Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sounds Like: Road Games

Australia- what can I say?  This country has brought me movies like Snide & Prejudice, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and The Howling III: Marsupials.  Basically, I'm not surprised by anything they do.  Although, this one did throw me off a bit at first.  You see, this movie came out in the very early '80s and was an attempt by them at getting in on that sweet, Slasher film money.  To that end, they hired Jamie Lee Curtis, fresh off Terror Train and Prom Night to be their starlet.  In addition, they hired genre-film veteran Stacy Keach to play the lead.  The film involves a serial killer driving down the highway and one man's desperate attempt to stop him.  Naturally, since they made it, this movie is set in Australia.  On one hand, it really adds nothing to the story, which could easily be set in Texas, Arizona or even Michigan.  On the other hand, Keach and Curtis got a free vacation down to Australia to shoot a movie.  They couldn't make this thing straight-forward though, so don't always expect the obvious here.  The bigger question is this: is it good?  Get out your Fred Flinstone graffitti kit for my review of...
The film begins by showing a man walk up to a naked woman playing the guitar in her hotel room.  She has her back to the audience, but it's still a bit surreal.  He kills her with some piano wire and the narrative changes to follow Keach's character.  He's a truck driver who delivers meat to companies up and down the Australian roadway.  Rather than getting to the point though, the movie spends the first ten minutes on this.  You've definitely established the character- move on!  Unfortunately, the movie can't hear me- being as it was made two years before I was born- and continues to show me life as Keach.  He drives around for a while, making commentary about the people he sees on the road.  If you ever wanted to see Stacy Keach do an Improv Exercise where you talk over people you see in a mirror, this is your film!  Finally, the plot picks up a bit when he stops to pick up a woman who he saw earlier in the car.  Her husband drove off without her, so she makes herself at home in his car.  He hears on the radio about the killer being on the loose and stops suddenly when he thinks he spots him.  Given that we're about twenty-five minutes in, he obviously does not see him.  Way to hook them early, guys!
Eventually, he gets rid of the lady and picks up Ms. Curtis (see above).  Being younger, cuter and much less annoying, she makes for better company.  Even the dog likes her!  Try not to get distracted by the awkward mix of real driving footage and really obvious rear-projection effects used for the longer dialogue scenes, by the way.  One night, Curtis walks over the hill from the camp site they're at and spots the killer's van.  That or it's a dream- I don't know.  The scene includes dream-like imagery and the brightest flashes of lightning in human history, so you be the judge.  Keach makes it clear that there is a killer out there after she tells him about this, so they try to find him.  A bit of vigilante justice, eh Keach?  At a rest stop, they find the van parked and go to investigate.  Keach goes inside with his giant tire iron- passing a graffitti picture of Fred Flinstone on the way- and threatens the man inside the bathroom.  Since the car is parked there, it obviously must be him.  Outside, Curtis is wandering around inside of his van looking for evidence.  Yeah, that always works out well.  Sure enough, the man in the stall ends up being a different guy and, when Keach gets outside, the van is gone.  He tries to steal a bike and pursue, but crashes- opting then to go back to his truck.  Was that a joke?
Things get pretty tense from here on out, but they're also a bit slow.  I know how that sounds, but trust me.  Keach drives the road for quite a while, always looking for clues or evidence.  The problem for me is that this goes on for a bit too long.  The chase is tense and all, but they don't pace out the clues or events too well.  Eventually, he catches up to the van, leading to a big chase.  It's a little surreal to watch, since it's a van being chased by a semi-truck that is, in turn, being chased by a police car.  They even work in a strange comedy bit with a guy who drops his glasses right before the chase passes him by.  After two tries and two near misses with the vehicle, the cop car drives over them.  That sure was random, movie.  A big crash finally occurs and our hero begins to beat up the killer.  The police go to arrest him when Curtis reveals herself and tells them what happened.  In the Epilogue, the pair walk down the road together- having smashed the truck up- and hitch-hike.  We get one last bit of 'humor' involving the body of the first victim.  After about three minutes of build-up, the woman's head falls in a maid's mop bucket.  Okay then.  The End.
This movie is both bad and good, to be honest.  The premise is great, the acting is generally quite good and there is some real atmosphere at times.  The problem is basically the pacing.  Like I said, it takes twenty minutes to build up to the actual plot taking place.  At 100 or so minutes, the movie could really use a trim.  The scenes are not bad in and of themselves, mind you.  The problem is just that they represent a distraction from the real narrative.  For example, we get a bit where Keach sees a person pop in front of his truck at night, only to learn that it's a kangaroo crossing the road.  Was that necessary?  Like a lot of the 'It's the 1950s' stuff from the last Indiana Jones film, it just feels like excess.  I believe that you were shot in Australia, movie!  One big positive is that the DVD of the film that's currently available is an Anchor Bay release.  That means that the film print is very good and doesn't feel like it was made in 1981.  I wish that the film was better paced and could have stayed on message a bit more.  As it is, it's an uneven movie that I can't fully-recommend to you.  Fans of Curtis' slasher film work will want to check this out though.
Up next, Sounds Like Week continues with one of the most oddly-cast ensemble films I've seen.  If you ever wanted to see Christopher Lambert, Josh Brolin, David Arquette and Joseph-Gordon Levitt in one film, you're in luck!  Stay tuned...

1 comment:

  1. I really love this movie, although I agree it could use a trim (maybe 10-15 minutes). I think it's one of the better thrillers of the 80's, and Keach rocks in it.