It's impossible to watch "The Chicken Chronicles" without comparing it to another teen-age comedy, "American Graffiti."
The scene is California 1969, not 1962, and seven years have brought a more affluent lifestyle for high-school kids. Instead of cruising in cars, they party at home after their parents go out. Marijuana joints overflow a silver chafing dish; liquor flows at a bar facing the patio, palm trees and pool.
Adults are still portrayed as backward buffons, if they exist at all. David, the central figure (the first movie role for 18-year-old Steven Guttenberg) communicates with his mother only through intercoms and closed-circuit television.
Dealing with the agonies of budding sexuality remains all-consuming. When David isn't trying to seduce his girlfriend or jeopardizing his graduation with pranks, he works at a "Chicken-on-the-Run" carryout. Phil Silvers as "Mr. O," the owner who has a thing for Dolores Hart, will delight old Sgt. Bilo fans.
The real-life David, 26-year-old Paul Diamond, says he wrote "Chronicles," his autobiography, before "American Graffiti" came out. Piqued that his story didn't make celluloid first, for a while he avoided seeing "Graffiti. "It was too depressing to see somebody already had done what I tried to do," says Diamond. "I pretended it didn't exist and hoped it would go away."
He finally saw it on cable TV in 1975, liked it "so much," especially its continuous musical soundtrack. He wrote the screenplay for "Chronicles" in early 1976. By then, he says, copyright fees were so high that the budget for his movie could accommodate only about half a dozen songs.
Diamond grew up in Beverly Hills and describes himself as "one of the poor kids." He had a swimming pool, but had to buy his own car. His father is I.A.L. Diamond, a screenwriter who frequently collaborates with Billy Wilder. The younger Diamond remembers being allowed to watch the filming of "Some Like It Hot" when he was seven and later, other collaborations - "The Apartment," "Irma La Douce" and "Fortune Cookie." He even walked on as an extra in "Cactus Flower."
More recently, he and his colleagues would have done well to sit in on "American Graffiti's" set.
Where cliches in "Graffiti" work because the parody is understood, the dialogue in "Chicken Chronicles" just seems unimaginative. While "Graffiti's" characters sweetly remind us of someone we once knew, "Chronicles'" teen-ages are too smug and wooden to be appealing. "American Graffiti's" action is tight and unified; "Chicken Chronicles" drags disjointedly.
Whether it's 1969, 1962 or the summer of 42, teen-agers can't escape adolescene, and transition makes a good story. "American Graffiti" remains untouched in its comic portrayal of rites of passage.