Last weekend, my friend and I went to the movies. It was Saturday after work and he offered up two suggestions and I offered up two of my own. Long story short, I was vetoed on both my choices and, with a brief description of both Summer of 84 and Never Goin’ Back, I chose the murder mystery (I’ll almost always choose a thriller). Had I taken a few minutes to watch the trailer beforehand, I might have lowered my expectations a bit.
It’s the summer of 1984 (duh) and conspiracy theory-loving Davey becomes increasingly convinced his neighbor, a town cop, is a serial killer after several neighborhood boys go missing. He enlists the help of his friends (a ne’er-do-well, a library-loving nerd, and an overweight teddy bear) to spy on fresh-faced Officer Mackey, played by Mad Men’s Rich Sommer, who does seem increasingly guilty. Is he actually the serial killer? I won’t spoil that for you, but throw in a crush on an older girl next door, a walkie-talkie communication system, and group rides around a quaint Oregon town on bikes and you’ve got a stereotypical 80s movie, right?
That was part of the problem for me. It’s not that the movie was bad, per se. It was just too heavy-handed on the 80s nostalgia craze that Stranger Things ushered in. A year ago, or even two, it wouldn’t have seemed so forced, but at this point, it just felt late to the game and unoriginal. It definitely paled in comparison to the group-of-friends original classics of my childhood: The Goonies, It, The Lost Boys, ET, and so on.
Now that I’ve ragged on it enough, I really did enjoy the unfolding of the mystery and its eventual outcome. The movie starts a bit slow and is dragged down by visits to the bowling alley and all the teenage feelings, but the end picks up and delivers a few surprises and scares. You know it’s a decent quest to catch a killer when characters start snooping into business they shouldn’t and you literally begin to exhibit signs of stress in the movie theater.
I have to admit my mind did start to wander a bit after Davey sees a missing neighborhood boy on the milk carton one morning. It’s such an 80s reference, but did you know that the milk carton campaign only last two years and didn’t actually help all that much? I’d just listened to a podcast episode about milk carton kids and the skeptical side of me wanted to re-listen to see if they were even used in 1984 still. You can breathe a collective sigh of relief - Summer of 84 got in just under the gun: the campaign ran from 1982-1984.
So, unless you’re really dying (ha) to see a movie about the summer in the last few weeks of summer, Summer of 84 can wait for streaming.