American Hot Wax (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: DJ plays the hits.

The film centers on real-life disc jockey (Alan Freed) who was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll music to the airwaves during the late 50’s and even credited with coining the phrase. Unfortunately he also got wrapped up in a payola scandal in which record companies paid him under-the-table to play their records on the air, which destroyed his career and left him in virtual poverty before dying in 1965 at the young age of 43 from cirrhosis of the liver.

I’ll admit I never longed for the nostalgia of the late 50’s or early 60’s.  Everything from that period seemed silly and antiquated to me and yet this film nicely brings out the excitement that people living then had. There clearly was a feeling of change on the horizon particularly in the music scene and it’s fun seeing all the young people jumping in and trying to become a part of it. The recreation of that energy is great and the one thing that this movie does well. Unfortunately it quickly becomes one-note with an unending procession of different music groups clamoring to become the next big act. Watching people stop Freed on the street and giving him a impromptu audition is at first fun, but seeing that scenario get repeated continuously is tedious.

There are some famous fresh young faces in the cast including Jay Leno, Fran Drescher, and Laraine Newman, but their parts are small and their appearances erratic. The story desperately needed a central character for the viewer to latch onto and none gets forthcoming. The barrage of people that get thrown in and then just as quickly forgotten makes the film unfocused and lacking any type of real plot.

McIntire is excellent, but his character badly undernourished. There’s a hackneyed dramatic segment where we see him conversing with his father on the phone and are given the idea that he is on rough terms with him, but it never gets explored further and for the most part we learn nothing at all about his personal life including the fact that he was married three times and had four kids, which never even gets mentioned while the payola scandal is only briefly touched on. The film would’ve had more substance had they explored the man’s personality and life more, but instead he remains as a frustratingly distant figure.

Clearly the filmmakers were looking to cash-in on the success of American Graffiti and hence the similar title, but just recreating the look and music of a bygone era isn’t enough. Even the appearances of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis fail to save a superficial effort that justifiably bombed badly at the box office.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Paramount

Available: None at the time.

One response to “American Hot Wax (1978)

  1. Pauline Kael said: This is a super B-movie, and I agree. It’s a lot of fun, funny and lively. Fran Drescher and Jay Leno are great together. A sleeper in my opinion and unfortunately it seems to have disappeared.

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