Checkered Flag or Crash (1977)

checkered flag 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drivers race off-road.

Walkaway Madden (Joe Don Baker) is a lifelong racer who has just broken up with his racing partner of many years and is now going solo, or at least he thinks he is until reporter C.C. Wainwright (Susan Sarandon) arrives and tells him that the company who sponsors his car has hired her to cover the race for their newspaper and thus she’ll be riding along with him. Walkaway isn’t too happy about this as he has very old-fashioned, sexist ideas about a ‘woman’s place’, but begrudgingly accepts it as he has no other choice. Together the two take part in a grueling off-road race that is organized by Bo Cochran (Larry Hagman) and takes them through some of the most treacherous terrain of the Philippines.

The movie might’ve been more exciting had the racing footage been better captured. Instead we get treated to choppy shots of random car wipeouts and flashing, poorly focused images of vehicles buzzing through various locales while shown in a grainy film stock. The editing is so quick that it’s hard to follow what is going on and the only time it is ever impressive is when the camera gets tied to the front of the vehicle and we see firsthand just how bumpy and fast a ride like that must be, but this shot unfortunately is only brief.

There is little or no backstory to any of the racers and therefore no emotionally compelling reason to cheer for any of them. There is also too many of them and all are generic, transparent characters, so when you see someone wipeout it’s hard to remember which one it is, or even care. I did kind of like Daina House as a woman with beautiful model-like features who dresses in all black and just as tough as any of the guys, but her character isn’t shown or played-up enough.

The best thing about the film is the presence of Sarandon who lends a necessary grounded anchor to the silliness that surrounds her. Hagman is terrific as the hyper race promoter and every scene he is in is far more entertaining than any of the racing footage. Baker isn’t bad either. He certainly isn’t any A-list actor, but a very competent B one, who seems at ease in both comedy and action parts.

The film shifts clumsily between being silly and gritty and would’ve done better had it stuck to a more consistent tone. It’s also cheap and amateurish with a terrible, country tinged title tune that gets played throughout. The only reason it gets 2 points is simply for the performances of its three leads.

checkered flag 1

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Gibson

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

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