Ken (Mark Hamill) has just restored an apple red corvette for his senior project in shop class. But before he can get his diploma the car is stollen. Ken traces the car to Las Vegas where he befriends an aspiring prostitute named Vanessa (Annie Potts) who agrees to help him in his search. Over the course of one wacky summer Ken and Vanessa work a bunch of menial jobs, fall in love, and eventually rescue the corvette.
Corvette Summer (1978) cast the Star Wars (1977) star as teen heart throb material. However this time out Hamill trades in his whiny disposition for that of an aggressive, self-centered jerk. Ken is never all that likable no matter of cute his hijinks are. It’s Annie Potts as Vanessa that steals the show at every turn with her off-kilter manner and quirky sense of humor. Potts is gorgeous in Corvette Summer and charismatic enough to pull off the abrupt tonal changes that come with the teen movie genre.
In his defense, Hamill’s character is not written to be that relatable. He shames Vanessa for her chosen occupation, belittles her for being independent and outwardly sexual, then takes all of her help for granted. Corvette Summer also asks viewers to believe that scrawny Mark Hamill could take down Brion James in a brawl. As far as heroes go Ken is pretty despicable and utterly unsympathetic. Even a brief appearance by Dick Miller to seemingly endorse this angsty teenaged protagonist feels forced.
Corvette Summer was the directorial debut of screenwriter Matthew Robbins. Robbins’ flare for balancing comedy and drama in family oriented pictures had not solidified as his directing style yet, though the same sensibility as Dragonslayer (1981), The Legend Of Billie Jean (1985) and Batteries Not Included (1987) is suggested throughout Corvette Summer. There’s a heavy dose of Steven Spielberg influence in Corvette Summer that seems to inhibit Robbins’ own directorial impulses, particularly in the climactic chase scene that is neither clearly suspenseful or comedic.
From a historical standpoint Corvette Summer marks the beginning of Hollywood’s gradual transition away from teen comedies as heavily sexualized spectacles. Corvette Summer may be thematically adult but its humor is definitely geared more towards the family film. Whether or not one enjoys Corvette Summer is entirely dependent on one’s tolerance for uneven plotting and jokes that land flat.