American International's series of "beach" movies were among the most successful independent pictures of the 1960's, a fact which strikes many modern audiences as unbelievable. A staple of drive-in theatres, they basically existed merely to show Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in various swimming attire and to showcase a number of not-always-inspired musical sequences. Muscle Beach Party is typical of the series, evincing a strange mix of naivete and sexuality that nowadays provokes howls of derisive laughter. Adding to the extensive camp content is the presence of the body builders that give the film its title. Never taking itself too seriously (and how could it?), Muscle's script pays only lip service to its announced plot, preferring instead to serve as filler between numbers and as an excuse to showcase "hip" dialogue and to set up jokes that even at the time were shopworn. Avalon and Funicello are their usual selves; some will find them appealing, others appalling, but like the film itself, they simply are what they are. Luciana Paluzzi is on hand to add some spicy humor, and Buddy Hackett is actually pretty amusing. The score, some of which is performed by a young Stevie Wonder, includes Funicello's "classic" "A Girl Needs a Boy," as well as such typical fare as "Surfin' Woodie" and "Surfer's Holiday." For those with an appreciation for a certain style of camp, Muscle is a treasure trove, but even for those not tuned into that wave, it still is kind of fun.
by Craig Butler review