It is New Year's Eve in 1964, just on the brink of a time when everything would change for a group of friends who only had a inkling of what lay ahead for them. Today is a drag race that John Millner (Paul Le Mat) is competing in, and his friends have turned out to cheer him on, including Terry "The Toad" Fields (Charles Martin Smith) who has just been drafted and will head out for Vietnam tomorrow. With him is his girlfriend Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark), destined to go to San Francisco and become involved with the music scene there. And young married couple Steve and Laurie Bolander (Ron Howard and Cindy Williams) are expecting the arrival of their first child. But as we see over the next few years, the times they are a-changin'...
The epilogue at the close of the original American Graffiti would appear to be all we needed to know about what happened to the characters, even if the lead female ones were missed off, but a hit is a hit and writer-director Bill L. Norton was the man to bring them back and flesh out their futures - up until 1968 anyway. However, it turned out that the public weren't really interested in what became of the characters beyond what the end of the first film told us, and More American Graffiti flopped; yet over the years, it has built up a small cult of those who were impressed by its clever structure and nostalgia for an era that was divisive and traumatic as well as electrifying.
Why make a nostalgia piece about the days when you could very easily get killed? Well, that's not a question that is comfortably addressed, and it's true the tone is upbeat to an extent that even getting shot down in a helicopter over Vietnam is presented in a rose tinted fashion. The poignancy is there to a point, but Norton seems to view the mid-sixties as a great adventure, and dips into four New Year's Eves in 1964, '65, '66 and '67 as if they were a chocolate box of exciting experiences.
John is the focus of 1964, and his drag racing which looks as if won't turn out too well for him until he finds his own lucky mascot in the shape of a beautiful European girl, Eve (Anna Bjorn), who he thinks might be Swedish. Forward to 1965 Terry is in the midst of the Vietnam War, desperately wanting to come home and planning his escape, if he isn't killed in action first. We're introduced to him as he attempts to shoot himself in the arm to earn a ticket out of there, but all he ends up doing is making his camp think they're being fired at and it launches a counterattack. In spite of the gravity of his situation, Terry's story verges on the misguidedly light hearted.
In 1966 Debbie wants to get married to her boyfriend Lance (John Lansing), but first she has to bail him out of a drugs possession charge. She ends up at the Fillmore and mixed up with a country rock band that will change her life. Finally, in 1967 Steve and Laurie have fallen out because she wants to work and he doesn't want any wife of his doing such a thing when she has children to look after, and in a somewhat unlikely development are drawn into a protest march. The cast remain likeable, Norton's use of various camera techinques for each year keeping things visually interesting, the music, all oldies as in the first film, is well chosen, and for an unnecessary film it's better than its reputation. It could have been worse and captures a spirit that speaks of good old bad old days which many can sympathise with, no matter when they're reminiscing about.