When I was a kid, I could watch a movie over and over and over again. And I don’t mean a few times over a few months. I mean every single day after school for weeks, if not months. The 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of those movies, so was Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. They make sense. I was 10 when the Ninja Turtles movie came out, and about the same age when I discovered Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Police Academy 5: Mission Miami was another. Now, 20 plus years later, I still understand why I watched these movies so many times and I csan still enojoy them today. What I don’t understand to this day, is my early 90s obsession with Back to the Beach.
According to an opening monologue from their son (Demian Slade as Bobby), Annette (Annette Funicello) and her husband, nicknamed the Big Kahuna (Frankie Avalon), were the king and queen of LA’s surf scene in the 60s. But after some sort of accident, they gave it all away, moved to Ohio and started a family. Now a pair of squares, the Kahuna sells cars and Annette is a house wife. They decide to take a family holiday to Hawaii that includes a stopover in LA to pick up their adult daughter, Sandi (Lori Loughlin).
Back on their old turf, Annette immediately begins to remember and relive the good old days, while her husband is a little more reluctant to fall into old habits. He’s also super pissed off to discover that Sandi has been living with a guy (Tommy Hinkley as Michael). Even worse, Michael’s a surfer who reminds the Kahuna of the life he left behind.
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon were movie icons in the 60s, making movies like Beach Party. And Back to the Beach is the kind of over the top tribute to those movies that not only references and parodies them, it references and parodies Funicello and Avalon’s careers in the decades between, and shoehorns in cameos from Bob Denver in character as Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island and Don Adams as a character who quotes Adam’s own iconic Maxwell Smart character.
I get all of that, now. But in the early 90s, when I was doing my best to wear out my taped off TV, VHS copy of Back to the Beach, I knew nothing about the beach movie origins that make up 95% of the jokes on offer here. Watching it now, even if I didn’t laugh at any of the jokes, I could at least recognise them as attempted jokes. But re-watching Back to the Beach only made me more confused about what I saw in it 20 plus years ago.