It’s easy to think of the teen sex comedy as an 1980’s thing, particularly in the wake of surprise mega-success Porky’s and its many imitations, but the genre really has its roots in the 1970’s. Crown International Pictures led the charge amongst the California-based indies, devising a sexploitative variation of American Graffiti-derived comedies that blended sexploitation, laughs and a dash of drama to create a distinct brand of R-rated teen appeal that catered to the teens.
One of their best films in this vein is Van Nuys Blvd. Like many a drive-in classic, it capitalizes on a then-popular youth craze: in this case, the car-enthusiast hobby of having a “cruise night” on the titular boulevard in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. The protagonist is Bobby (Bill Adler), a young guy living in a dead-end California town who is eager to race his van against a worthy opponent. A t.v. news report inspires him to travel to Van Nuys Blvd and check out cruise night for himself.
Bobby quickly meets his match in female car enthusiast Moon (ex-Playmate Cynthia Wood) and gets into a series of adventures that includes a run-in with local fascist cop Officer Zass (Dana Gladstone), visits to all the local hotspots and the inevitable drag-race with Moon. Bobby and Moon also interact with plenty of local scenesters: major subplots focus on Greg (Dennis Bowen), a young smartaleck chasing after his dreamgirl (Melissa Prophet), and the Chooch (David Hayward), an aging hipster who finds love with a carhop (Tara Strohmeier) as he ponders how long he can keep on cruisin’ with the kids.
Van Nuys Blvd. was written and directed by William Sachs, who is better known to genre fans for fare like The Incredible Melting Man and Galaxina. He helms this quickie with confidence and style, building it on an episodic script that hits the right blend of laughs, skin and youth-conscious novelty while also making fine use of the sights and sounds available in the Los Angeles area (highlights include trips to Magic Mountain, Malibu Grand Prix and a disco!).
Sachs never over-sells the gags or the softcore thrills – instead, he just keeps the pace rolling forward and lets the fun speak for itself. He also works in a few mild but effective moments of drama that give the film a little something extra. The end results surprisingly feel like a 1970’s version of Dazed And Confused, albeit one with a little more skin and slapstick.
The film’s engaging feel is anchored by an original song-score that gives the film a nostalgic period flavor, including a fun disco theme song, and skillful cinematography from Joe Mangine that makes the film look more expensive than it actually is. It further benefits from a likeable cast – Adler and Wood have a believably tempestuous chemistry as the film’s rebellious leads while Bowen and Hayward both show good comic timing in their roles.
Elsewhere, Gladstone steals many a scene with deadpan wisecracks as Officer Zass – a predicament he suffers midway through the film gives it some of its best comedic highlights – and Tara Strohmeier gives a warm, unaffected performance that is oh so sexy as Chooch’s love interest.
In short, Van Nuys Blvd. works both as a time capsule and a primo example of the teen sex comedy genre. Any fan of California-based exploitation fare should check it out.