Summer. Even my nostalgic memories of the film can’t make me enjoy it now.