Judge Maurice Cobbs was once knocked unconscious by a batarang. Really.
"This is a job for actors!"—Adam West
I love the 1960s Batman. It's not a guilty pleasure, it's not a secret joy hidden from the scrutiny of my peers—I proudly and unabashedly adore that television show. And so it should come as no surprise that I was also charmed by the television reunion/adventure movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, a campy, fun-filled escapist adventure that also paints a picture of the behind-the-scenes experiences of the stars of one of TVs most memorable shows.
At the stately home of actor Adam West, star of the smash hit television series Batman, strange things are afoot: A mysterious figure lures the aging icon to a museum reception, where he discovers his former costar, Burt Ward, is already on the scene. The two are reunited with one another, as well as with the centerpiece of the classic automobile exhibit: the 1960s Batmobile. When the high-powered crimebusting buggy is stolen (right under their noses!), Adam and Burt spring into action to find out who swiped it—and why! Following a trail of puzzling clues, the two intrepid former actors must reflect on their days as television superstars in order to solve the mystery and recover the Batmobile.
Adam West and Burt Ward seem to slip effortlessly into comic hero personas as they track down the stolen Batmobile—not the Batmobile, of course, but the one created by George Barris for the television series, just in case any lawyers are reading this—in an adventure as campy and tongue-in-cheek as any of their Batman adventures; with a sort of "road movie" camaraderie and a healthy sense of humor (and self-parody), these two are a delight to watch. Along they way, they encounter several faces familiar to fans of the show: Julie Newmar, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether. They also battle henchmen (easily identifiable by the names emblazoned across their chests) with a "Pow!" and a "Crash!"; dance the Batusi to a hip-hop reworking of that indelible theme; uncover villain hideouts (filmed, of course, at bizarre angles); and yes—they must even escape a diabolical deathtrap.
Along the way, we are treated to the still-dynamic duo's memories of the show that made them, for a time, household names. Relative unknown Jack Brewer and Static Shock voice actor Jason Marsden are so perfectly cast as the younger versions of Adam and Burt, and the sets and costumes from the show are so meticulously recreated, that in some scenes it's hard to remember that you're not actually watching clips from the show (which the filmmakers were forbidden to use; the only vintage footage that appears here is from the theatrical release). The supporting cast is also very good, a fine collection of talented fresh faces who give memorable performances; Brett Rickaby wonderfully channels the younger Frank Gorshin, down to his trademark high-pitched Riddler laugh, Julia Rose smolders as the slinkily seductive Julie (Catwoman) Newmar, and Erin Carufel particularly leaps off the screen, though she only has a couple of brief scenes as Yvonne (Batgirl) Craig. Tony Tanner also shines in a brief scene as Burgess (The Penguin) Meredith, and Jim Jansen offers support, criticism, and inspiration as producer William Dozier.
Paul A. Kaufman, who previously visited TV land with the equally unusual TV reunion movie Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History, lightly directs a witty, rather absurdist script by Duane Poole, chock full of winks and nudges, that entertains as it drops nuggets of trivia here and there: We get to find out what Adam West was doing before he was cast as Batman, and who turned the part of The Penguin down, and even what the crest on the pocket of Bruce Wayne's blazer says in Latin. Particularly interesting is the actual footage of Wonder Woman star Lyle Waggoner's screen test footage for the lead in Batman. We also get a picture of the behind-the-scenes drama—the ego clashes between Adam and Burt, the two stars' romantic conquests and tragedies, even Burt Ward's "big" little problem with his tights, and more—all the while remaining upbeat and never getting too sordid, though the movie is from time to time a bit risqué. "And that's the way it really happened," the cast and crew seem to say with a wink, after all is said and done, "give or take a lie or two."
That the 1966 Batman continues to be tangled in a morass of legal nonsense is one of the greatest injustices to ever blight DVD, equaled only by the continuing reluctance to release American Gothic and The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. I feel like grabbing representatives of both factions by the ear and lecturing them in a stern voice: "I don't care who started it…keep this up and you'll both get a spanking!" Fantastic features like Return to the Batcave only tend to whet my appetite, but I guess it'll have to do until the real thing comes along. In the end, you can say one thing about Return to the Batcave that you can say about very few other TV reunion movies: "NEVER a dull moment." Not guilty.
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