Category Archives: Fast Cars/Car Chase

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Shaker Run (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting a deadly virus.

Judd (Cliff Robertson) is an aging stunt driver who along with his young protege Casey (Leif Garret) is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. With barely any money on hand they decide to take up an offer from a mysterious woman (Lisa Harrow) who asks them to carry inside the trunk of their car a large container with a secret substance across New Zealand for undisclosed reasons. The desperate Judd reluctantly agrees only to later find that inside the container is a deadly virus sought after by the military who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

The wide-eyed plot mixes the genre of a cross-country road chase with that of an end-of-the-world sci-fi flick and the result is as cheesy as it sounds. It’s also hampered by cheap production values that makes it look more on par with a TV-movie than a theatrical one.

I didn’t care for the cold climate setting either. Filmed in July of 1984, which would be wintertime for the southern hemisphere, the New Zealand landscape looks quite bleak and brown with occasional pockets of snow and the  characters are all bundled up in heavy jackets. A good road movie should elicit inside the viewer the feeling of wanting to get out onto the open highway instead of longing to stay inside by a fireplace like it does here.

Robertson manages to add some life to the otherwise sterile material, which is nice to see as his film career nosedived in 1977 when he accused Columbia studio head David Begelman of forgery and was blacklisted as a result. When he was finally offered film roles again they were of the thankless supporting kind although here he gets the star treatment and it’s great seeing a guy in his 60’s handling the action as opposed to a young 20-something hunk like in most other films.

Leif Garrett, the androgynous teen hunk from the 70’s is adequate as his loyal young side-kick and has grown to be more filled-out and masculine looking. However, the remaining cast members are dull and this includes Shane Briant in a boring caricature of a cold, calculating villain as well Harrow who tags along with the two men on their drive, but comes-off more like unnecessary dead-weight.

Spoiler Alert!

The more the chase goes on the more contrived it gets and there’s an uneasy balance between realistic crashes to slapstick comedy. The resolution, in which Harrow ties a chain dangling from an overhead helicopter piloted by the CIA onto Robertson’s car so that they are whisked into the air while the evil government agents that had been chasing them drive off over a cliff, is not satisfying because the film made clear earlier that the CIA was just as deceitful as the other bad guys and couldn’t be trusted. Yet it never bothers to explain what ultimately happens to the virus, or whether it got into the right-hands and was destroyed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Morrison

Studio: Mirage Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Fear is the Key (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has secret motives.

Based on the 1961 novel by Alistair MacLean the story centers around John Talbot (Barry Newman) who finds himself inside a small town courtroom standing trial for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit. He manages to escape while kidnapping a woman named Sarah (Suzy Kendall) who he takes as his hostage. He evades the authorities only to ultimately end up inside the home of Sarah’s father (Ray McAnally) where another man named Vyland (John Vernon) hires him to operate a submarine that will salvage a cargo of diamonds housed inside an underwater plane wreck.

I never read the novel, but to me the whole thing comes off in a haphazard style where the twists aren’t interesting at all and only help to make the plot even more confusing and unfocused. The car chase sequence is genuinely well done to the point that it had me riveted and quite impressed with how it was shot and looking like one of the more realistic chases I’ve seen amongst the many that are already out there. Unfortunately to go from what initially seems to be a fugitive-on-the-run-flick to an underwater espionage, sci-fi thriller is not intriguing, but jarring instead and comes off like two entirely different movies crammed together with only the thinnest of plot threads to hold it together.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is when at the film’s midway point John confides to Sarah that everything that we’ve seen before has been staged and none of it was real. For that to happen though would’ve taken many different people working together to pull it off and it’s never explained how he was able to do that. For instance who gave John the blank bullets to shoot at the police officer to escape from the courtroom and why did the policeman agree to pretend he was shot if he really wasn’t and what was in it for him to get in on John’s elaborate scheme? None of this gets explained and only helps to make it even more absurd and ludicrous until you can’t take any of it seriously.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman is not strong enough actor for the part and conveys a rather transparent presence when he should’ve had the exact opposite effect. His appearance here is too similar to the one he just gotten done doing in Vanishing Point including driving around in a similar type of car making this film seem like an extension of that one. It also comes-off like typecasting and makes viewers think this is the only type of role he can play, which could explain why his leading man career pretty much tanked after this.

The film’s only interesting aspect is the appearance of Ben Kingsley in his film debut, which was his only movie role during the 70’s as he didn’t appear in another one until 10 years later when he starred in Gandhi. Here he plays one of Vyland’s henchmen who figures prominently in the climactic finish where they must fight for air after the oxygen in the sub gets turned off, which isn’t bad.

This is also a rare production that was financed by a British studio, but filmed on-location in the US. The result captures America through a European perspective, which makes the entire thing a bit off-kilter from the very beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Tuchner

Studio: Anglo-EMI

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handicapped men solve crime.

Wally (Ricard Pryor) is blind while Dave (Gene Wilder) is deaf. The two initially don’t get along, but find that they must work together after they witness a murder and the bad guys (Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey) come after them. The police are no help and threaten to jail Wally and Dave when they find them unreliable as witnesses so they figure out a way to escape and go on the run only to have their handicaps and personalities more of an obstacle than anything else.

This was the third teaming of Wilder and Pryor and it’s embarrassingly bad. The script is just a cheesy retooling of the mistaken identity scenarios of their first two films, Silver Streak and Stir Crazy with the handicap element thrown in to make it seem different, but it really isn’t. The laughs are definitely fleeting and in fact there are only two segments that even elicit a chuckle. One is an amusing barroom brawl while the other one features a gun showdown between the blind Pryor and the equally blind Anthony Zerbe.

Not only is the clichéd concept highly uninspired, but it depends on nonlogic to help propel it. For instance Wally, Dave and Wally’s sister Adele, played by Kirsten Childs, escape from the men chasing them by hiding inside a hotel room’s vent, but I’ve never come upon a vent in any hotel room that I’ve stayed at big enough to hold one person let alone three. Also, most vent screens must be screwed in from the outside, so how were these three people able to get the screen back on and fastened once they were inside the vent?

The chemistry between the stars is missing and their banter nothing more than strained babbling. The only moment where it shows slight potential is when the two men explained to each other how they came to have the afflictions that they do and how they learned to adjust to them making me believe this could’ve been a far better movie had it chucked the corny murder storyline and instead focused on the two trying to run a business or learning to rely on each to help them through the struggles of daily life.

Pryor, for what it’s worth, easily upstages Wilder who reportedly never liked the script and worked to rewrite it to make it less mocking to those with handicaps. There’s also a scene shot at night with the two talking on a park bench where it appears that some black object is trying to slide its way out of Wilder’s left nostril. I think it was simply the shadowy lighting, but I found it quite distracting and wondered why the cinematographer didn’t catch this while they were filming it and had the scene reshot at a different angle.

Alan North is engaging as the exasperated police sergeant and I wished that instead of him being an adversary to the two men he would’ve reluctantly helped them along. The two female cast members are generic, but Kevin Spacey, who speaks in an accent and has a large unexplained protrusion on his left check, is excellent and the best thing in this otherwise forgettable film.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People Movie Poster (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife gets kidnapped.

Sam (Danny DeVito) wants to kill his shrewish wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so he can get her inheritance, but is unable to when she is kidnapped by a young couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who demand ransom. Sam decides not to pay it, but mistakenly tells his lover (Anita Morris) about his plans and she with the help of her secret boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) scheme to use this information to extort him, but then a neighborhood psycho known as The Bedroom Killer (J.E. Freeman) throws everything into chaos by threatening to kill all of them.

The script was written by Dale Launer who at the time was a struggling salesman at a sound appliance store much like Judge Reinhold’s character in the movie, but like with many scripts written by first-timers there’s too many characters and a plot-heavy scenario that throws in one irony after another until it gets convoluted. Too much emphasis is placed on the concept and not enough on the characters with an end result that has no point to it other than just being very crass and over-the-top.

Everyone onscreen is simply a flimsy caricature used to propel the elaborate plot along and nothing more. The only one that is likable is Helen Slater whose nervous wide-eyed gaze makes her presence memorable. The film though would’ve worked better had it focused solely on the contrasting couples as well as having Reinhold and Slater shown working together more instead of Reinhold taking over and pushing Slater off to the side until she becomes almost forgotten.

DeVito is enjoyable, but Midler is annoying especially with her exaggerated facial expressions.  I also didn’t buy into the idea that this woman who is otherwise quite cynical and sarcastic would be naïve enough to believe that her husband still loved her and supposedly ‘worshipped the ground’ that she walked on even when he really didn’t. After living with somebody for 15 years, which is how long their marriage apparently was, you get a pretty clear view of your partner’s flaws no matter how hard they try to camouflage it. Even the most wide-eyed of people would’ve been at the very least suspicious that he might have ulterior motives as there’s always red flags and the fact that this lady was completely oblivious to them only proves how poorly fleshed-out the characters here are.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is overloaded with loopholes too. For instance Anita Morris and her lover Bill Pullman decide to play the tape of what they think is Sam murdering his wife on a VCR inside a TV-equipment store where all the other customers can see it, but why play something publicly that could potentially get them into a lot of trouble? If Pullman was able to afford a video camera, as he was the one who recorded the incident to begin with, then why couldn’t he also afford his own VCR?

It also takes too long for the police to suspect that Sam may have something to do with his wife’s disappearance even though in reality the spouse is always the prime suspect from the get-go. Having 8 police cars openly tailing Reinhold in hopes that he will lead them to his hideout is pretty stupid too. The idea is to not allow the suspect to be aware that you’re following him because otherwise he will just lead the police on a wild-goose-chase, which is exactly what he does here and any savvy veteran cop would’ve predicted that. I realize the filmmakers thought it would be ‘funny’ visually seeing all these police cars chasing the suspect, but it’s instead nonsensical. Every movie needs to have at least one person who is grounded and sensible even if everyone else is kooky. Having everyone behaving foolishly makes the story inane and unbelievable.

Reinhold’s ability to escape from his submerged vehicle after he drives it into a lake is equally questionable. Putting on a breathing apparatus underwater as he apparently does would be quite difficult if not impossible and how exactly was he able to make it seem like it was the Bedroom Killer (who was killed earlier in the film) as the driver of the getaway vehicle instead of himself? For that to happen the killer would’ve had to have been sitting in the driver’s seat where Reinhold was previously. Are we to believe that Reinhold had the dead killer’s body in the trunk of his car and while underwater somehow able to get the corpse from the trunk into the driver’s seat before the police got to it? The logistics of this is dubious, which is why having a scene done underwater showing him going through all of this should’ve been inserted in, but unfortunately isn’t.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite a few chuckles it’s a superficial mess and nowhere near the acerbic, dark satire that it likes to think it is. I disliked the gaudy Memphis style furniture used in DeVito’s home as well, which gives the production too much of a campy look.  Billy Joel’s ‘Modern Woman’, which gets played over the closing credits, seems to have nothing to do with the main theme and completely out of place. I also couldn’t stand the dresses that Helen Slater’s character designs. The movie acts like she has ‘talent’ and Midler really likes wearing them even though it looks like something you’d put on a clown and nothing I’d ever want to be seen in and I’d feel sorry for anyone who did wear them.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Black Eye (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the walking cane.

An old walking cane with a distinctive silver handle that had been used as a prop in many old Hollywood movies is stolen by a prostitute named Vera (Nancy Fisher) after it is laid on top of a casket of deceased actor at his funeral. Later Vera is murdered inside her apartment by a man named Chess (Frank Ashmore) who retrieves the cane, but not before coming into a violent confrontation with Shep (Fred Williamson) a black private eye who lives across the hall from her. Chess manages to escape, but Shep decides to track him down in an effort to find out why everyone is after the cane and what secret it might hold.

The film is an okay blend of action and mystery that tends to show its cards to soon. The revelation for why the cane is so much in demand is quite predictable and makes the viewer feel like they wasted an hour and a half of their time watching a pedestrian plot that leads nowhere. Director Jack Arnold dresses the story up by inserting offbeat scenes and eccentric characters that only adds a mild diversion to the proceedings, but still culminates with a flat finish.

Former pro football player Fred Williamson who played for the Kansas City Chiefs during the ‘60s is the best thing about the movie. Other athletes who turned to film acting after their sports careers were over were not as adept in front of the camera. Jim Brown for instance was great on the gridiron, but lacked an ability to play anything more than a hardened tough guy whose facial expression never changed. Williamson has more of an appeal because he doesn’t take himself or his role too seriously while also showing an ability to play either comedy or drama.

His female co-stars though are wasted and really didn’t need to be in it at all. Theresa Graves looks beautiful, but her character has no integral link to the story the lesbian angle dealing with the relationship that she has with her white girlfriend (played by Rosemary Forsyth) seems to be thrown in simply to give the film a certain perceived ‘kinky’ edge. Forsyth for her part has her voice dubbed and for what reason I don’t know, but it’s distracting and unnecessary.

88 year-old Cyril Delevanti, in his final film appearance, is quite amusing as an elderly man who’ll stop at nothing to get his cane back, but character actor Richard Anderson is a detriment. He plays a father who hires Shep to find his missing runaway daughter (Susan Arnold). At the end Williamson and Anderson get into a fistfight with Anderson doing his own stunts, which looks fake. A shot capturing him lowering his foot towards the camera in a dramatic attempt to show him stomping on Williamson (with the camera working as being Williamson’s P.O.V.) doesn’t work because it is clear that he is restraining his foot so it doesn’t actually hit the camera and break it. If you’re going to do a shot from this angel then have the foot actually pounce onto the camera even if it means damaging it because that would make it appear more authentic, or otherwise don’t do it at all.

For those that enjoy blaxploitation flicks from the ‘70s you may give this one, which is based on the novel ‘Murder on the Wild Side’ by Jeff Jacks, a slightly higher rating than I did. Some of the action is good especially a scene where Williamson escapes out of a immobile elevator and shimmies his way down the elevator shaft, but overall there’s nothing else about it that is distinctive to raise it above all the other black action films that are out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Arnold

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Mr. Majestyk (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t touch his watermelons!

Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson) is a Colorado watermelon farmer who gets into a conflict with Bobby (Paul Koslo) who wants to force Vince to use unskilled drunks to harvest his crop instead of migrant workers. When Vince successfully forces Bobby and his crew off of his property Bobby then goes to the police with assault charges, which lands Vince in jail. It is there that he comes into contact with Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) a notorious hit man. While the two are being transferred by bus to another prison Renda’s men attack it in a shootout, but when the driver is killed Vince takes control of the bus and drives it off into the Colorado wilderness. There he holds Renda hostage while trying to broker a deal with the police where he’ll ‘trade’ Renda for his freedom, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Many people don’t realize that during the ‘70s Bronson did quite a few offbeat films with St. Ives and From Noon Till Three being his two biggest, but this one comes in as an honorable mention. I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime and can usually guess where they’re going, but this one kept me genuinely intrigued most of the way. The script is enlivened with its vivid on-location shooting done mostly in La Junta, Colorado, which includes a well-staged shootout done in the center of town as well as a car chase that takes advantage of an area with scenic rock formations.

The biggest surprise though is Bronson. Sometimes he comes off as stiff and wooden, but here he’s engaging and even reveals a playful side. His character also makes a few miscalculations, which helps him seem more human as opposed to the standard rugged good guy who is always able to think-on-his-feet and constantly able to achieve miraculous split-second decisions.

I was disappointed though with Al Lettieri. He was so effectively nasty in The Getaway that I didn’t think it could be topped or even attempted and yet just two years after that one he again gets cast in virtually the same type of role making it seem like typecasting to the extreme. I was hoping that he would expose a softer side to his persona at some unexpected moment, but it never occurs and he just proceeds to being one mean, angry s.o.b. which quickly becomes boring and one-dimensional.

Lee Purcell though is terrific as his girlfriend. She had played only rural, country girl types before this, so it was great seeing her portray someone more sophisticated and despite her young age, only 26 at the time, she shows great composure alongside her much older male co-stars. Her cool, collected manner makes for an intriguing contrast to Lettieri’s hyper one and should’ve been explored more.

Linda Cristal as Bronson’s love interest is less impressive. Playing a feisty Hispanic woman comes off almost like a cliché and their relationship is forced. She does come in handy as the getaway driver, which I feel is the only reason her character was put into the story to begin with.

Despite the unpredictable touches the beginning is quite contrived, which includes an opening title sequence better suited for a TV-show. The script was written by Elmore Leonard, which made it disappointing as I was expecting there to be some sort of subtext to it, but in the end it’s rather run-of-the-mill with the offbeat elements not enough to make it anything more than a transparent diversion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Moving Violation (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crooked sheriff chases couple.

Eddie Moore (Stephen McHattie) is a drifter hitch-hiking his way through a small Texas town (at least it’s supposed to be Texas even though it becomes abundantly clear that it was filmed in southern California instead.) While in town he meets up with the attractive Camilla ‘Cam’ Johnson (Kay Lenz). They quickly fall for each other and decide to go make-out on the lawn of one of the town’s richest citizens Mr. Rockfield (Will Geer). It is there that they witness a murder when the town’s corrupt sheriff (Lonny Chapman) kills his deputy (Paul Linke) after the deputy confronts Rockfield on his unscrupulous business practices. Now Cam and Eddie must go on the run as the sheriff tries to frame them for the murder.

The first 20 minutes is about as lame and contrived as any 70’s drive-in fare you’ll ever see to the point that it should’ve been skipped completely. Instead they should’ve just started out right away with the chase while keeping it a mystery as to why it was happening, which would’ve given the film added intrigue and only explained the backstory later on through flashback.

If you can get past the highly uninspired opening bit then the film improves from there. The chase sequences are better than usual with crashes getting captured in a more realistic, graphic way; one segment even shows an air bag going off when the police car drives into a brick wall. Unfortunately director Charles S. Dubin unwisely inserts a goofy banjo strumming soundtrack making the film seem like all those other yahoo southern actioners even though it really isn’t. Had it been done on a completely serious level it would’ve worked better. For the most part it is once you get past the goofy opening segment, but there are still comedy bits thrown in, which only hurts it as a whole.

Lenz is great playing a character that becomes seriously distraught at what is going on. Dealing with ongoing near-death collisions and seeing people killed before your very eyes would upset almost anyone, but most films don’t deal with the post emotional trauma that someone going through these situations would most likely encounter in real-life, but this one dose, which is refreshing.

Chapman’s sheriff character though doesn’t work as it gets played too unevenly between him being an aggressive menace to at other points a laughable buffoon. The film also relies too heavily on the corrupt, stupid policeman stereotype and it should’ve balanced itself by having at least one police character that was not a completely mindless jerk.

The ending was definitely influenced by Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry as it gets suddenly violent and grim in a completely unexpected way, but I liked it.  Ultimately as a whole it’s a half-step above the usual low budget action flick with enough unique twists to make it worth seeking out as a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles S. Dubin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Risky Business (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes suburban pimp.

Joel (Tom Cruise) is a teenager living in a sprawling home on the North Shore of suburban Chicago who is stressing about getting into a top college. His parents (Nicholas Pryor, Janet Carroll) announce that they will be leaving on vacation for two weeks and he’ll have the whole place to himself. After some prodding by his friends he invites over a beautiful prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) and takes her for a spin in his Dad’s Porsche, which accidently slides into the lake. The repairs will be expensive, so Lana devises a scheme where his home will be used as a temporary, make-shift whorehouse bringing in customers, many of whom being Joel’s high school friends who will pay to have sex with Lana’s beautiful call girl friends and whose proceeds will go to fixing the car.

The film is a fresh, funny look at capitalism and a perfect composite of the Reagan years and ‘80s attitudes. However, the conversations that the teens have here is jarringly out-of-touch with today’s youngsters who seem to favor more socialistic concepts. On one hand this then dates the picture, but it also makes it fascinating at seeing how people thought from a bygone era.

Cruise is fantastic and really looks like a teen, especially with his bowl haircut, even though he was already in his 20’s at the time. The character though allows himself to be taken advantage of too much by his friends. For most people the friendship would immediately end if they had a pal who would invited over a prostitute as a ‘joke’ that they didn’t want and would still be expected to pay for.

Why are these friends doing these hijinks anyways? It was almost like Joel had never been home alone before. Most likely he had, so why now are his buddies doing these things when they hadn’t earlier? A much better premise would’ve been to have Joel achieve some sort of accomplishment, like pass an all-important SAT test and as a ‘reward’ his friends would pitch-in and buy him a prostitute for the night while his parents were away. Everything else that follows would be the same, but at least the catalyst that sets it in motion would make more sense and Joel would seem less like a pushover straddled with irritating friends no one in their right mind would want.

The sex scene between Joel and Lana comes off like an overly stylized bit from a soft core porn flick. There were several fantasy segments that came before it and I was fully expecting this to be one of them, but it isn’t. Joel is a kid that seriously lacks confidence in every other way, so I would imagine his initial meeting with a prostitute would be awkward especially since he had never done anything like that before. Most likely he would’ve been so nervous that he might not have been able to even ‘rise-to-the-occasion’. Having Joel initially behave clumsily towards Lana would’ve been funny and more believable instead as it is here the ‘reality’ segment is dreamier than the fantasy ones.

The Lana character is frustrating as she remains an aloof composite of a hooker that the viewer never gets to understand as a real person. Seeing her in a vulnerable moment would’ve helped, but it never comes. (Her conversation with Joel about her life was too brief and not enough.) I would’ve liked a more conclusive ending revealing whether their relationship ‘blossomed’, worked into a long term friendship, or just dissipated. Having a scene at the end with Joel in college and calling Lana up to chat could’ve solidified this.

The parents are portrayed as being too stuffy and more like caricatures. The ending, which entails Joel buying back his parent’s furniture that had been stolen and then moving it all back into the home with the help of friends before his parents arrived is implausible. The house was too big and had too many items for them to be able to get everything in near spotless position in only 2 hours’ time.

The movie’s original charm is also affected by the fact that films like Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have had similar plots and stronger cult followings, but there’s still plenty of engaging moments. Watching Cruise dance around in his underwear to a Bob Segar song is hilarious. His precarious attempts to save the Porsche from going into the lake is really funny as is his interview with a college admissions dean from Princeton (Richard Masur) in Joel’s home while prostitutes and their customers scurry all around.

( Joel’s house as it appears today.)

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Brickman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube