Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later: I'm afraid today brings us my first "That's a no for me, dawg" of the month. Infinite apologies to the lone reader who cited Road Games (1981) as a favorite!
Going in, Road Games seemed like it would be a sure-fire winner and today I'd be here cyber-flagellating myself that I took so long to see it. It's from 1981! It's got Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis! It's Australian! It's directed by Richard Franklin, who blessed us with Psycho II! It's got that poster, which looks kind of sleazy but also kind of futuristic to me for some reason! "How could it go wrong?" I will sigh to myself for the remainder of my days (or at least until I'm finished writing this).
Pat Quid (Keach) is a truck driver who takes great pains to let everyone he meets that he's not a "truck driver." Unlike those crude rubes, he is a man of letters! He has a harmonica and a guitar! He has a dingo, not a dog, okay! He only hates women sometimes!
Late one evening, Quid loses the last available room at a truck stop motel to a man driving a green van and the hitchhiker the van man picked up. In a stylish sequence, we see the van man kill the hitchhiker as she enjoys a little nude guitaring.
The next morning, Quid notices some weird behavior from the van man (why is he watching the garbage pickup from his window? why is Quid's dingo so interested in the garbage bags? what of the news reports about a serial killer stalking hitchhikers?) and puts it all together Rear Windshield Window-style: the van man done did some murder!
However, Quid doesn't much really care, he's just sort of curious. He's also got a trailer full of frozen, butchered hogs he's got to deliver to Perth, so he hits the road. And so begins his long journey through the Australian outback along shimmering highways and byways. Quid keeps seeing the same drivers on the road as they pass each other, and he also keeps spotting a myseterious hitchhiker, whom he finally stops to pick up. Why, it's Jamie Lee Curtis, playing just about the same role she played a year earlier in The Fog: she's a sardonic runaway with a maybe-shady past, far wiser than her teen years betray and looking for a little excitement, who gets wrapped up in a li'l mystery and falls for the much older moustachioed man who gives her a lift. This time though, she's classy, see: a diplomat's daughter who only hitchhikes in her Sunday's finest.
They spot the van man a few more times and kind of try to piece together what's going on. Quid, however, becomes the number one suspect in the murders. Is he after the van man? Is the van man after him? It all comes to a head in a climax featuring the world's slowest "chase"--like they are literally going 5-10 mph while Brian May's incessantly irritating score tries to make us think that something exciting is happening. Yes, I know Brian May is from Queen! No, I don't care! His Road Games score is awful and endlessly grating, and it will leave you feeling like a tiny fife and drum corps is using your eyeballs as snares.
This movie should work. In a few moments during its interminable runtime it does, when it gets its Duel or The Hitcher or its Joy Ride or its yes even the beginning of Jeepers Creepers on and we get a smidge of tension between Quid and the van man. But mostly, my goodness, the tone, like the score, is just off and Franklin can't decide if he's making a thriller or a comedy, or he simply wants to annoy the audience to death (why else would you choose to include five minutes of a car alarm going off in the background of a scene?). He plays a bit with the "sleep-deprived road madness" angle with a multitude of scenes of Quid talking to himself (or Boz, his canine companion), but ultimately they're only endurable thanks to Keach's innate charm.
There's also a whole conversation to be had about an Australian director choosing to cast two American stars in the leading roles, have them never really discuss how they're Americans in Australia, and portray all the Australian characters as dumdums and/or sinister backcountry hayseeds. Keach and Curtis could be here simply to boost potential box office and international appeal, but there's also a noticeable stranger in a strange land angle that is there and is completely ignored. It only serves to add to the film's messiness.
Overall this one was a big bummer for me, but you know what? Who cares! There is a lid for every pot, as they say, and someone out there loves Road Games. To them, I pump my arm and say "honk honk" as I zoom on by, headed to whatever SHOCKtober brings me next.