By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Losers on the road.
Loyal (Robert Blake) meets Dinette (Barbara Harris) and the two immediately get married. He thinks it was on a Thursday, but it might have been on Tuesday because that is the day he got really drunk. After losing his job at a car wash when he pukes all over the inside of a car that he was cleaning he piles Dinette and her three kids into a station wagon and takes them to California where he hopes to find some work and a better future. During the trip the two get to know each other and decide whether their marriage can actually work.
This was done during the time when director Hal Ashby was heavily into drugs and his behavior on and off the set was becoming more and more erratic and the results are obvious here. The first half is slow and boring with scenes that go on too long and have too much extraneous dialogue. The second half when they finally hit the road is an improvement, but not by much. I liked the gritty look of the picture. The dry desert landscape helps accentuate the raw, rough lives of the characters. The scenario is goofy enough that with a delicate touch it could’ve worked, but Ashby seems detached from the material and portrays the characters as goofballs that never seem real, or human.
The road trip itself has a lot of problems as well. The station wagon used is too over-the-top junky. I am not sure what make or model it was, but looks like something from the 50’s that was completely out of place for the time period. Obviously it was chosen to be a comic eyesore but becomes too extreme and makes the characters seem even more like caricatures than they already are. I also found it bizarre that they never ever pass another vehicle during their long trip. Wide shots consistently show them to be the only car on the road. I am a traveler myself that have been to some desolate areas of western Texas and Nebraska, but even then you will pass by another car every now and then. There is also a scene where they have a flat tire and when Luke puts on the spare he finds out that it loses its air, which sends him into a tizzy as they are in the middle of nowhere. Yet the film quickly cuts to the next scene showing them back out on the road without any explanation for how they were able to get it fixed. The only interesting scene is when they are chased down by an angry group of young Mexican men, which helps create some much needed tension, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it.
Harris is great as always. She puts on such an effective accent that for a while I thought it had been dubbed in. Blake is surprisingly good in his comic role and is actually quite funny in his constantly perplexed state. He puts a lot of energy into it and it is a shame that the film is so obscure that no one can appreciate his efforts.
The film would have worked better had it started when the two had first met and went through their whole rushed wedding. Having it begin in the middle doesn’t allow the viewer to have any understanding to the background of these characters and hence impedes any attachment to them. I also didn’t like that the film ends before they ever make it too their destination. The rule for every road movie should be that they must get to where they are going to otherwise it comes off as incomplete. I also don’t like children characters who never say a single word such as the case with the ten year old boy here named Human. This to me always seems freaky and disturbing and not funny like the filmmakers apparently thought it would be. There is also a scene insinuating child molestation that although brief still proves to be unsettling. The loud, blaring country soundtrack is annoying as well.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: May 8, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes
Director: Hal Ashby
Available: VHS, YouTube