Category Archives: Road Movies

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pool hustlers travel country.

Nick (James Coburn) is an aging pool hustler who’s best days are behind him. Many years earlier he took a young 15-year-old boy named Billie Joe (Bruce Boxleitner) under his tutelage and taught him the tricks-of-the-trade. Now as a man Billie is able to play the game as well as Nick. The two travel the countryside attending pool halls where they hustle patsies for money. Nick though holds a grudge because a ways back he lost a crucial match to The Deacon (Omar Sharif) another hustler whose just been released from jail. Nick wants a rematch, but The Deacon doesn’t think he’s worthy of his time. Nick though got’s a scheme that will get him to change his mind by playing in a nationally televised pool tournament that The Deacon plans to attend.

For a film that has never had an official US DVD release and was only shown sporadically on late night TV I was surprised at how engaging it is. Screenwriters John Brascia and Robert Vincent O’Neill have written a highly amiable script that features funny vignettes and amusing banter. The focus isn’t on the game of pool, which seems almost like a side-light, but more on the scraps they get into along the way. The two also come into contact with those trying to cheat them and this culminates in an almost surreal like confrontation, that comes around the middle mark, inside a house of mirrors at a carnival side show.

The film also has a segment that seemed prolific in movies that came out during the late 70’s and early 80’s which features what would be considered sexual assault now. The scene has Nick betting Billie Joe that the breasts on a waitress at a cafe that they’re in is silicone and not natural. Billie then proceeds to go into the kitchen to feel-her-up without her consent. While what he does is not shown we do hear her scream and drop her tray of dishes before he walks back out with a broad smile on his face, which back in the day was just considered ‘light comedy’.

Coburn is a great actor, but looks horribly aged. He was only 60, but could’ve easily passed-off as 70 or 75 making his fight scenes look inauthentic as I don’t believe in his elderly condition he would’ve been able to hold his own. Boxleitner is dull and seems only able to display a broad ‘good-ole-boy’ smile and not much else. A more dynamic actor, or one maybe more Coburn’s age, could’ve made the buddy angle better.

I found Sharif to be too soft spoken and he approaches his part in a weird way. For instance when he’s playing a senator at poker he displays moments of outward nervousness, but if he’s truly a cocky, confident player that wouldn’t have been the case. Ronee Blakely is weak as well proving that her appearance in Nashville was her only good performance though her singing is nice and she’ll remind one a lot of Shelley Duvall with her looks. Jack O’Halloran, the former boxer who’s best known for playing Non the henchmen to the evil Zod in the Superman movies, is very funny as Max an inept hit man.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending unfortunately gets convoluted. Having the game broadcast and featuring live play-by-play and commenting by pool legend Willie Musconi is cool, but I wanted to see the ultimate match between Nick and Billie Joe to prove which one was truly better. The script teases this idea, but then adds in too many other unnecessary ingredients like having Nick be pressured to dump the game while there’s also a robbery happening and then eventually the place is raided by the feds. By the time it gets to The Deacon taking-on Nick it’s anti-climactic especially since no one else is around (it should’ve been televised on TV for all to witness). Having it focus more on the game and the strategies, which it starts to do slightly near the end, would’ve given it more substance and what little they do talk about I found to be genuinely interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Entertainment

Available: DVD (Reg 2 Import)

Riding Tall (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t stop losing.

Austin Ruth (Andrew Prine) is a rodeo star who hasn’t won a contest in a long while. He’s so down-on-his-luck that the fans routinely boo him as he leaves. He’s so short on cash that he must siphon gas from trucks and drives in a car that forces other passengers to sit on literal springs since he’s too poor to afford seat cushions for his backseat. When his car breaks down he begins walking on the side of the road where he almost gets hit by Chase (Gilmer McCormick) who fell asleep at the wheel. Chase is the preppy daughter from the affluent suburbs who’s running away from her family and their pretensions while also trying to find herself. She has little in common with Austin, but since they’re both alone decide to forge a relationship, but their differing lifestyles, and Austin’s insecurities about his failing life put a damper on their union ever becoming permanent.

This film was released during a period where stories about the modern day rodeo circuit where in seemingly high demand and while some of them like J.W. Coop and Junior Bonner where met with critical praise and box office appeal this one, despite having a CBS Network television broadcast in 1980, has fallen into complete obscurity. Today it’s only known for having been written by Mary Ann Saxon, who was the wife of the late actor John Saxon.

Initially it had a potential. I really like McCormick. Normally I find films that force in a romance that comes out of nowhere to be annoying, but since this guy was having everything working against him I thought he deserved a break and was genuinely interested in seeing the relationship evolve. McCormick is young and cute, but not in the plastic Hollywood sort of way. She also has a great snarky personality, but her character is poorly defined. At one point she angrily snaps at a traffic cop (William Wintersole) and I thought it would be later revealed when she’d be so unusually angry at him, but it never gets explained and seems to simply play-off the fact that because she was young and in college she’d just naturally hate cops, but this is too broad and makes her more of a caricature than a person.

Prine is dull. Granted his character is run-over by life, so it would be expected that he’d mop around, but he still needs to do this in an interesting way, like a good actor would, but he doesn’t. He’s also never shown actually riding a bronco, until the very end. Even if a stunt double needed to be edited in seeing the character actually on an animal riding it, or attempting to stay on it, is needed instead of just a close-up shot of him being bucked high in the air, which was clearly done by having him sit on top of a mechanical bull and looks fake.

There were a couple of amusing moments like when they try to get a hotel room, but the clerk doesn’t want to give them one because she thinks they aren’t married. When Chase states they are the clerk says she doesn’t believe them at which point Chase replies “Why, because we don’t look miserable enough?”. Overall though it just doesn’t click. Not enough happens. A leisurely pace is okay, but there still needs to be some dramatic moments and they never come making this an uneventful and unmemorable viewing experience.

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Alternate Title: Squares

Released: January 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Patrick J. Murphy

Studio: Plateau International

Available: None

Fandango (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Double Deal (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Double crossing each other.

Christine (Angela Punch McGregor) is a young model married to Peter (Louis Jourdan) a much older man. While Peter is rich and they live in a big house their marriage lacks passion and Christine becomes bored with her existence while Peter continues to have a long-running affair with his secretary Miss Stevens (Diane Craig). One day while out shopping Christine meets a handsome young man (Warwick Comber) on a motorbike. Even though she doesn’t know his name she becomes entranced with his good looks and carefree demeanor. He’s the exact opposite of the stuffy and exacting Peter, so she decides to run-off with him. The two go on many quirky adventures including robbing a grocery store while in clown make-up not so much because they need the money, but just for the thrill of it. They then plot a scheme where the man will pretend to have kidnapped Christine and insist that Peter relinquish his prized opal gemstone in order to get her back. Peter complies, but in the process sets off an array of unexpected twists where nothing is as it seems.

Normally I like films with an offbeat slant and this one certainly has its moments, but the characters aren’t well fleshed-out, which makes for a placid experience. A good case-in-point is the way Christine comes upon the young man, which is while she’s in a shopping center parking lot. Having found that someone has double parked their car behind hers she patiently waits for the owner of the vehicle to come out and move it, but in the process the young man comes along, and noticing that the keys of the car are still in the ignition, jumps into the car and drives away with it while also following Christine home. Once there the two proceed to tear up the place before she packs her bags and runs off with him onto the open road without ever even learning what his first name is.

While as an actress McGregor is quite competent she doesn’t have the looks of a fashion model, which she herself admitted to, and her role and that of the secretary should’ve been reversed with Diane Craig looking far more the model type especially with her piercing blue eyes. Comber is a bit off as the handsome stranger as well. He certainly has a hunky build and chiseled face, but his droopy eyelids give him a odd, sad eye appearance. I also got tired of seeing him constantly wearing a silver bike riding suit that seemed to resembled more of an outfit worn by someone on a spaceship.

Jourdan’s presence helps a lot. This was at the twilight of his career where he was no longer getting leading man roles in his home country of France and therefore open to accepting offers abroad, which is what lead to him traveling to Australia to do this. The filmmakers wanted a big name star to help give the production stature and the movie definitely works better with him in it though the scene where he and McGregor are in bed together was reportedly quite awkward for the two stars given their wide age difference of almost 33 years and took many takes to film.

There are a few memorable moments with my favorite being the grocery store robbery, which occurs in a small outback town, where Christine accidentally releases the money they have just stolen into the air as she gets into the getaway car causing the store owners, who had just been robbed, to run out and busily try to recollect the money blowing in the wind. However, the story lacks soul. The twists get thrown in for the sake of being offbeat, but the characters never grow, or resemble real people in any way. The winding plot ultimately burns out and ends with a fizzle.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 15, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian Kavanagh

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: dvdlady.com

The Last Detail (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Seaman escorted to prison.

Billy Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Richard Mulhall (Otis Young) are two navy lifers assigned the task of escorting an 18 year-old seamen named Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison. Meadows had been caught lifting $40 from a charity fund run by a wife of a senior officer. In return he got court-martialed and given an 8-year sentence in the brig. Buddusky and Mulhall feel the sentence is too harsh and immediately take a liking to the soft-spoken young man who despite his tall height seems harmless and mile-mannered. During the trip, which is expected to take a week, the two men decide to show Meadows a ‘good time’ by taking him on many side-trips including a whorehouse where the young virgin has sex with a prostitute (Carol Kane). As the time grows near for them to turn their prisoner over to the authorities they start to feel reluctant about doing so, but the fear of being kicked out of the navy and losing all of their pay and benefits keeps them grounded in their responsibility even as Meadows tries several times to escape.

It may seem amazing to believe now, but this film, which has won over almost universal appeal both from the critics and film viewers almost didn’t get made due to the fear from the studio that the word ‘fuck’ was spoken in it too many times. Screenwriter Robert Towne, who adapted the story from the novel of the same name by Daryl Poniscan, was pressured to take most of the uses of the profanity out of the script and in fact production was delayed while both sides had a ‘stand-off’ about it with Towne insisting that “this is the way people talk when they’re powerless to act; they bitch.” Eventually the script got green-lit with all the ‘fucks’ intact, which at the time was a record 65 of them. In retrospect I’m glad Towne held his ground as without the F-word being used, or some silly lesser profanity substituted in, would’ve given the film a dated feel when being watched by today’s standards where the word is said hundreds of times on social media and sometimes even in commercials where it’s only slightly bleeped-out. This is a problem when watching other films from the late 60’s and early 70’s where goofy slang gets thrown in to compensate for the lack of the F-word, which in turn hurts the film’s grittiness and edge, which thankfully got avoided here.

The story was a problem too as many studio execs considered it too ‘non-eventful’ to make for an interesting movie, but this is the whole reason why the movie is so special as it doesn’t try to throw in the cheap antics other Hollywood films might to make it ‘more entertaining’. The film remains low-key and fully believable throughout and may remind others, as it did me, of one’s own coming-of-age experiences when they were 18 and hanging out with others who were older and more worldly-wise. Cinematographer Michael Chapman, who appears briefly as a cab driver, insistence at using natural lighting only also helps heighten the realism.

The story takes many amusing side turns that manages to be both poignant and funny including a brawl that the three have with a group of marines inside a Grand Central Station restroom, though I did wish some of the other segments had been strung out a bit more. One is when the three men attend a group encounter, which features Gilda Radner in her film debut, to a bunch of chanting Buddhists. I felt it was weird that the men just stood in the background and didn’t assimilate with the group during the meeting and begin chanting alongside the others, which would’ve been funny. The scene inside the hotel room where Buddusky can’t get his roll-out cot to fold-out right and forcing him to sleep in a uncomfortable position should’ve been played-out more too. Are we to believe that he slept that way the whole night?

Of course it’s the acting that makes this movie so special. While I never pictured Nicholson with his over-the-top persona as being someone who would be a part of the regimented culture such as the navy I ended up loving him in it and felt this was the performance he should’ve won the Oscar for. I especially got a kick out of the way he would get all fidgety when outside in the cold, which I don’t think was acting at all as it was filmed on-location in the Northeast during the very late autumn/early winter and I believe he was really freezing as he was saying his lines.

While his character is not as flashy, Otis Young is every bit as excellent as it takes a good straight-man, which is what he essentially is, to make for a good funny man. The part was originally meant for Rupert Crouse, who unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer just as the production began forcing the producers to bring in Young as a last minute replacement, but he manages to deliver particularly in the scene on the train where he loudly castigates Buddusky for his misbehavior. Quaid is quite good too even though he goes against the physical characteristics of the character, who in the novel was described as being ‘a helpless little guy’, but director Hal Ashby, who can be seen briefly during a barroom scene, choose to cast against type by bringing in a tall, hefty fellow who looked like he could defend himself if he had to, but is just too sheltered to know how.

The ending is the one segment where I wished it had been a little more emotionally upbeat. It’s still a big improvement over the one in the book where Buddusky dies, which fortunately doesn’t happen here, but it still isn’t too memorable either. The film though overall does a good job of conveying the underlining theme of how the navy men where just as imprisoned as Meadows, at least psychologically, and unable to consider life outside of the navy box that they had spent their entire lives in and where thus locked-in more so than Meadows, whose sentence in jail would only last 8-years versus a lifetime like with Buddusky and Mulhall.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Stone (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the bikers.

Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is a member of the Grave Diggers biker gang who stops off one sunny day to hear a politician giving a speech at a park. He has just taken some acid and feeling the effects of it and so goes straying from the rest when he sees a shooter hiding inside a nearby building and when the gun goes off and kills the politician the bikers gets blamed for it. Soon members of their group start getting knocked-off in bizarre ways convincing them that somebody is after them for what they witnessed. Stone (Ken Shorter) is the long-haired police detective who infiltrates the group in order to find out who the killer is, but the bikers are initially unhappy with a ‘pig’ being a part of their organization, but eventually they form a friendship and work together to nab the bad guy before he kills more.

The story was originally meant as an episode for an Australian TV-show, but when that series got canceled before this episode could air, it was then reworked into a feature film. Real Australian bikers were used as supporting players with many of them being paid with free beer for their efforts. The film eventually did quite well at the box office and has garnered a cult status worldwide although the 99 minute length, which is what is widely available, was not the original cut, which was much longer at 130 minutes, but director Sandy Harbutt did not like this version, so this became a rare occasion where the director’s cut leaves out many scenes that was originally shown in the theaters.

As a film it’s not too bad and I particularly liked it’s moody opening that has a lot of weird camera angles and freeze-frames. The funeral procession showing hundreds of bikers careening down the highway leaves a memorable impression as well. The killings are cool too, including a dangerous stunt that required a driver to ride his bike off an 80-foor cliff and into the ocean.

On the drama ends there’s some interesting moments including Stone’s initiation, but when he’s off by himself it gets boring quick especially since Shorter’s mop-top hairstyle makes him look more like a lost singer to a ’70’s Glam band than a cop. The film only works when the bikers are in it and becomes nothing more than a tepid, pedestrian drama without them. The wrap-up isn’t as interesting as the opening and I kind of wondered if the mystery angle even needed to be put in as there are long segments where the investigation isn’t even talked about to the point that it almost seems forgotten.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that impressive either with the fist-fights looking like poorly staged stunt work by amateurs. They’re also quite brief and don’t take up as much of the runtime as you’d expect. However, as a character study it has an appeal as I found the bikers themselves to be a fascinating bunch and wanted to get to know them better and the plot should’ve focused on them solely.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes (Director’s Cut) 2 Hours 10 Minutes (Original Studio Version)

Not Rated

Director: Sandy Harbutt

Studio: British Empire Films Australia

Available: DVD

 

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

High Rolling in a Hot Corvette (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys drop out.

Tex (Joseph Bottoms) and Alby (Grigor Taylor) are two friends working at a carnival who decide, after Tex gets fired when he’s caught having sex with a female customer, to breakaway from the grind by heading out to the Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise. They hitch a ride with Arnold (John Clayton) who drives a snazzy green Corvette. After he takes the two to a hotel for the night he comes-on to Alby, who beats Arnold up that puts him into an unconscious state. When Tex finds out what happened they decide to make a run for it by driving away in Arnold’s green corvette, which to their shock is loaded with bags of marijuana. They use Arnold’s money from his wallet to help them get into ritzy nightclubs where they meet up with attractive singers Susie and Barbie (Sandra McGregor, Wendy Hughes), but once the money is spent they’re forced to rob a tour bus full of passengers, but just as they’re ready to escape with the loot Arnold returns with his muscular friends and an ugly confrontation ensues.

This is another Australian flick where it could’ve easily been filmed here and you’d never know the difference. Whether it’s intentional or not the American influence is quite strong including having them eat at such restaurants as Kentucky Friend Chicken and McDonald’s. The Outback is the one area that can help Australia stand out, but the two never go there and stick to the lushly green coastal region, which again looks no different than many of the landscapes in the U.S.

They even hire an American actor for the lead, which I felt was a mistake. Apparently they thought it would be easier to sell to distributors abroad if not all the actors spoke with an Aussie accent, but Bottoms, who is the younger brother of the more famous Timothy Bottoms, isn’t a good enough actor to make anything that he does onscreen either interesting or memorable. His reckless wild boy behavior comes-off as affected and forced and the way he aggressively comes-on to women would be considered misogynist and sexual harassment by today’s standards. Plus, there’s never any explanation for why this Texan would be working the carnival scene in Australia to begin with.

The tone of the film when compared to its trailer, which can be seen on YouTube, is far more grim and dramatic. The trailer gives you the impression it’s a comical, freewheeling adventure that will bring you back to your youthful days of rebellion, when really it’s more about them desperately living on the edge, getting beat-up and seeking shelter in an abandoned church when it rains. If anything it makes the creature comforts of suburbia, even with some of the compromises that come with it, seem not so bad by comparison.

These guys aren’t too smart either and it becomes harder and harder to keep siding with them with each jam they stupidly get themselves into. Driving off with the Corvette was just asking for trouble since they didn’t bother to change the license plate, so any cop could scan the number and realize that the vehicle was stolen. When they rob the bus, which is the best moment in the movie, they don’t wear any masks, so they’ll be easily identifiable. It also makes you wonder why if these bums needed money so bad they couldn’t just find a job like the rest of us instead of robbing innocent people, which is not a nice thing to do and makes the viewer not want to like these guys who are, at least in theory, supposed to be the protagonists.

The filmed is helped by the appearances of two young Australian actresses at the start of their careers. Hughes is beautiful as the showgirl that they meet but her part is ultimately too small. I was afraid Judy Davis, who plays a hitchhiker that they pick-up, would have the same fate, but she returns later on to give the cops a wild car chase driving the Corvette that makes it worth it.

The film though lacks any discernable point or message. The characters show no  arc and behave the same way at the end that they did at the beginning. Nothing conclusive is giving to their ultimate fate. Will they be able to live on the road and on-the-edge all of their lives? This hardly seems possible, but the movie makes no effort to answer this question causing it to be vapid and undistinguished from the plethora of other road movies out there.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Igor Auzins

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD-R

Payday (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A self-destructive singer.

Maury Dann (Rip Torn) is a popular country singer who performs at many clubs throughout the southeast. While he is loved by his many fans he routinely takes advantage of those around him including sleeping with married women while openly seducing the others even when it’s right in front of his current girlfriend Mayleen (Ahna Capri). When Maury is confronted by the father (Walter Bamberg) of one of the young women he’s seduced they get into an ugly fight and Maury accidently ends up killing him, but since he’s so used to exploiting others he asks his loyal limo driver Chicago (Cliff Emmich) to take the blame for him.

The film, which was directed by Daryl Duke, is a masterpiece in penetrating drama to the point that I’m surprised that Duke, who had only directed TV-shows before this, didn’t go on to have a long career in making Hollywood movies instead of going right back to doing episodic TV-work after this. The script though, which was written by Don Carpenter, is completely on-target as it paints a very trenchant, no-holds-barred portrait of the seamier side of show business life and most importantly the people who work in it.

The atmosphere of the smoke-filled bars/nightclubs is vividly captured and the dialogue has a nice conversational quality that makes its point, but never in too much of an obvious way. The characterizations though are the most revealing and include Maury’s loyal manager Clarence (Michael C. Gwynne) who secretly despises Maury and is well aware of his many faults, but does whatever he can to cover them up to the adoring public.  Cliff Emmich as the faithful limo driver, who secretly aspires to be a gourmet chief, is terrific too. He doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s always quite interesting and his facial reactions are great.

My favorite characters though were Maury’s two girlfriends particularly the young, wide-eyed Rosamond (Elayne Heilveil in her film debut) who excitedly jumps into bed with Maury as his new star crush groupie only to become more apprehensive about things, which get revealed through her wonderfully strained facial expressions, the ugliness that goes on around her. Since her character has the most obvious arc I thought she should’ve been the story’s centerpiece.

Capri is quite enjoyable as well playing on the opposite end of the spectrum as a jaded woman who’s been in the groupie scene too long, but desperate enough to stay in it. The film’s most memorable moment is when Maury kicks her out of his limo, without any money, in the middle of a cornfield. She’s able to find another ride quickly, but I would’ve liked seeing a scene later on showing where she ultimately ended-up, or having her return to the story near the end where she could’ve had a climactic final confrontation with Maury, which is what her character deserved.

The only thing that I didn’t like was Maury himself. Torn plays the part in a masterful way, although his singing over the opening credits, which he insisted on doing himself, isn’t so spectacular, but his acting is. The only problem is that his character is just too much of a jerk. Supposedly it’s loosely based on Hank Williams and I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it, but it would’ve been nice had there been at least one fleeting moment when he did something redeeming as his constant jerkiness becomes almost an overload for the viewer making it border on being too obnoxious to watch, but it’s so well crafted in every other aspect it’s still a worthwhile view.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daryl Duke

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

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