The Spirit of 76 (1990) poster

The Spirit of 76 (1990)


USA. 1990.


Director/Screenplay – Lucas Reiner, Story – Lucas Reiner & Roman Coppola, Producer – Susie Landau, Photography – Stephen Lighthill, Music – David Nichtern, Music Supervisor – Sandi Gibson, Visual Effects – Stokes/Kohne Associates Inc (Supervisor – Dan Kohne), Makeup Effects – Jonathan Horton, Production Design – Daniel Talpers. Production Company – Black Diamond Productions/Castle Rock Entertainment.


David Cassidy (Adam 11), Olivia d’Abo (Chanel 6), Geoff Hoyle (Heinz 57), Jeff McDonald (Chris Johnson), Steve McDonald (Tommy Sears), Leif Garrett (Eddie Trojan), Liam O’Brien (Rodney Snodgrass), Rob Reiner (Dr Cash), Martin von Haselberg (Agent 1), Brian Routh (Agent 2), Carl Reiner (Dr Von Mobil), Barbara Bain (Hipster)


In 2176, the world has been devastated by an ozone hole and all historical records destroyed in a magnetic storm. People are fascinated by the concept of the Constitution mentioned by the world’s oldest man before he dies and so an historical team are sent back to 1776 in a time machine to obtain a copy. However, due to a faulty on-board computer they end up in 1976 instead.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) hovers like a giant shadow of influence over The Spirit of 76. Despite being set in the 1970s, the two McDonald brothers play identical underachievers/stoners that have been patterned straight after Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in Bill and Ted anachronistically babbling surfer speak.

There is certainly an undeniable appeal to the basic idea of The Spirit of 76. It came out just before the 1970s retro fad was coming in. The film marshals an enormous cast of forgotten 70s faces – former teen heartthrobs David Cassidy and Leif Garrett, Tommy Chong, Barbara Bain and appearances from members of groups like Devo. The film is packed with more flares, platform soles, glitterballs, paisley shirts, lava lamps and games of Twister than the real 1970s probably ever had.

For all that, The Spirit of 76 misses its satiric target by miles. It seem to lack any idea of satirising any of it, despite clearly having set out to do so. There is the occasionally funny one-liner – Carl Reiner has an amusing scene in the opening moments confusing the Constitution and the Miranda Rights, “We the people have the right to remain silent …” But for humour, director Lucas Reiner reads slapstick and tosses up an excruciating line up of chases on bicycles, characters doing funny walks and shrill one-note villains.

Director Lucas Reiner is the son of the far more famous Rob Reiner, director of The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Misery (1990). Lucas ropes in an appearance from his father (who was also an actor in the 1970s too) in an unfunny parody of est seminars, as well as casting his grandfather, the famous comedy director Carl Reiner, as the world’s oldest man. In fact, the entire film seems to be crewed by children of famous people – producer Susie Landau is the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (who also makes an appearance), executive producer Roman Coppola is the son of Francis Ford, and there are minor appearances from the daughters of Tommy Chong and Frank Zappa.

Lucas Reiner only went on to make one other film as director with The Gold Cup (2000) and has since disappeared,

Trailer here

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