This picture of Einstein being psyched about astrophysics is better than all the pictures of Mark Twain looking bored, so I'm using it instead. The point is: 'An American Summer' is a derpy movie about surfing and murder (and no, I'm not confusing it with 'Point Break' - do you think I'm stupid?) based on Twain's most famous works. How is this possible, you ask? Well, it almost isn't. And yet, here we are.
First of all, IMDB, that Wiki-esque bastion of correctness, lists this movie as having been birthed into the world in 1991. That is impossible, as in 1991 I WAS IN COLLEGE, playing '90210' drinking games and hanging out with the guys from Extreme. I'm guessing it happened on TV sometime in the nebulous 80s, as Brian Austin Green looks vaguely pubescent in it and there are all these bizarre fades-to-black that might be explained away as edited commercial breaks. It's clearly an early-80s period piece, though, because the radio announcer in the beginning refers to Beijing as 'Peking', which feels eerily racist, the main character has that Farrah poster on his wall, and everyone is rockin' the OP. I would sell my soul for some of the OP stripy shirts you see in this movie.
Deal with that, haters. So Tom Sawyer's mom - in a fucking weird series of Bergman-esque closeups of her ear - tells us she's sending him to California, because she doesn't love him anymore. After some abrupt edits which become the cinematic hallmark of this work, Tom Sawyer ends up in LA, where he sees an edgy punk girl waiting in line, a homeless lady in a driveway and a black man bustin' it on rollerskates, clearly defining California as WACKY AS FUCK. Luckily for him, Meredith Baxter Birney is his Aunt Sally (I know she's actually the other blonde mom from Growing Pains, but what with Brian Austin Green setting the triple-name trend, I'm sticking with that), and it's her job in this movie to cook okra and generally be a bitch. Even more luckily for Tom Sawyer, he meets a preternaturally bouncy Brian Austin Green, who teaches him about coffee. Ready?
Brian Austin Green: Two javas.
Tom Sawyer (belligerent): I hate coffee!
Brian Austin Green: ...
Tom Sawyer: ...
Brian Austin Green: ....
Tom Sawyer: Look, you want my coffee?
Brian Austin Green (irate): Drink it! Every grownup drinks java!
Calling coffee 'java' is like calling San Francisco 'Frisco.'
Brian Austin Green's not just here to talk about coffee. He's here to motivate that hodad Tom Sawyer to learn to surf! What d'you think is the ultimate purpose here? TO WIN THE SURFING CONTEST DUH. In the movie industry we call this plot structure 'Gettin' It Together.' OK, no, we don't, we just call it that in my house, but it's pretty descriptive of every 80s movie, right?
During the Gettin' It Together montage, the underdog learns A New Way of being awesome, rather than just being a hodad. He Gets It Together through a series of Karate Kid (or Rocky, depending on your personal preference)-esque trials, learns some knowledge, and then saves Grandpa's farm by winning the boat race, or whatever. Why didn't Mark Twain think of that as a plot device?!
Hang on a second, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a guy has to get murdered, because it's important that this movie faithfully follows Twain. What is it with cheesy 80s teen movies and murder!? There's some complicated dialogue involving the DA (Brian Austin Green's dad, conveniently), a long series of scenes where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn build booby traps while kooky music plays, and then, finally, the Gettin' It Together montage, punctuated by repeat shots of Tom Sawyer flopping on his bed (yikes). Meredith Baxter Birney gets in a few bitchy digs, pointing out that the me generation "worships John Travolta prancing around a disco", and Tom Sawyer looks awesome wearing a variation on this t shirt:
I'm telling you, the costumes in this movie deserve their own Taschen coffee-table art book. You WISH you had that t shirt.
Some other heavy stuff involving Tom Sawyer's house getting TP'd, Brian Austin Green's family all dying in a car accident (!?!) and Jackson Pollock happens, and then we come to the surf contest. Thanks to Brian Austin Green's Mr. Miyagi-style tutelage, Tom Sawyer shreds pipe (or whatever you do in a surf contest in the early 80s). The surf contest is run by the guy I believe told Heather Chandler (RIP) and Veronica Sawyer (no relation) in 'Heathers' during the lunchtime poll that if he won $5 million in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes he'd slide that wad over to his father, because he is, like, one of the top brokers in the state. What a pillowcase!
Usually, that would be the end of the movie, but this movie goes on for like 30 more minutes, because, Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer and his girlfriend fight Injun Joe (yikes), who's trying to kill them with a pickaxe (!?!), and then he gets some wisdom from the DA, who tells him to get the hell outta town "because you can't just run away from things" (even though he was sent to California against his will). At the end Tom Sawyer goes through the Wizard of Oz goodbye lineup, wherein we get the feeling that the DA and Aunt Sally are secretly doing it, and Brian Austin Green gives Tom Sawyer an exquisite baby blue baseball hat with yellow pom poms on it.
And now, I'm going to watch 'Heathers.'