Way back in the sixties Frankie (Frankie Avalon) was known as The Big Kahuna, the greatest surfer in California, but time passed and for his own reasons he retired from the ocean and became a car salesman in Ohio, settling down with the beach bunny of his dreams Annette (Annette Funicello) to raise two kids in suburban bliss. Now it is over twenty years later, and their son Bobby (Demian Slade) looks upon his parents with disdain while their daughter Sandi (Lori Loughlin) now lives at the beach over in California. Perhaps it's time for Frankie and Annette to return?
Technically this was the last in the cycle of A.I.P.'s Beach Party movies, though in another way it wasn't really, because it wasn't made by the original studio and of those regulars who appeared with Frankie and Annette, none returned, not even for cameos. So if you were a big fan of the series - and there were a few, mostly nostalgists, granted - then you might be let down by the lack of the old faces. On the other hand, enough time has passed to render Back to the Beach as a double dose of fond memories, because it was to the eighties what those originals had been to the sixties, product placement, big hair and all.
Fair enough, the guest stars were of the calibre of Don Adams (of Get Smart) and Bob Denver (of Gilligan's Island) when to get into the spirit of the cult classics (?) they really should have asked Jerry Lewis and Robert Englund to show up for cameos, but there were also appearances by eighties celebrities such as Stevie Ray Vaughan (duetting with Dick Dale on a single track) and Pee-Wee Herman mystifyingly carried in on a surfboard when he really wouldn't have been allowed within fifty miles of one, nor would he in all conscience wish to be. When you hear his version of Surfin' Bird you might be tempted to ask him to be taken away again. But really this was Frankie and Annette's show all the way.
Bizarrely, because of rights issues Avalon wasn't allowed to be called Frankie (his actual name!) as this was an unofficial entry in the Beach Party franchise, though Annette was still called Annette (hooray for lawyers!), so he ended up being referred to by Cliff Robertson's moniker from the original beach movie Gidget, or variations thereof, the best being The Big Crapola. Some things were reassuringly the same, however, as you could rely on their being a great big argument between the two leads at one point in the story, resulting in enough misunderstandings to fuel the narrative for a whole ninety minutes or so. In this case, they fall out once they reach California to find Sandi is living in sin.
That's right, they called their daughter Sandi - why wasn't Bobby called something like Wavey? Anyway, all too aware of what audiences would want to see, there were plenty of callbacks to the sources, though Harvey Lembeck's bikers were replaced by what looked like the cast of an Italian post-apocalypse entry, who Bobby proceeds to join in juvenile delinquent style, flick-comb and all. Meanwhile, it turns out Sandi is dating Mike (Tommy Hinkley), the son of Frankie's old flame Connie Stevens, complete with incest gags which are swiftly nipped in the bud, though Annette still has reason to be jealous and sets about making her husband feel the same. This was a musical, as before, but the old tunes were bastardised and the new ones undistinguished, though nice to see the stars tackling them with enthusiasm - you realised Avalon and Funicello had real chemistry together. Sadly, her illness prevented any more feature films, but as a goodnatured appeal to the nostalgics, Back to the Beach did entertain.