I’ve long wanted to check out To Riverdale and Back Again, the live-action Archie movie NBC made in 1990, and thanks to some work by trusty reader David Crockett, I finally got to watch it.
The movie is every bit as bad as I expected it would be. Veronica has her father re-route the Concorde to Riverdale. Lauren Holly has a delightfully awful blonde wig to play Betty, who is apparently teaching school and writing cheesy fiction. Reggie runs a delightfully awful ’80s aerobics gym. Jughead is a quivery shrink who redeems himself by public acts of deeply white hip-hop. It’s weird, rather than endearing, that the characters are mired in the same old fights and rivalries that consumed them 15 years later, and it would have been more interesting to have the movie be a thought experiment in how they’d change as they grew up. It does, however, involve a pretty heartwarming scene of civil disobedience and a terroristic white chauffer!
But it’s also just a funny little refugee from an earlier era of comic book movies that seems to assume what readers-turned-audiences wanted in their adaptations was artificiality. There’s no real attempt to make these characters seem realistic or to have proportional reactions to events. Josie and the Pussycats, which had a much better cast than this, but a scenario that was as goof-tastic and over the top as possible (and also really terrible-looking costuming). I wonder if the intervening 20 years have made folks realize that you could just treat Archie comics as a realistic, straight-forward, if sweet, story and make a really great teen movie based on them. Certainly the Sabrina television show worked because it took that approach and added just enough magic to make it clear that the rules and stakes of the world were different, but not the human anxieties.