cars

Fast & Furious 6

Fast-Furious-6

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by Neal H. Moritz & Vin Diesel

Written by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If you want me to go into details about how I feel about the earlier entries in the immensely popular THE FAST & THE FURIOUS film series permit me to direct you to the episode of Better In The Dark where Tom Deja and I discussed the previous five films. For the purposes of this review just let me give you snapshots impressions:

The Fast and The Furious: a professionally made thriller that’s more of an urban crime movie about a conflicted undercover cop investigating petty criminals that happen to be street racers than a hyperactive action spectacular like the later movies.

2 Fast 2 Furious: Pretty much an episode of “Miami Vice” on steroids, this entry of the series is notable because it introduces the characters of Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) to the series. I don’t dislike it but I’m not crazy about it, either.

The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift: This is the one movie in the series I can say without reservation that I hate. The only reason to watch it is that it introduces Han (Sung Kang) who like Roman and Tej will play a larger and more interesting role in later movies. It’s also worth noting that even though Han dies in this movie he’s brought back in later ones by the simple explanation that Fast & Furious, Fast Five and FAST & FURIOUS 6 take place before The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift

Fast & Furious: The beginning of moving Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew from a team of petty criminals to a crew of international thieves as the movie begins with him, his girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) Han and two new recruits, Leo (Tego Calderon) and Santos (Don Omar) hijacking fuel tankers in the Dominican Republic. I like the two new recruits a lot and this movie spends a lot of time on one of my favorite themes that run throughout all the Fast & Furious movies: Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is a really shitty cop and both his fellow cops and crooks know it. The only person who doesn’t know it is Brian himself. Even other cops tell him he’d be happier going off the reservation since he’s way better at being a crook than a cop. Also it’s notable that this is the movie where Letty supposedly dies, setting up the motivation for Dominic and the crew to get involved in FAST & FURIOUS 6.

Fast Five: My favorite of the series so far. The movie makes the transition to full-blown heist caper with Dominic and Brian rounding up Han, Roman, Tej, Leo, Santos as well as Vince (Matt Scultze) who appeared in the first movie, ex-Mossad agent Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) who was in the last one and Dominic’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster.) Together the crew plans to steal $100 million from a corrupt South American businessman. The plan is complicated because of Dominic, Brian and Mia being blamed for the murders of several DEA agents. They’re being ruthlessly pursued by U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his relentless team of manhunters. The movie plays out like a low-tech version of “Mission: Impossible.” And the plan for stealing the vault containing the money delights me to no end since its pretty much equal to a couple of teenage kids in a pickup truck hooking chains to a ATM standing outside the local bodega and driving off with it.

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Which brings us to FAST & FURIOUS 6. If “Fast Five” was a low-rent riff on “Mission: Impossible” then FAST & FURIOUS 6 is riffing on “The A-Team” as Dominic and Brian once again get the band back together to take on a high-tech team of mercenaries that are so far out of their league that Roman Pearce demands to know just who in the hell thought that they could take on this team in the first place. When a character played by Tyrese Gibson is your voice of reason, then you know the movie’s in trouble.

It’s also Roman Pearce who accurately points out the reason why Luke Hobbs has engaged them for this mission: the team led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) are basically evil dopplegangers of Dominic’s crew. But Shaw’s team has one major edge: Letty Ortiz who survived the events of “Fast & Furious” but is now an amnesiac. Shaw found her in the hospital and has indoctrinated her into his team.

Hobbs has tracked down Dominic and shows him a recent picture of Letty. Hobbs wants Dominic and his crew to help him take down Shaw. Shaw is stealing the components of a doomsday device called The Nightshade, a sort of super-EMP weapon that can black out entire cities. Dominic is in it just to get Letty back but Brian is smart enough to make a deal for the whole team: they all get full pardons so that they can return to the United States in peace. Hobbs agrees and our movie goes into full tilt boogie mode.

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FAST & FURIOUS 6 is a movie that I say is truthful in the titling. Is it Fast? Yes. Is it Furious? Yes. I myself think it’s a very smart move for the producers to turn the characters from minor league street racing hijackers to the blue collar version of Ocean’s Eleven. They’ve got just enough skill and nerve to place them a notch above common criminals and we see that Hobbs made a good decision to engage them to help him. It’s even validated by Shaw who tells his team that they’d do well to respect Dominic’s crew. The James Bond-ish MacGuffin is a nice way to kick the series up a further notch into the realm of international action/adventure and indeed, Luke Wilson’s Owen Shaw is a villain who wouldn’t have been out of place in a James Bond movie of the Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton eras. Shaw even drives an Aston Martin which gave me a nice chuckle.

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It’s not a classic action movie by any means and in fact, some may say it has too much action. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that I actually felt exhausted by the time it got to the end. But it does have some really outstanding sequences including the crew trying to stop a speeding tank going down the wrong way on a highway and an entertaining fight scene on an airplane where Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson pretty much become a wrestling tag team.

I did miss Leo and Santos as they provided much of the humor in the previous movie and without them, the comedy relief falls on Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges, neither of them very funny far as I’m concerned but they try their best, I’ll give them that.

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So should you see FAST & FURIOUS 6? Sure, why not? It’s a totally inoffensive and highly entertaining time-waster. By now you know what these movies are all about so you shouldn’t be going to see FAST & FURIOUS 6 and then complaining because it’s nothing but loud, spectacular action sequences held together by just enough plot and characterization to keep things moving, Because that’s exactly what it is. But at the same time it’s not completely brain dead. It takes a considerable amount of time to making Letty’s return from the dead plausible and there’s some real conflict in her feelings for Shaw and her reawakening love for Dominic. And I appreciate that in the final action sequence, there’s something for every member of the team to do. It’s makes for a loud and crowded movie but a fun one.

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And there’s a post-credit scene that is a set-up for the inevitable “Fast & Furious 7” that will have you salivating. Trust me on this. Enjoy.

PG-13

130 Minutes 

Duel

1971

Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by George Eckstein

Written by Richard Matheson

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald” “Haunts Of The Very Rich” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: DUEL, which along with “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” comprises The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies.

DUEL is a Made-For-TV Movie with the most interesting history of any Made-For-TV Movie. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story originally published in Playboy. The movie was only Steven Spielberg’s second feature-length directing job and the movie proved to be such a critical success and ratings hit that Universal asked Spielberg to spend a couple of days filming additional scenes and it was then released to theaters overseas where it played to sold-out audiences. Then, amazingly, Universal released DUEL theatrically in some venues here in the United States. This was an unheard of event back in those days and Universal was rewarded with DUEL going on to make a very respectable profit in its limited U.S. theatrical run.

But it’s no surprise to me why the movie has gone on to earn the reputation it has. Next to “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” DUEL is probably the best known Made-For-TV Movie of all time and rightly so. It’s a white-knuckle thriller that taps into the deepest fear of any motorist on the highway. I know that for me, DUEL is a movie that represents one of my worst nightmares. A movie like “Saw” doesn’t scare me at all because there is zero chance of me being forced to play some bizarre game by a hyper-intelligent serial killer. But there’s every chance I can innocently piss off some maniac behind the wheel of a truck and without meaning to find myself engaged in a life or death battle on a highway.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) starts out his day peacefully enough. He’s a salesman, driving on his way to an important business meeting. In a wonderful bit of characterization, during a phone conversation with his wife (Jacqueline Scott) we learn that David actively works at avoiding confrontation, a personality trait that greatly factors into what happens to him during the course of his horrifying day.

During his drive he encounters a tanker truck driving slower than the posted speed limit. David passes the truck and thinks no more of it. But after a stop at a gas station he is passed by the same truck which gets in front of him and again slows down. David again passes the truck and the truck’s driver (who we never see) appears to take umbrage with this as he first tries to trick David into a collision with another vehicle. The truck’s driver continually ups the ante of this deadly game, chasing David down the highway, trying to push his vehicle into the path of a passing freight train. As this long day goes on, David cannot escape the fact that the driver of the truck is trying to kill him and if David wants to survive he is going to have to stop running and confront his unseen enemy.

And eventually it does come down to just David and the truck driver. David cannot convince anybody he meets along the road that this man is trying to kill him. Taken from a psychological point of view, the truck represents David’s fear of confrontation that is relentlessly pursuing him, forcing him to make a stand and fight for what his important to him. In this case: his life.

But you can throw that psychological stuff out the window. Taken purely as a horror movie, DUEL delivers on every level. Dennis Weaver gives an Academy Award level performance. He’s on screen for the entire running time of the movie and he is just flat out terrific. He is never less than totally convincing as this perfectly regular guy caught up in a situation way over his head, caught up in a deadly road game with a serial killer and no idea of how he’s going to survive.

So should you see DUEL? Absolutely YES. DUEL is an absolute masterpiece of suspense on all levels. You can see echoes of Spielberg’s later work on “Jaws” in this movie and the story by Richard Matheson is so tight it hurts. You used to be able to watch the entire movie on YouTube but it’s been taken down. No matter, it’s available on DVD from Amazon and I’m sure that if you ask nicely, The Internet Fairy can help you out.

Mad Max

1979

American International Pictures

Produced by Byron Kennedy and Bill Miller

Directed by George Miller

Written by George Miller, Byron Kennedy and James McCausland

In the “Lethal Weapon” movies Mel Gibson played  L.A. police detective Martin Riggs who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife is killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  That’s the main trait shared with an earlier Mel Gibson character: Australian highway cop Max Rockatansky who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife and son are killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  In fact, so mad that he’s called MAD MAX.

The movie is set in Australia of the near future after some sort of global disaster.  We’re never told in this movie what the disaster was but the two sequels to MAD MAX make it clear that the world superpowers finally threw down over dwindling oil resources.   Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a highway cop in The Outback.  Along with his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) and the other members of the small band of cops known as The Main Force Patrol, they do their best to protect the public from marauding bands of motorcycle gangs that roam the highways, looting, raping, pillaging and just generally carrying on cranky.

The cops are so poorly funded that their headquarters, the ironically named Hall of Justice looks like a rotting pigsty with  only one half-crazed mechanic to keep their vehicles running.  The MFP has a hideously dangerous run-in with a psychotic called The Night Rider who steals one of their souped up Interceptors and leads them on a terrifying high speed pursuit that ends in several civilian and police cars wrecked, an officer severely injured and The Night Rider dead.

This starts Max to thinking that maybe it’s time for him to get out.  He’s got a wife (Joanne Samuel) and a baby boy he’d like to be around to grow old with.  The Goose conspires with their boss, Fifi Macaffie (Roger Ward) to get Max to stay by bribing him with a customized Ford Falcon with a supercharged V8 engine.  Max is Fifi’s best cop and if he loses Max then the MFP is going to be in real trouble as they’re barely holding their own against the vicious motorcycle gangs as it is.

The situation heats up when The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) the leader of the gang that The Night Rider was a member of decides to wage war on The MFP and takes a horrible revenge on Jim Goose, setting a trap for him and burning him alive while he’s trapped in a flipped over truck.  This decides it for Max.  He turns in his resignation, takes his wife and son and heads north, determined to find peace for them while he’s still able.  But Max is next on The Toecutter’s list of revenge.  And if he can’t have Max then he’ll settle for Max’s wife and son instead.

MAD MAX is a good example of what is meant by ‘grindhouse’.  It’s a straight-up B-budget action/adventure with no other purpose than to entertain.  I vividly remember seeing this on 42end Street back when it really was 42end Street and thinking even then it was pretty damn cool.  I watched it last night for about the 12th time and I still think it’s pretty damn cool.  Primarily because of the highly exciting action sequences.  George Miller knows how to film action.  And he knows how to film car chases.  Back in the 70’s audiences had become pretty jaded when it came to car chases because just about every action movie back then definitely had one, sometimes two and if they could figure out any way possible then dammit, they’d throw in three.  But George Miller really has a way of making car chases so energized that you don’t feel like you’ve seen these car chases before.

And even though I’ve got nothing against CGI, I dearly love action films of the 70’s and 80’s because you know that these are real guys in real cars doing these stunts.  When cars are slamming into eighteen-wheelers at 90 miles an hour or guys go flying through the air to land on concrete and roll for another 50 feet you feel it because you can see it’s an actual human being getting busted up and not a CGI.  It also gives an air of believability to the action because nobody is breaking the laws of physics here.  The fighting is sweaty, brutal and painful.  Especially in the scenes where Mad Max faces down The Toecutter and his protégé Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns) during which Max is shot and run over with a motorcycle.  Max doesn’t shrug off his wounds and get up to whoop ass.  He gets up, sure, but it takes time, it hurts like hell and even back then Mel Gibson was a good enough actor to sell the scene.

This being Mel Gibson’s first major starring role is probably the reason most will want to see a movie that’s almost 35 years old and even then you can see the easy charm as well as the grim intensity that would bring him international fame.  He’s as competent as you would imagine in the action sequences but he’s also amazingly gentle and warm in the scenes with Joanne Samuel who plays his wife.  They have a real chemistry together and it’s not hard to buy them as a young couple in love.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Gibson blows the screen apart but he’s a helluva lot better in his first film than a lot of others I’ve seen.  Steve Bisley as Max’s partner Jim Goose is so full of life and so likeable that you wish he had more screen time.  He’s got one of those grins that you’ve seen before: he’s either just put one over on you or he’s about to.  Either way, you’re gonna let him because you just can’t resist that grin.  Roger Ward is one of my favorites in this movie.  Despite being named Fifi, he’s a towering slab of man, bald as a rock, always chewing on a cigar, wearing a flowing black scarf and telling his boys: “Do whatever you want out on the road as long as the paperwork’s straight!”

Hugh Keays-Byrne does something really remarkable with The Toecutter in that you really get the sense that this is a guy who actually tunes into the wavelength of a world we can’t see.  He leaves the stereotypical villain-type acting stuff to Tim Burns who plays Johnny The Boy as a cowardly bad guy.  Much more interesting and fun is Geoff Parry as The Toecutter’s enforcer, Bubba Zanetti.  He’s the main source of humor in the movie as he delivers some really goofy lines but in a sober, dead-pan manner that I found both utterly hilarious and totally chilling.  He was a character I wanted to know more about as compared to The Toecutter and Johnny The Boy he seems rational, calm and he gives The Toecutter advice that is perfectly sane.  I wanted to know how Bubba ended up with these guys but unless George Miller decides to do a prequel, my curiosity will continue.

MAD MAX was followed by two sequels: “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” each of which I heartily recommend.  Both movies aren’t just rehashing the first movie.  They continue the story of Max Rockatansky, deepening his character and humanity even as the world slides further and further into barbarism.  Taken as a whole they’re not only classic action/adventure but also a forerunner of just about every adventure trilogy you see nowadays.  If you haven’t seen MAD MAX in a while, treat yourself.  And if you’ve never seen it, why don’t you?  Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a 100 million buck summer blockbuster but the lack of a budget actually gives the movie a hard and gritty reality that a lot of today’s movies simply don’t have.  And it’s simply just a lot of fun to watch.  Enjoy.

93 minutes

Rated: R

The Driver

1978                           

20th Century Fox

Produced by Lawrence Gordon

Written And Directed by Walter Hill

Some time back I wrote of review of the existential car chase thriller “Vanishing Point” and I received an email from a gentleman (at least I think it’s a gentleman…you can’t always tell just by email addresses) who informed me that he had seen the movie on my recommendation and found it pretentious and pointless and suggested that I watch and review what he considered to be a much better movie revolving around car chases: Walter Hill’s 1978 crime thriller THE DRIVER  I vaguely remember seeing THE DRIVER years ago at 42end Street.  This was back in the day when you could see three movies for 5 bucks and frankly, I remember the other two movies much better but thanks to The Fox Movie Channel I had a chance to see it again recently.  Maybe “Vanishing Point” is pretentious but THE DRIVER takes pretentiousness to an almost Zen-like level to the point where the characters don’t even have names.  They are just identified by what they are and what they do.

The Driver (Ryan O’Neal) is an undisputed professional master of driving getaway cars.  He does not participate in the actual robbery.  He drives and that’s all.  He commands a flat fee of $10,000 up front and 15% of the take.  And he’s worth it because he guarantees that you won’t get caught.  His driving abilities are inhumanly unnerving and he never displays any emotion at all.  The man’s a driving machine.  His nemesis is The Detective (Bruce Dern) who badly wants to catch The Driver.  So obsessed is he with catching The Driver he puts his career on the line by recruiting a second-rate gang of bank robbers to hire The Driver.  The Detective will ensure that the gang will rob the bank and get away then they’ll bring The Driver and the money to a spot where The Detective will be waiting to arrest The Driver, take the money and let the gang get away.  Of course, the plan doesn’t work out and pretty soon everybody’s double-crossed everybody else and the gang, The Driver and The Detective are all scrambling for the half-million robbery loot while The Driver and The Detective play their own cat-and-mouse game of Catch Me If You Can.  You see, The Detective has told The Driver the robbery is a set-up and he dares him to pull it off and get away.  The Driver takes the challenge and the game’s afoot…or awheel, I suppose is a better phrase in this case.

And that’s there is all, folks.  That is all the movie is about. THE DRIVER is probably the most stripped down movie I’ve ever seen.  There’s no characterizations, no background information about anybody given, No extra characters, no dialog exchanged that does not relate directly to the plot, no flashbacks, no nothing except for what is happening right at the moment.  In fact, there isn’t that much dialog.  Supposedly Ryan O’Neal only speaks 350 words in the whole movie and I think that’s stretching it.  Bruce Dern has most the dialog as The Detective and he’s really the main character in this thing as he has motivations and desires that we can understand and even though he’s a bit of a bastard at least he’s a human bastard.  Ryan O’Neal’s Driver is such an emotionless humanoid that we never understand why he does what he does.  He doesn’t seem to enjoy his work and we never see what he does with the money he makes.  He wears the same clothes throughout the movie and lives in a cheap hotel.  He only has three relationships: The Connection (Ronee Blakely) who sets up his jobs, The Player (Isabelle Adjani) a professional gambler who deliberately misidentifies The Driver in a police line-up, enabling him to avoid arrest and his pocket transistor radio.

There’s no point in talking about the performances in this one because outside of Bruce Dern’s, there are none.  This movie is all about plot and Walter Hill, who wrote and directed THE DRIVER cares about nothing else.  This movie is nowhere as good as some others he’s done such as the “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” which are both classics and I’d advise anybody to Netflix “The Long Riders” “Johnny Handsome” or “Extreme Prejudice” before this one.

Even the car chase scenes aren’t all that exciting but I liked them a lot because back then when movies did car chases you knew that some fool was actually doing the driving and when a car flipped over, it was because a trained and experience stuntman was doing it and it added a sense of realism.  For sheer exhilaration, none of the car chases in THE DRIVER don’t match anything done today, true, but it works for this movie because it gives it a gritty realism.  None of the driving stunts done here don’t seem like anything that couldn’t be done in real life and I liked that.  After all, The Driver is supposed to be trying to get away from the cops, not showing off how many aerial acrobatics he can do.  The whole movie has a realistic feel to it that is probably the movie’s greatest strength.  Nobody here takes a whole clip of .45 slugs in the chest then drags himself or herself half a mile before expiring.  You get shot and you fall over dead.  End of story.  There’s no meaningless romance between The Driver and the two women he knows just to have a romantic subplot.  These people are involved in a dirty, dangerous business and they conduct themselves accordingly.

There is one really cool scene where The Driver is asked to demonstrate his skill and he does so by proceeding to demolish a car while he and three passengers are inside. They climb out completely unharmed but the car is a wreck and still able to run.  But that comes halfway through the movie and it’s over much too soon.

So should you see THE DRIVER?  I can think of a couple of reasons why you might want to: if you’re a Walter Hill fan like me, you’ll want to check out this early work of his.  Hill is an infuriating hit-or-miss director.  When he’s good, he’s very good but when he’s bad he’s even worse and THE DRIVER is an example of this, especially in the last five minutes of the movie when you’ll probably be screaming at the screen; “That’s IT????” even as the credits are rolling.  If you like Bruce Dern you’ll also enjoy seeing him in this one as he really doesn’t get to play a cop that often but when he does, he makes the most of it.  If you like him as a cop here, check out “The Laughing Policeman”.

But as for THE DRIVER if you’re at all curious by all means check it out.  But if you’re not, don’t worry, you won’t be missing a thing.

91 minutes

Rated R

The Fast And The Furious (1955)

1955

American Releasing Corporation

Directed by John Ireland and Edward Sampson

Produced by Roger Corman

Written by Jean Howell and Jerome Odlum from a story by Roger Corman

Last year my Better In The Dark co-host Thomas Deja and I got the idea for a theme for the summer of 2012 which we called “The Summer of Speed”  The idea was to do episodes reviewing movies based around cars or where cars play a major role.  Naturally we immediately hit on doing an episode on the entire “Fast and Furious” series which you can find here .  I also saw this as an opportunity to do the same theme here at The Ferguson Theater and review movies I’ve been meaning to review for the longest but have been neglecting.  Movies such as “Speed Racer” “The Cannonball Run” “Smokey and The Bandit” and “Greased Lightning”. Now being anal as I am, I insisted to Tom that I wanted to start with the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS made in 1955.  He said I could go knock myself out and now I see why.  This movie does not follow The Ferguson Rule Of Truth In Movie Advertising in that it is neither Fast nor is it Furious.

Frank Webster (John Ireland) is a man on the run.  Doing time for a murder he didn’t commit, he manages to bust outta the hoosegow and take it on the lam.  The dragnet cast out for him is extensive and closing on him fast.  He needs a quick way out of his situation and finds it thanks to Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone) who is driving a Jaguar. While sitting in a roadside diner, Frank overhears Connie telling the waitress that she’s on her way to participate in a cross country race where the finish line is in Mexico.  Frank sees this as a perfect cover to get away.  Frank takes Connie hostage and they head for the race.

The bulk of the movie is taken up with Connie pleading for Frank to let her go even though there are numerous opportunities where she could get away but doesn’t take advantage of it.  And for a guy who’s trying not to arouse any suspicion,  Frank does a lot of suspicious things that cause many of the people he meets at the race to raise their eyebrows and ask Connie, “Hey, you sure this guy is okay?”

Turns out that the race officials have changed the rules so that women can’t participate in the race saying that they’ve deemed it “too dangerous for a woman.” So Frank has to put himself in the race so that he won’t raise any more eyebrows than he already has.  It’s during his qualifying run for the race where Frank and Connie start to bond a little.  He tells her what really happened to get him thrown in jail and she urges him to give himself up and even offers to help.  Frank quite naturally tells her to get stuffed.  Now somehow through all this back-and-forth, they manage to fall in love.  So much so that Frank jeopardizes his freedom to drive Connie’s car in what has to be the most boring car race I’ve seen on film.

Thankfully the movie is only 73 minutes long so if you do decide to watch it, it’s mercifully short.  Apparently the producers of the Vin Diesel remake bought the rights to the movie just because they wanted the title.  And I can understand that: it’s a good title.  One that is wasted on this movie.  It’s worth watching if you’re a Roger Corman fan and want to watch this because of his involvement in it but that’s about I can recommend it for.  I really didn’t care a poobah’s pizzle about anybody in this movie and while Dorothy Malone tries her best to inject some life into her scenes with John Ireland, he’s no help at all as his idea of acting is to just stand there and look constipated.  Their romance is entirely unconvincing and when I got to the end of the movie I howled, “That’s it?

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is available for streaming on Netflix and you can also see it the entire movie on YouTube which I’ve provided for you right here if you care to see it.  If you don’t want to, I quite understand.

Two-Lane Blacktop

1971

Universal Pictures

Directed by Monte Hellman

Produced by Michael Laughlin

Written by Rudolph Wurlitzer

Right from the start I’m going to tell you that most of you who decide to watch TWO-LANE BLACKTOP after reading this review aren’t going to like it. And I’m going to tell you why so pay attention:

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP was made during a period of American film when experimentation was encouraged and indulged.  Filmmakers weren’t worried about product placement or how much a movie made on its opening weekend.  They didn’t care about rewriting all the heat out of a screenplay to ensure that the characters were likeable or relatable. They gave you a movie with characters and respected the intelligence of you, The Viewer to decide if you liked them or not.  TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is a road movie more concerned with capturing the mood of a period of American history than giving you a thrill ride or a meaningful character study.  Now I say this because for a generation brought up on CGI Summer Blockbusters, By-The-Numbers Action Movies, Generic Romantic Comedies and Lame Ass Horror Movies, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP can be a frustrating 102 minutes to watch.  And unless you’re willing to open your mind and explore the existential nihilistic worldview of the movie you oughta give it a pass.

Now, for those of you who are still with me…

The Driver (James Taylor and yes, that James Taylor) and The Mechanic ( Dennis Wilson and yes, that Dennis Wilson) travel up and down western U.S. highways in their highly modified 1955 Chevy two-door sedan.  The battleship gray beast of a car looks like it’s about to fall apart but it’s fast enough to catch rabbits.  They spend their time picking up money in street races and live out of their car.  They never talk about anything that is not related to the care and maintenance of the Chevy or racing.  They never make small talk or chitchat and never refer to each other by name.  We never find out how they met, where they came from or why they are living this life.

The movie gets even stranger when they pick up The Girl (Laurie Bird)  Or I should say that she picks them up.  She’s a hitchhiker and simply gets into their car without asking them and they drive away with her in it as if she had been travelling with them all along.

They keep passing a 1970 Pontiac GTO being driven by Warren Oates, who thinks that The Driver wants to race.  He catches up to them at a gas station and a race is proposed.  They’ll race to Washington D.C. from their present location in New Mexico.  The winner gets the loser’s car.  Now don’t go getting hung up on this aspect of the movie as nobody makes it anywhere near Washington D.C. by movie’s end.

In fact, nobody really seems anxious in any way, shape or form to win the race.  There’s one point where GTO needs a new part for his car and The Mechanic offers to help him.  The Driver stops along the way to participate in races and GTO picks up every hitchhiker he runs across.

The only real acting in the movie is done by Warren Oates as GTO.  His attempts to connect with other people consists of giving them rides to their destinations while telling elaborate stories about his background.  To various hitchhikers he claims to be a former test pilot, a scout for movie locations and an ex-race car driver.  He’s the only character who appears to aspire to a better life somewhere and there’s a nice scene where he tries to talk The Girl into running away with him.  There’s another really poignant scene where GTO gives an old lady and her granddaughter a lift to a cemetery so that they can pay their respects.  Even though he doesn’t have to, he quietly waits for them.  And look for the scene where a gay hitchhiker clumsily attempts to seduce GTO.  It’s a great “Who The Hell Let Him In This Movie?” moment as it’s Harry Dean Stanton, of all people.

The Girl sleeps with both The Driver and The Mechanic but doesn’t seem to enjoy it much and eventually leaves them, as enigmatic as when she joined them.  The film ends with the race to Washington, D.C. unfinished and the characters still where we first found them: on the endless road.  There’s a constant mood of elegant sadness in the very soul of this movie.  These are characters who have no past and no future.  It’s all about their cars and the road.

And I suppose that if TWO-LANE BLACKTOP has any meaning that it’s that we all lose sight of the goal in our lives by the distractions along the road.  That’s what I get out of it, anyway.  What you’ll get out of it is something entirely different.  It’s not a movie for everybody but it is a movie worth seeing.  Enjoy.

102 Minutes

Rated R