Given the mixture of silly and sublime pleasures one could enjoy at the neighborhood drive-in theater in the heyday of that particular exhibition format, there was probably a great—or at least highly entertaining—movie to be made about the misadventures of teenagers during one eventful night at a Texas drive-in. Sadly, Drive-In is not that movie, although the picture’s quite harmless as a nostalgia piece. The reason the flick disappoints is that it tries to be a sex comedy but lacks any scandalous content, and that it tries to present an interwoven ensemble story but fails to present sufficiently dynamic characters to sustain interest. As portrayed by a group of no-name actors whose skill levels range from competent to nonexistent, the characters in Drive-In are mostly just clichéd rednecks, with such familiar types as the virginal good guy, the town slut (with a heart of gold), the smartass fat kid, and the mouth-breathing troublemaker on display. Nearly every beat of the movie is predictable, and the comic highlights—the waterbed in a swinger’s van gets knifed by an angry woman, would-be robbers get recognized by a neighbor while committing a crime—are tepid at best.
The principal storyline involves gangly high-school redhead Orville (Glenn Morshower, who later became a fine character actor) inadvertently wooing raven-haired sexpot Glowie (Lisa Lemole) away from her violent boyfriend, Enoch (Billy Miliken). This romantic triangle culminates in a fistfight at the drive-in. Meanwhile, two local yokels attempt to rob the theater’s box office, but their would-be crime is married by bad lack and incompetence. Sprinkled between these storylines are goofy subplots such as the running gag of a drunken cowboy suffering through a night on the town with his overbearing mother. The only clever element of Drive-In is the movie within the movie, which is displayed onscreen at the main location. Disaster ’76 is an amusing spoof of the disaster genre, so every time a new scene is shown, Disaster ’76 incorporates another epic hardship—plane malfunctions, shark-infested waters, towering infernos, etc. Getting back to the overall movie, Drive-In features such fondly remembered tropes as people sneaking into the theater by hiding in car trunks, and the temporary suspension of the feature attraction during a brief rainstorm. As such, Drive-In does an okay job of capturing a social ritual that’s largely disappeared from the American experience.