"More American Graffiti" suffers from a terminal case of the cutes. Made with the approval of George Lucas, the director of American Graffiti," and perhaps with his misbegotten collusion, "More American Graffiti" succeeds in making a blithe mockery of its predecessor.
B.W.L. Norton, the young writer-director (known as plain Bill Norton when he made "Cisco Pike" in the early '70s), has contrived to be relentlessly commercial while showing off his film-culture IQ and flashing his old counterculture ID.
Norton has turned to Griffith's "Intolerence," of all unwiedly models, as a framework for reviving several of the characters introduced in Lucas' original -- a marvelous lyric comedy in which the dating habits, longings, fustrations and pop music preferences of a generation of American teen-agers were compressed into a single night of cruising in a small California town in late summer 1962.
Norton unveils four different scenarios on four consecutive New Year's Eves and attempts to intercut them contrapuntally over the length of the film, then tie them off with a wasn't that-clever kicker at the fadeout.
One of the principal characters, the introspective, witty Curt Henderson, has been lost because Richard Dreyfuss declined to recreate the role. Norton offers a weak stand-in, Curt's kid brother Andy, a campus radical played by Will Seltzer. Inexplicably, the Mackenzie Phillips character, Carol, the brat who pestered hot-rodder John Milner, played by Paul Le Mat, turns up only in a perfunctory role. With Curt gone and Carol wasted, this leaves five major characters and a couple of minor ones for Norton to fool around with.
Le Mat has the spotlight in Episode 1 (1964) at a California dragstrip where Milner is competing in the day's races. Episode 2 concentrates on Charles Martin Smith as the erstwhile wimp, Terry the Toad, now a helicopter co-pilot in Vietnam. Transformed by Norton into a veritable Yossarian, Terry doggedly attempts to wound himself, avoid combat, get even with his gung-ho commanding officer and desert on New Year's Eve 1965.
Episode 3, San Francisco 1966, find Candy Clark as Debbie, the girl Terry picked up in "American Graffiti," trying to land a job in a rock band for her ne'er-do-well hippie boyfriend Lance, played by John Lansing. Finally, Cindy Willians and Ron Howard return in Episode 4 as Laurie and Steve, the former high school, sweethearts. Now married and the parents of twin boys, they have a spat over Laurie's desire for a part-time job. She storms out to visit brother Andy, and a reconciliation is effected after Laurie and Steve are caught up in an antiwar demonstration on New Year's Eve 1967 and get their consciousnesses raised and radicalized.
The milner episode is shot in Panavision, which encompasses the entire screnn surface. Terry in Vietnam is shot in a simulated 16mm with desaturated color, producing a small, square newsreel-type image in the center of the screen. Debbie get multiple images reminiscent of the Expo '67 films and "The Thomas Crown Affair," Steve and Laurie appear in a widescreen ratio slightly smaller than Panavision.
All this fussy, arbitrary switching of scenes, years and aspect ratios may wow them back in film school, but the complicated frame work reveals nothing. but one inconsequential or misleading vignette after another.
Norton doesn't achieve a ture dramatic convergence of parallel stories, and his historical vision is confined to cheerleading reaffirmations of all the old counterculture cliches about war, cops, Women's Liberation, you name it.
The only segment that might stand on its own is the Vietnam story, with a compelling action interlude and with Bo Hopkins returning as the former gang leader, Joe the Pharoah, now an ill-fated helicopter gunner. Unfortunately, this material is sandwiched between painfully facetious yucks about Terry going out of his way to disable himself, while cracking "How I Won the War" witticisms about the futility of war. This is sure a new -- and wholly unexplained -- toad.
While Debbie in rock 'n' roll land is merely tiresome, Laurie and Steve are offensively inane, a sitcom rehash of "Getting Straight." Harrison Ford does a delightful uncredited encore as Bob Falfa in the Debbie Episode, and Ann Bjorn is lovely enough to take the strain off Norton's little conceit in the Le Mat episode, where love blooms although she's a girl from Iceland who speaks no English.
Norton makes a spectacle of feeling no pain. His forte as a movie dramatist seems to be celebrating hollow gestures of defiance, as in "Outlaw Blues" and "Convoy." "More American Graffiti" was evidently supposed to spring him into the big time by proving what a clever fellow he is. So he is, but in all the wrong ways. CAPTION: Picture, Charles Martin Smith in "More American Graffiti."