Teenage car enthusiast Mark Hamill and his school auto class have just unearthed an old and broken down 1973 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray from the scrapyard. Months of hard work and dedication and motivated by their shop teacher (Eugene Roche) the class has turned that rust bucket into the sleekest, customized red hot Corvette on the California streets. “It’s the best lookin’ street machine on the West Coast!”
The class’ excitement doesn’t last very long when the Corvette is stolen. Hamill is broken hearted over the dream machine’s abduction and is determined to recover the prized vehicle. He manages to track it to somewhere in Las Vegas and with the help of wannabe prostitute Annie Potts, Hamill ends up spending his time trying to find his dream car, gets into some comedic escapades and falls for the gruff girl.
Corvette Summer was Hamill’s first followup film after the blast of stardom he got from Star Wars. It’s a silly light-hearted, romantic romp that is an innocent time-waster. It’s inoffensive, has a few amusing moments, but really doesn’t have much to warrant much attention or derision. It’s not great, but nowhere near as bad as the reputation it has gained. It became an easy title to use for a mocking one-liner or a punchline. Maybe it’s that short breezy sounding title that makes it easy to be a butt of a joke. The name ‘Corvette Summer’ just welcomes a chuckle.
The gist of the story is that Hamill’s love and adoration moves from that Corvette toward Potts as their interactions and misadventures begin to pile up. It starts to follow a romantic road movie template from when they first meet and immediately rub each other the wrong way and ending with each of them yelling at each other and going their separate ways. But of course, fate will pull the two back together again and again.
As the story moves forward and they end up having to spend more and more time with each other, have more wacky missteps and begin to realize they really like each other, it becomes less fun and this star-crossed romance doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Their chemistry and situations they’re thrust in aren’t high end screwball antics, there’s really no memorable romantic moments between them and at best the story just goes through the motions of what is supposed to happen in a love story.
For me it becomes very tedious and I just wasn’t very invested in the two of them or anxiously awaiting them to finally hook up. Potts is the stronger of the two and begins to overshadow Hamill. She’s funny, lively and she’s really the one who energizes things the most.
Meanwhile, the search for that Corvette goes on. Well, there are a whole busload of coincidences that happen to get the Corvette on Hamill’s radar. Things unfold so conveniently in the story that it neuters Hamill’s frantic, possessed search to find the car. He basically just has to stand on a street corner and the Corvette will magically pull up every single time.
The Corvette is found and the explanation of how these car thieves are in possession of it isn’t as much of a surprise twist in the story. I won’t spoil things, but let’s just say Hamill has to decide whether to work restoring cars with this group, make some nice cash and accept his dream car is no more OR stick to his guns, try to save the Corvette, admit he loves Potts and go back to school to collect his high school diploma. Which road do you think the story will drive down?
There’s definitely some 1970s innocent charm that runs through Corvette Summer. How could it not? Watching it, there’s nostalgic throwbacks of waterbeds in vans, hairstyles, the clothes. It’s disappointing there’s no real notable 70s tunes that creep in, but there is Danny Bonaduce in a small part. It’s too bad there’s not much gas in the tank to make Corvette Summer more enjoyable.
There’s also surprisingly not a lot of car action that happens. At least not as much as you might suspect from a movie with “Corvette” in the title. The Corvette might be the centerpiece of the movie, but it’s offscreen most of the time until the last third of the film. The movie just kind of sputters along with elongated scenes of Hamill and Potts arguing, relaxing or flirting and the search for the car falls by the wayside. It’s only when Hamill ‘happens’ to sporadically catch sight of the Corvette the pace picks back up and the gas gets hit.
The movie could have spent more time delving into the enthusiasm of cars, which is the main motivator for Hamill’s search. It could have been more of a love letter to automobiles, the passion owners have for them, a stage for them to show off some of the creative bells and whistles cars have, the whole subculture of care enthusiasts and the range of characters and lifestyles they come in. Hamill could have met a series of colorful car owners to help him recover his dream ride. That might have been more fun and had been more of a colorful time capsule of ’70s car culture to look back on.
What does happen is not as interesting. Ok, so the film is not really as much about a teens love for his car as it is an unexpected love story that happens while on his car search. It’s just too bad that love story isn’t as engaging and fun. Hamill hangs out with Potts and he has humdrum run ins with the bad guys who stole the Corvette.
Potts would receive a Golden Globe for Best Female Debut. And she is incredibly cute and funny in the movie. Forget the Corvette Stingray, I’d say she is the highlight in the movie. They made the right choice by casting her. You’ll also catch Dick Miller and Brion James – who you might not be surprised to learn plays a bad guy.
After watching Corvette Summer I got curious as to whatever happened to that star vehicle. I actually thought the customized Corvette in the movie looked gaudy and very cheesy. It wasn’t as elegant or beautiful a car that would catch my eye. The right hand drive on it is pretty cool though.
Apparently there were two customized Corvettes made for the film. Details are sketchy as to the exact whereabouts of them. The best I could find is that they are each in private collections in Australia and New Zealand.
I wonder if the current owners of the Corvettes are both big Corvette Summer fans…?