"Silly, slight and entertaining little nugget of 1970's goofball nostalgia."
Several years before Austin Powers and That 70's Show "created" the 1970's nostalgia wave there was a cheap little indie comedy that came and went before anybody noticed. The flick earned a fair share of fans during its lengthy tenure on cable television and a few of us were eagerly awaiting the movie's debut on DVD.It's called The Spirit of '76 and it's a cute little hoot for those who remember the 70s with equal parts nostalgia and derision. I mean, let's face it: the 70s were kinda silly. Sure, this was the decade the gave us Led Zeppelin and some of the finest American movies of all time, but it was also the era of EST and gas rationing, of AMC Pacers and Ford Pintos, of bellbottoms and disco and several other stupid things.
A group of future folks decide they need a copy of the U.S. Constitution, so they plan to travel back in time to 1776. Of course there's a blunder which sends Adam-11 (David Cassidy), Chanel-6 (Olivia d'Abo) and Heinz-57 (Geoff Hoyle) to 1976 by mistake. Somehow under the assumption that they're in a utopian society, the trio of visitors head out to acquire the knowledge they need to save their future.
Obviously it's a fairly flimsy framework on which to hang a collection of 70s parodies, but Lucas Reiner's screenplay works well enough; there's a sunny good humor to the societal ribbings that helps keep the movie afloat throughout the periodic slow spots. The Spirit of '76 may not be much more than a 70s-centric retread of the original Bill & Ted adventure, but it's a funny enough farce in its own right, so the blatant 'inspiration' can be forgiven.
Jeffrey and Steve McDonald (of the rock band Red Kross) play the two stoner goofballs who befriend the time travelers. The pair, clearly not experienced actors, exude a dorky charm, while a young guy called Liam O'Brien plays evil nerd Rodney Snodgrass; this hateful little dork is hilarious in just about every one of his scenes. The gimmick casting continues with David Cassidy as the heroic time-jumper, and the old-school TV icon acquits himself quite well. Cassidy's performance, indeed the whole movie, is tongue-in-cheek and more than a little self-deprecating.
Other 70s staples like Leif Garrett, Tommy Chong, Don Novello and Barbara Bain pop up to keep the old folks giggling; the admittedly silly sci-fi plot (which somehow ends up including tetrahydrozoline, aka eye drops) works just well enough to keep the 82-minute affair moving along briskly.Plus there's a sweet sense of affection scattered throughout the frankly silly affair; a feeling of "Yeah, the 70s sure were stupid, but we had a good time anyway..."