Category Archives: Fast Cars/Car Chase

Crash! (1976)

crash

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife has occult powers.

Kim (Sue Lyon) and Marc (Jose Ferrer) are a married couple with a 30-year age difference between them. Initially they were a happy twosome, but then Marc got into a car accident that left him bound to a wheelchair and the passion between them lessened. Now Marc resents the fact that Kim no longer seems to love him and worries that his attractive and much younger wife will go off and find another suitor. He plots to have her killed by having his trained doberman jump into her car as she’s driving and attack her. While the dog does injure her it’s not enough to kill her. As she lies in her hospital bed Marc sneaks in and disconnects her from her intravenous tube, which he hopes will be enough to end her life, but he fails to notice that she’s clutching in her hand an artifact that she had bought earlier at a flea market, which gives her special psychic abilities. These powers allow her to terrorize Marc even when she’s not there by making inanimate objects, including both her car and his wheelchair, come to life and begin attacking him. 

This was the first feature length film directed by Charles Band, who has gone on to have a long career both producing and directing B-horror films some of which have been successful. This one reveals his producer mentality by keeping the flimsy plot moving by adding in a lot of action, in this case tons of car stunt footage, to the mask the fact that the story itself doesn’t have much going for it. To a degree the car crashes are well choreographed, but there’s too many shots of police cars getting destroyed, which is reminiscent of the car chase action comedies making this seem more like a silly comedy than a would-be horror film.

The most impressive thing is the driver-less car. This is similar to the concept used in cult flick The Car, but that automobile had a roof over it and darkened windows, so you presumed that a stunt driver was inside controlling it, but here this vehicle is a convertible and there’s no one sitting in it even as it careens down the road. How they were able to pull this off I don’t know, but this fact alone makes it far more interesting to see than the other one even though that one, for whatever reason, received more attention and fanfare despite both coming-out at around the same time.

I was willing to give this 6-points, but then Band makes the misguided mistake of repeating near the end the car crash explosions we’ve seen before making it seem like a ‘highlight reel’. I’m not sure for the reason other than alluding to the mysterious occult power communicating to  Kim about what has gone on while she was in the hospital bed, but it was unnecessary and comes-off like amateurish film-making to the extreme.

The eclectic cast of familiar faces who were once A-list stars, but now forced to accept B-grade material in order to stay busy, is interesting and helps save it a little. I was particularly impressed with Ferrer who gives a convincing performance and doesn’t just ‘phone-it-in’ despite the otherwise subpar quality of the script.

Lyon’s appearance here is intriguing as well as she shot to fame back in 1964 as the beautiful teen Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name and was considered one of the most stunning stars of the decade, but here she plays a part that ends-up making her look quite ugly. Not only is her face bandaged up through most of it, but when they do finally come-off she is shown to be full of garish scars. There’s also scenes where her eyes are blazing red and resembling that of a demon. I’m not sure if she took this role to play against her beauty stereotype, which she reportedly was not a fan of anyways, or she just accepted the offer because she needed the work, but the things she does here is about as far removed from Lolita as one could possibly get, so watching this simply for that reason may make it worth it to some.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 24, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Band

Studio: Group 1 International Distribution

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

The Chain Reaction (1980)

chain1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear leak contaminates water.

A nuclear waste site in rural Australia becomes affected by an earthquake, which causes a leak that could contaminate the ground water for hundreds of miles. Heinrich (Ross Thompson), an engineer at the facility who was contaminated by the accident and has only 3-days to live, feels it’s his duty to warn others about what happened, but the company wants the matter to kept a secret. Heinrich manages to escape from the lab, but gets into an accident during a rainstorm on a lonely country road. It is here that he’s rescued by Larry (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna Maria Winchester) who live nearby and take him to their isolated home. Since Carmel has a nursing background she tries to take care of Heinrich at their house even though he now suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything past 1957. The company though has already sent out a search party looking for him and proceed to terrorize all three once they find them.

The film is a slickly shot sci-fi epic that in many ways seems similar to Mad Maxand in fact both films shared many of the same crew members and this even has a cameo by Mel Gibson who appears briefly as a bearded auto mechanic. The camera captures things in a vivid way and the sharp editing keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

While the plot gets smartly handled and I did find the two main characters to be a bit out-of-place particularly Larry whose outfits and hairstyle look almost campy. The two also don’t have an every day quality about them. Thrillers like these are more exciting when the hero is just a regular person with no special skills and yet still forced to beat insurmountable odds, which is unlike Larry who has expert driving skills and owns a trendy sports car with a souped-up engine.

The way the couple rescue the victim, who they don’t know, by taking him back to their place instead of to a hospital was odd too. Carmel has nursing experience, but not the medicines or equipment that you’d find in a medical facility. They also seem unusually trusting by allowing the man to sleep in one of their bedrooms while they sleep in an adjacent one, but don’t bother to lock their door with the wife lying openly nude for the stranger to just walk-in and attack, or gawk at since there’s a window in the hallway to the room, without any restraint.

The film is noted for its car chases, but they only make up a small fraction of the runtime. One occurs for a few minutes during the second act and then there’s another one at the very end. Both are quite exciting and had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the camera showing things from the driver’s point-of-view and many times through the cracked glass of the windshield making you feel like you’re in the car as it happens. However, I was disappointed that they’re weren’t more of them and both chases take place on the same road and essentially go through the same stunts both times.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up is a bit too quick. For such a nifty, well designed and well crafter set-up I was expecting things to get played-out further. There is though the irony of having a helicopter appear with a news crew that captures the chase when it’s over with the idea that now that the news media is on top of it the truth will get out and everything will be resolved. This though is a far cry from the way things are here in this day-and-age where the media is not trusted by many and having them report on something, even a big story such as this, could only make things worse instead of better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Barry

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 0)

Midnite Spares (1983)

midnite2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Steve (James Laurie) returns to his hometown of Sydney to team up with his dad to be a part of a sprintcar racing team. However, when he visits the towing company that his dad owned along with his business partner Tomas (Max Cullen) he cannot find him and is told that he mysteriously disappeared weeks ago without a trace. After further investigation he becomes convinced that it has something to do with a local car thief ring headed by corrupt cop Howard (Tony Barry) and uses the help of tow truck drivers Wimpy (Bruce Spence) and Rabbit (David Argue) to reel them in while also falling for a local girl named Ruth (Gia Carides) much to the chagrin of her conservative mother ( Tessa Mallos).

On the one hand this is a well set-up comedy with all the necessary ingredients to have been a top-notched funny movie. I really enjoyed the character actors who are in top form especially Bruce Spence, probably best known for his starring role in the cult film Storkwho plays a happy-go-lucky mechanic who always has greased caked-on his face no matter where he goes even when off the job and out in public. Tony Barry gives an interesting performance as well. Just a year before this film was shot he in starred in the New Zealand cult classic Goodbye Pork Pie that’s one of the best road movies ever made. In that film he played the nonconformist running from the cops while here plays the obnoxious oppressive authority figure and he’s able to play both types of roles quite convincingly. I also enjoyed the set pieces, which resembles very much the dingy, grimy look of a car repair shop as well as the distinctive score that has a creepy tone to it, which helps accentuate the late-night, underground vibe of the story.

There’s also a few very engaging moments as well including a segment where a guy hijacks a mobile hot dog stand and drives it around the track with the perplexed staff still inside while the sprintcar race is delayed due to an accident, which is pretty funny. I also loved the scene where the thieves steal a car, bring it into their shop and in a matter of literally seconds are able to completely dismantle it piece-by-piece until only its bare shell is left much like the famous scene in The French Connection where a car gets taken a part in the search for drugs, but here it’s done even more quickly and thoroughly.

What I didn’t like was the editing, which is done in too much of a choppy style. It’s very hard to get into the characters when their scenes and conversations are limited to only a couple of minutes and a few lines of dialogue before it quickly cuts away to another scene somewhere else. It would’ve worked better had it slowed the pace down a bit and allowed the elements to percolate instead of having this rushed feel. There’s also a some storylines that had potential, but aren’t followed through enough including the conservative mother of James’s girlfriend, which could’ve been ripe with far more confrontation than it ultimately does.

The action gets captured in too fleeting of a way and there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect despite its reputation as being an action movie. The climactic car chase showdown is too brief though it does feature some good camera angles that makes the viewer feel like their a part of it, but this also ended up taking the life of one of the cameramen, David Brostoff, who got too close to one of the cars and ended up getting run over. (The footage that he shot was left in while the movie is dedicated to his memory)

As crazy as it sounds it also would’ve been nice had it come with an English subtitle option. While the language is in English the Aussie accents are strong and it’s not always completely clear what they’re saying. I felt like I was missing a few words here and there especially with its quick pace where an actor would say a short line and then there’d be an immediate cut to something else.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Quentin Masters

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD-R (Domestic Import Region 0)

Three for the Road (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting politician’s bratty daughter.

Paul (Charlie Sheen) aspires to have a career in politics and is an ardent believer in the political system and the politicians who work in it. He becomes an aide to Senator Kitteridge (Raymond J. Berry) where he gets assigned to transport the senator’s rebellious daughter Robin (Kerri Green) to an institution for troubled girls. Paul’s writer roommate T.S. (Alan Ruck) comes along with him, but they face many hurdles keeping Robin under control. Eventually Paul bonds with her when he realizes her father isn’t really the great guy he pretends to be, but instead an abuser.

This film is yet another victim of a script, which was written by Richard Martini, that was intended to be far different than what it turned out to be. Originally the idea was to center it on the political angle where the father was a conservative who wanted to put Robin into hiding simply because she was a liberal activist stirring up trouble. Yet after extensive rewrites by three other writers the story becomes just another shallow romance-on-the-road flick that shifts to extremes from slapstick comedy to hackney drama.

One of the things that’s most problematic is the father asking a young man who he really doesn’t know to transport his daughter to some far off location and even gives him handcuffs to use on her just in case she gets ‘out-of-line’, but what sort of parent would hand his teen daughter over to a virtual stranger and trust he won’t rape her? A far more plausible premise would’ve had him entrusting his daughter to a longtime friend, who he at least had better reason to trust. Instead of having her go with guys around her same age, where sexual urges are high, the escort could’ve been middle-aged. Yes, this would take away the teen romance element, which quite frankly comes-off as formuliac and forced anyways, but it could also have brought up generational issues, which would’ve been more interesting.

Sheen, who has described this film as being “a piece of shit that I wished didn’t exist and that I was terrible in”, is actually the best thing in it. I enjoyed seeing him play this straight-lace guy, which he is good at doing, that completely works against his real-life party-boy image. The only issue with him is that his character arc, where he starts out believing in the integrity of the senator father only to eventual grow disillusioned with him, is too predictable and obvious. Most people, even back in the 80’s, had a cynical take on politicians just like they do now. A far better arc would’ve had him cynical about politics, getting into it as an aide simply to boost his career, but not actually believing in the system, only to find much to his surprise that there actually was at least one politician that was honorable.

Green’s character plays too much into the ‘wild teen’ stereotype and her outrageous antics are more obnoxious than funny. She’s also too short and seemingly too young for Sheen, making the romance seem off-kilter. I also didn’t like that during the trip the main characters come into contact with the same people they’ve bumped into before. I’ve taken many long road trips and have never encountered this phenomenon and it really doesn’t add anything to the script especially since the person they keep crossing paths with is a brainless jock (Eric Bruskotter) that culminates into a silly car chase that just succeeds at making the whole thing even more inane than it already is.

There’s enough action and twists to keep it going, but it also becomes increasingly more strained as it goes along. The tacked-on drama along with the over-the-top prison break, which gets pulled-off in too easily a fashion, is particularly torturous and makes this one road trip you won’t mind missing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: B.W.L. Norton

Studio: New Century Vista Film Company

Available: DVD

The FJ Holden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A youth’s aimless life.

Kevin (Paul Couzens) is a teen over 18 still living at home with his parents (Roy Corbett, Beryl Marshall). Most of his time is spent being idle while driving around in his refurbished FJ Holden and getting drunk with his best friend Bob (Carl Stever). One day while hanging out at a mall Kevin spots Anne (Eva Dickinson) and gives her a ride in his car and eventually the two start going out. Everything goes well for awhile until Kevin makes love to Anne with the bedroom door still open, so that Bob can watch. When Anne realizes what’s going on she kicks Kevin out of the house and breaks off their relationship, but Kevin refuses to let it go and tries to rekindle things with her later at a party, which causes tensions with the other partygoers and the home owner.

I’ve stated many times that I wished Hollywood movies wouldn’t feel so compelled to rush through a story as they do and allow scenes more time to be strung-out and not edit things so quickly. Allowing things to unfold at a more leisurely pace gives the viewer a chance to soak in the setting and characters better without having to be told what to think or feel, but this film goes to the other extreme. The pace meanders so much you become bored and lose focus. There’s just not enough going on to keep you interested or intrigued.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie as I liked the technical approach, which puts the actors in public settings, but with regular people in the back drop as opposed to film extras. You get more of a realistic atmosphere this way particularly the scenes at the mall, which before the advent of social media, skype, and texting was a social hotspot for most teens to meet other people and hang-out. The story though, which was based on loosely constructed comic poems, is not structured enough to remain engaging. The dialogue is too generic and the situations they go through, whether it’s making love in the backseat of a car, or drag racing, have all been done in many other teen flicks, so watching it here just makes it seem all the more redundant and pointless.

There manages to be a a few interesting bits here and there, but overall it’s a sluggish experience. Only at the very end when Kevin confronts Anne at the party is there are any real potential for dramatic sparks, but it doesn’t get played-out enough. I was hoping for a full-out brawl to make-up for all the boredom that had come before it, but director Michael Thornhill, who has found critical acclaim with some of his later films, just wasn’t confident enough apparently to push this thing full-throttle, which ultimately makes it bland and forgettable.

The car itself doesn’t play as much into the plot as you’d expect and in a lot of ways I didn’t find it all that impressive. It’s a model of car that was built in Australia between the years of 1953 to 1956 and through the decades over 20 car clubs have been formed in Australia committed to preserving the vehicle, and every other year thousands of car enthusiasts gather to celebrate the old-style car, but to me it came off looking old and clunky like something your grandfather would drive and did not have the sleek sports car design that most young men like to be seen in. The car eventually, during the film’s second half, gets painted bright yellow, which makes it look like a taxi cab, but during the first part it’s not painted at all and looks rusty like it had been pulled from the junkyard and what most people would be embarrassed to be seen with and not something to invite a girl for a ride in to impress her even though that’s what happens here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M (Originally rated R)

Director: Michael Thornhill

Studio: FJ Films

Available: DVD

Speed Zone (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another cross-country race.

A collage of wacky characters convene to a countryside inn, which will be the starting point of another illegal cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run that will have people driving their cars from Washington D.C. to Santa Monica, California in record time with the winner receiving $1 million. Many attempts have been made in the past to stop it, but to no avail. However, this time Police Chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) makes a commitment to stymie the race any way he can, but as usual the participants are able to complete it without much hassle.

This is the fifth attempt at making a movie dealing with the real-life race called Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that would start on the east coast in either New York or Connecticut and finish at the  Portofino Inn in Redondo, California. The race was run 5 times during the 70’s with the last one occurring on April 1, 1979. 4 other movies had already been made on this same subject and include: The Gumball RallyCannonball!, The Cannonball Runand Cannonball Run IIWhile those films featured some exciting stunt work the comedy elements and characters were usually quite lame and cartoonish and the box office receipts, particularly for Cannonball Run II, had slowed completely after an initially good first weekend making it seem that producers would realize that this theme had run its course, but Hollywood being Hollywood stubbornly decided to resurrect the idea and even offering Burt Reynolds a big sum of money to reprise his role, but he refused.

Initially I thought this one might be a bit of an improvement as it starts out right away with a Lamborghini, driven by John Schneider, being chased down the highway by a bunch of cops, which if you’re going to do a movie like this is the way it should be done. Keep the emphasis on the action and car stunts while minimizes the comedy and dialogue. Unfortunately this unravels pretty quickly by first having the Lamborghini skip across a lake, which was proven on the Myth Busters TV-show not to be possible, and then deviates to the cartoonish characters standing around interacting with one another, which is not funny and not what people who came to watch a car race movie want to see.

Outside of Jamie Farr, who reprises his role as an Arab sheik, but is fortunately only seen at the beginning, the rest of the cast is made up of new faces not seen in any of the previous ones, but having a new set of people playing the same campy roles doesn’t help. Boyle gets listed as having a lead role, but his character really doesn’t do much and is so ineffective at impending the race you wonder why they even bothered to write-him into the script. Tim Matheson too plays a character that isn’t funny and I can only imagine that he took the part, much like the Smothers Brothers who also appear here, simply for the money, but certainly this cannot be anything they’d want to highlight on their resumes.

I did like John Candy who unlike the rest actually seems more like a real person and not just a buffoonish nut. Unfortunately he gets paired with Donna Dixon as his driving partner who speaks in an affected Brooklyn accent, which I found quite annoying. They should’ve had his SCTV-alum partner Eugene Levy ride with him as the constant bickering the two shared along with their contrasting personalities would’ve been amusing.  Alyssa Milano has a good bit as a student driver being instructed to pass all cars that are foreign made. I really liked Brooke Shields appearance too where she plays herself working as a flight attendant so she doesn’t have to settle for ‘bit parts in movies’. In fact her part is so funny it’s the only reason I’m giving this otherwise stupid dreck 2-points.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jim Drake

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS

Cops and Robbers (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops become the robbers.

Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna) are two New York City policemen who are tired of their jobs and want to retire from the working world, but can’t because they need to support their families. They decide the only solution is to commit a heist by working with a local mob boss (John P. Ryan) to rob a Wall Street brokerage firm out of  bonds that cannot be traced. The two come up with an elaborate scheme  to pull it off during the day while the place is still open and they’re still in uniform. At first things go smoothly, but then two other cops show up forcing Tom and Joe to destroy the bonds they’ve just gotten their hands onto in order to avoid getting caught. While this helps them out of their immediate jam it still gets reported to the press that the place was robbed making the crime boss believe he has been taken advantage of and compelled to get revenge.

What stands out is how different this is from the conventional cop flick. Instead of having a loud, pounding score the music here is soft and tranquil like the breezy, warm climate of a tropical island, which is where both Tom and Joe wish they were. The cops aren’t portrayed as being authority figures either or compromised victims of a corrupt system, but just regular suburbanites trapped in a dead-end job like many people and looking for a way out.

The crime is done differently too. Usually, in most other cop flicks, once the robbery gets going you’ll see the pace speed up with fast edits, but here it gets played-out in real time, which actually makes it more intense. I enjoyed the camera cutting back and forth from showing things from Tom and Joe’s point-of-view as well as from the black-and-white monitor seen by the security guards. The authentic office atmosphere has many of the employees not even knowing a robbery is going on while the two main people who do realize what Tom and Joe are up to, well played by the elderly Shepperd Strudwick and a much younger African American actress named Ellen Holly, display odd reactions and facial expressions that doesn’t conform to the situation, but eventually gets explained by the big twist that comes later.

Gorman gives an awesome performance, which is made all the more impressive when you realize just 4 years earlier he was the highly effeminate gay character in The Boys in the Band, but here he’s a macho heterosexual. I kept waiting for him to reveal mannerisms of his past role, but instead he successfully pulls off being two diametrically different people with no connection to the other a feat not every actor, even some of the good ones, are able to do.

Bologna goes against type too. Usually he’s loud and brash, but here more quiet and nervous. In the Kino Lorber DVD bonus section he recounts a funny incident that happened to him during the production when he was forced to make a call home to his wife (actress Renee Taylor) in real-life. Since there were no such things as cellphones at the time he had to go to a nearby phone booth while still wearing the cop uniform of his character. It was there that he noticed a thug beating up a victim on the sidewalk and he shouted at the man to stop it. Since the man presumed Bologna was a cop it was enough to get him to run away, but then the other pedestrians started to harass Bologna for not chasing after the bad guy and arresting him. He tried to explain that he was just playing a policemen in a movie, but no one believed him.

The film’s final segment, which takes place in Central Park, is well choreographed and features a unique car chase.  It’s just a shame that Aram Avakian who burst onto the film scene with the provocative, ahead-of-its-time cult favorite End of the Roaddidn’t go on to direct more movies as he did only one more, 11 Harrowhouse, after this one before retiring to become the head of the film department at the State University of New York where he worked until his death in 1987. His approach here makes all the difference as he relies not on the typical cop formula action, but instead on the nuance.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Mr. Billion (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Italian mechanic inherits fortune.

When his rich uncle dies in a freak accident humble mechanic Guido (Terence Hill) learns that he has inherited the man’s billion dollar fortune. However, everything is contingent that he sign the legal papers at precisely 12 Noon on Monday, April 12th in San Francisco in order to receive the money. John Cutler (Jackie Gleason) who has worked many years in the uncle’s corporation wants all the money for himself and will do anything to stop the signing, which requires Guido to travel across the country in various forms of transportation to get there.

This was Hill’s American movie debut, but the results and effort are mediocre at best. It was written and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who was still in the Roger Corman production phase of his career, which makes the film come-off looking like just another pedestrian dive-in fare that he had been doing up to that point. The plot is thin and unimaginative, relies too heavily on car chases to make it interesting, and gets filled with a lot of logic loopholes that just don’t add up.

Hill gets upstaged by the talented supporting cast of characters actors at every turn. Sam Laws as an aging black man who brings Hill home with him only to end up getting into a big argument with his son (Johnny Ray McGhee) about it is fun as is R.G. Armstrong as a stereotypically over-the-top southern-styled sheriff. Gleason is a lot of fun here too especially his facial expressions and reactions that make his scenes enjoyable.

There are a few interesting moments including a helicopter crashing onto a little league game and all the people shown, from a bird’s-eye perspective, running out of their homes to witness the accident. Watching the police vehicles getting smashed-up in a stock car race is cool too and the aerial views of the Grand Canyon where the characters battle each other while literally teetering on the edge of a massive cliff are breath taking. Unfortunately there are a lot of slow, dull moments in-between. The dialogue is not sharp enough to be consistently amusing and the script is too run-of-the-mill like it was written in a matter of hours with no heart or thought put into it at all.

This film also marks the last screen appearance of William Redfield. He was an actor who had been working in films since 1939 when he was just at child, but never gained much fame until he was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it was while working on that film that he got diagnosed with leukemia. He decided to forge on with his acting work as best as he could and here he looks perfectly healthy, and even plays a character that has an interesting arc, and yet he ended up dying just month after filming had completed.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Released: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)

Gas (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fuel shortage causes chaos.

It’s 1979 and the energy crisis is in full-swing. Long lines of cars are seen at every gas station as the shortage of oil makes filling up one’s vehicle difficult. Oil tycoon Duke Stuyvesant (Sterling Hayden) decides to up the price of petroleum even more by pretending that he doesn’t have the needed gas that he really does by secretly transporting it to organized crime syndicates through milk trucks. Jane Beardsley (Susan Anspach) is a news reporter who gets a tip about what’s going on and becomes determined to expose it.

It’s unfortunate that no one told screenwriter Dick Wolf, who has had better success as a producer including winning many awards for his work on the long-running TV-show ‘Law and Order’, that less is more, which is the film’s whole failing point. There’s just too much of everything. Too many lame gags, too many characters, and too much of an unfocused point-of-view.

For a gag-a-minute concept to work like in Airplane! it still needs some sort of point that it’s trying to make. For that film the humor revolved around poking fun of old airline disaster flicks, but here any dumb joke gets haphazardly thrown-in no matter how little it has to do with the plot. The result is a mind-numbing experience where the ‘zaniness’ goes recklessly overboard with nothing making much sense.

The story desperately needed some central character that was normal and could help offset the absurdity around them. For awhile it seemed like the Sara character, played by Sandee Currie, would be it, but then she falls off the radar by getting into a relationship with Howie Mandel, who has no charisma at all, and isn’t seen for long periods. Also, Peter Akroyd, who is Dan Aykroyd’s younger brother in real-life, and plays Sara’s overly possessive brother here, is incredibly annoying in what is already an annoying film and it’s a shame that his character, who has many near death mishaps, wasn’t just quickly killed off.

As bad as this Canadian production is it’s amazing how many well known faces there are here. For some it was understandable why they’d do it. Anspach’s career was clearly on the decline, so she was most likely desperate to take anything in order to remain busy. Helen Shaver’s career was just starting out, so she had to accept the crumbs that she was given. Hayden was going through tax evasion charges and needed to make money quick in order to pay his legal costs, but Donald Sutherland’s presence was a real shock as he was , and still is, a top name star. He stated in later interviews that he did this solely for the money, which is fine, but why was he cast in such an insignificant part as a DJ who flies overhead in a helicopter and seen only sporadically instead being given the lead role?

The film ends with a climactic car chase in which all the characters chase each other  through the streets of Montreal that is similar in spirit to the one done in What’s Up Doc?, but just not as funny. However, the stunt work is rather impressive with lots of vivid crashes more so than in other car chase flicks, which is probably the only positive thing one can say about this otherwise bad, bad, bad movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 minutes

Rated R

Director: Les Rose

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: VHS

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Protecting a state’s witness.

Detective Sergeant Dan Delgado (Alan Arkin) is ‘Bean’ while Detective Sergeant Tim Walker (James Caan) is known as ‘Freebie’. Together they are two San Francisco cops investigating a well-known racketeer named Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen). Just when they think they have enough evidence to bring him in they find that there’s a hit-man ready to kill him and it is now their job to keep the cantankerous Meyers alive until they can bring in a key witness to testify against him, which proves difficult.

The script was written by Floyd Mutrix who shopped it around to many studios before finally selling it to Warner Brothers because he felt he could trust then Studio Boss Richard Zanuck to keep the story in tact only to have the script go through massive rewrites once it was handed over to Richard Rush to direct. The story was originally conceived as being in the serious vein, but during rehearsals it was found that Caan and Arkin had a good comic chemistry together, so the dialogue took on more of a humorous take.

In many ways I liked the comic spin. This was in the age of Dirty Harry and The French Connection where cops had taken too much of a serious tone, so having something making fun of the trend is refreshing. The story itself remains gritty, which culminates in this odd dynamic where you find yourself laughing one minute and then cringing the next. My only complaint is that it seemed like Freebie and Bean where getting away with too much, the destruction of police property and reckless driving was one thing, but the way they would freely rough-up suspects under their care was another. Their ethical boundaries were so loose that real-life cops in the same situation would most certainly end up  getting reprimanded, at least hopefully.

The stunt work is worth catching as the car chases create a true adrenaline rush. The best one starts inside a dentist’s office, then goes out onto the streets where Caan, or at least his stunt double, rides a motorbike over the roofs of several cars in his pursuit of the bad guys, then proceeds to go through an outdoor art exhibit only to culminate inside the kitchen of a ritzy restaurant.

The supporting cast includes Loretta Swit as the wife of the crime boss who initially seems to have a very insignificant role, but it eventually works into being an integral part by the end. I also enjoyed Christopher Morley, who is a well-known female impersonator best remembered for playing Sally Armitage a character that was known as a woman who eventually came out as a man on the daytime soap opera ‘General Hospital’ that later inspired the movie Tootsie.  Here he plays a transvestite that Freebie meets briefly early on. Due to his small body frame Freebie initially considers him a ‘lightweight’ only to get the shock of his life when later on Morley proves to be far more able to defend himself than Freebie could’ve ever imagined in a unique fight sequence that I wished had been extended.

The casting that I had an issue was with Arkin and Valerie Harper as his wife. Usually these are great actors, but here they play Hispanic characters even though both were actually Jewish. Hearing Harper speak in a fake Spanish accent is quite annoying and the scene where the two bicker at each other would’ve had far better energy had it been played by actual Hispanics.

Spoiler Alert!

The part where Bean gets shot is problematic too. Normally I don’t mind having some reality seep into a story,  but here Bean being put out of commission is all wrong. The two had done everything together up to this point, so it cheats the viewer and the film’s chemistry with him missing during the climactic fight. Having him then miraculously recover after he’s taken away in the ambulance and pronounced dead makes the whole scenario ridiculous and implausible.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Rush

Studio: Warner Brothers

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