By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Cross country motorcycle race.
Charlie Swattle (David Carradine) is a WWI veteran and full-time conman who decides to enter into a transnational motorbike race that goes from St. Louis to San Francisco and will offer a big money payout to the winner. He tries to get his army buddies to help him, but they’re reluctant due to the belief that he’s a deserter. He then meets up with a sassy waitress (Brenda Vaccaro) who agrees to offer assistance, but only under stringent conditions.
The film is adequately entertaining but hurt by an uninspired, modest budget look. While efforts were made to make it appear like it were the 1920’s there’s no style to the direction nor any atmosphere. Too much emphasis gets placed on the cutesy comedy, which further erodes any semblance that this is an authentic period piece, which it clearly isn’t.
It takes a full hour before the race even gets going with the whole first half spent on the comic interpersonal relationships/banter that Charlie has with those around him. The race does have a few exciting moments including the point-of-view shots shown from the rider’s perspective as the motorbike careens down the bumpy backwoods dirt roads, but having the entire film shot in Oklahoma is a letdown. This is a race that is supposed to go across many different states and landscapes, but instead we’re given only one type of topography, which was obviously done for budget considerations, but ultimately comes-off like a cop-out.
Things do improve with the presence of Vaccaro, who only did the film due to contractual obligations with the studio. Leonard Maltin, in his review of the movie (or whoever wrote the review for him), incorrectly states that she plays an “early-day biker groupie” , which couldn’t be further from the truth. A groupie as defined by a dictionary search is someone who is: ‘An enthusiastic uncritical follower’ which Vaccaro clearly isn’t. The two instead share a very combative, contentious relationship where she is constantly putting him down and not trusting him, which certainly does not conform to the idol worship of the conventional groupie.
Carradine’s performance is okay. Some of his appearances in other films make it seem like he was sleepwalking through the part, but here he manages to show some oomph. He at least does better in this one than in the other similarly themed movie Death Race 2000, where his face was hidden by a mask and he seemed almost like a robot. L.Q. Jones offers good support as his one-legged war buddy, who initially wants to kill Charlie, but then reluctantly agrees to be a part of his team. There’s also a good moment where the two try to desperately outrun a train while on a bridge, which is similar to the famous scene in Stand by Me, but this one was shot five year earlier.
My biggest complaint is that it follows the Rocky formula too closely. Despite being in a different time period it still has all the corny cliches of a feel-good sports movie. The ending is in no way ‘exhilarating’ as intended, but instead painfully predictable. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: May 4, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes
Director: Steve Carver
Available: None at this time.