American Graffiti was one of the most profitable films ever made, so it’s unsurprising that six years later a sequel was produced. What is surprising is that the sequel manages to maintain the tone and themes of the original, while moving the story forward via an innovative approach that makes More American Graffiti worthwhile – if not wholly successful – in its own right.
Set across four consecutive New Year’s Eves, we concentrate in turn on each of four returning characters from the first film, with the returning cast sharing only one scene together at the start. Although the four stories barely impact upon one another, rather than showing them successively, they are instead intercut sequentially with short visits to each of the characters’ developing tales. Each of the four uses an appropriately differing filmmaking technique; 4:3 for Vietnam, Woodstock-style split screens throughout the 1966 sequences, and so on.
The 1964 segment, two years after the original, sees John Milner (Le Mat) – still drag racing and hoping unsuccessfully to turn professional – involved in a problematic love story that mirrors his experience in the first film. A year on, and Terry “the Toad” Fields (Smith) has been several months in Vietnam and will do anything to get out. In the 1966 sequences, Debbie Dunham (Clark) falls in with a counter-culture rock band in an attempt to get her wayward boyfriend a position as their guitarist, while finally in 1967 Laurie Henderson (Williams) leaves her husband Steve (Howard, returning for basically an extended cameo) after an argument over whether she should be allowed to get a job, and ends up getting accidentally involved in a student protest.
Harrison Ford and Mackenzie Phillips (Milner’s “love interest” Carol from the original) each return for a single scene in which we discover how their characters have moved on, and Bo Hopkins returns as the leader of the Pharaohs, now in Vietnam and sharing a mindset with the Toad. The characters have developed and matured into young adulthood, but are still beset by the same preoccupations and flaws that they earlier exhibited. It’s an intelligent development, albeit one that sorely misses the presence of Richard Dreyfuss’ Curt Henderson, although the voice of Wolfman Jack is still all across the soundtrack – which is as expected filled with wall-to-wall classic songs from the era.
Fans of American Graffiti will not be as disappointed by the sequel as George Lucas reportedly was (albeit largely because of the modest box office, it seems), as the approach is familiar and assured and the follow-up certainly feels of a piece with its precursor. But a slightly cleverer script might have made of it something as special as the original, and it isn’t quite that.
Special Features: NoneMORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: B.L. NORTON / STARRING: PAUL LE MAT, CINDY WILLIAMS, CANDY CLARK, CHARLES MARTIN SMITH, MACKENZIE PHILLIPS, BO HOPKINS, RON HOWARD / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 9TH