By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Road trip turns nightmarish.
Jesse (Richard Hatch) and Pat (Doug Chapin) have been best friends since childhood. Now both are ready to enter into young adulthood. To celebrate they decide to take a road trip via a camper across the American southwest along with their two girlfriends: Kathy (Susanne Benton) and Jo Ella (Ann Noland). As the trip progresses the differences between the two men become more pronounced. Jesse is ready to settle down and get married while Pat remains a free-spirit wanting to party with no limits. Pat also resents the presence of Kathy who he feels is getting in the way of his friendship with Jesse. He tries different tactics to get them to break-up and when that doesn’t work he resorts to a more drastic measures.
The film is interesting to a degree and goes against most other road pictures that usually show the bond between two people growing as the trip progresses while here it devolves. The low key approach allows for a certain diversion including a wonderfully majestic bird’s eye shot of the camper driving along the highway with a beautiful mountain range seen in the background. The pace is slow and the scenes could’ve been trimmed, but first-time director Noel Nosseck manages to at least have some drama flowing in each segment and thus enough to hold a modicum of interest.
Most will be intrigued to see Hatch in his film debut and while his performance is adequate it’s actually Chapin, who’s last film this was to date, that comes off better in a portrayal of a ticking time bomb ready to go off. Although I couldn’t help but notice his severely scarred right hand, which is not a part of the story and only seen briefly in one shot, that looks like the pinkie finger was severed off at some point in an accident and then surgically reattached.
The film’s downfall comes with Pat’s dissent into psychosis, which needed more context. Friendships ebb and flow and a person could be best friends with a certain individual at one point in their life, but not in another one. When one friend gets married and the other one doesn’t then the single person finds other friends whose lifestyles remain more similar to his. Rarely if ever does it resort to the friend trying to kill the other’s girlfriend. To simply write this all off as being Pat’s inability to adapt to change or his jealousy is not enough. His behavior is too extreme and more of a background on his life and upbringing needed to be shown for us to make sense of it.
It would’ve worked better had it started with the two friends meeting in childhood and showing the good times they had throughout the years before even getting to the road trip, which should’ve been pushed back to the second act instead of right at the beginning. The two talk about their past, but in film it’s better for the viewer to see this for themselves instead of only being told about it. There should’ve also been some explanation for why Jesse didn’t see any red flags to Pat’s psychotic tendencies years earlier as they were so close you’d think he would’ve noticed the imbalanced much sooner instead of it all becoming a shock to him like everyone else at the end.
The ending is weak and offers no resolution. Jesse’s response to Pat’s behavior becomes almost as bizarre making it seem like he’s just as crazy as his friend, but since the characters are so poorly fleshed-out it’s hard to tell if that was the intention or not.
The film’s promotional poster seen above is quite misleading as it implies that’s it’s all about a confrontation between the 4 and a group of Native Americans. It is true there is a scene where a fight breaks-out between them at a bar, but it is brief and does not have anything to do with the main story.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: May 29, 1975
Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes
Director: Noel Nosseck
Studio: Crown International Pictures
Available: DVD (Savage Cinema 12-Movie Collection)