"American Drive-In" (AMC Century 14) is a truly stumbling attempt to cull social observation and belly laughs using the backdrop of the title gathering place. It's the destitute man's "American Graffiti." In fact, it's such a desperate stab at entertainment that if one were stranded on a desert island surrounded by sharks with only this movie to watch, you'd opt for water skiing.
Rather than a story, the plot is a series of familiar types. There's the virginal teen-agers about to face adulthood, the tough gang whose leader will be exposed as a coward, a family of ravenous fatties, a dwarf actor who views his brief moment of glory on screen--as a zombie--whenever he can, and a local politician who believes he can expose scandal and cement his mayoralty race at the outdoor movie theater.
At the root of the film's failure is its insistance of superiority to the characters' lot. This poor gang of misfits are to be pitied because they go willingly to these culturally suspect films for their social pleasure.
It goes without saying that the sensibilities behind this film, and it's film-within-a-film ("Hard Rock Zombies," a feature made by the same motley crew), have no right to be pointing fingers. They present a wholly undigestible set of cliches. Not a single image or thought smacks of invention--the obscure, similarly themed 1976 release "Drive-In" emerges as literature when placed beside this mess.