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.