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Speed Week Plus: The Road Warrior

 Mad Max cannonballs through the wasteland in a world devolving back to the Iron Age.

Mad Max cannonballs through the wasteland in a world devolving back to the Iron Age.

 

You think you’ve seen road rage before? Let’s cruise on over to post-apocalyptic Australia for a high octane killing spree!

Mad Max was such a cult action-adventure hit, the film makers came back with a bigger budget for the sequel. In addition to launching a young actor named Mel Gibson into superstardom, it also inspired too many doomsday visionaries to count…including another film maker who would produce a time travel thriller a couple years later about a killer cyborg sent back from a future similar to this one, to assassinate the mother of a resistance movement’s leader. You may have heard of that flick. It’s called The Terminator.

In the roar of an engine he lost everything…

 

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In the first movie, Australia was on the verge of societal collapse. As this story begins, that collapse is a done deal. Max, once a good cop and happy family man, is now a lone drifter with no ambition beyond surviving in the New Dark Ages.

What we have here is actually a sort of post-apocalyptic western. Max is the jaded gunfighter who is numb to death and has nothing to lose.

The vermin of the wasteland (I guess I’ll call them VOTL for short) have tried to bushwhack him before, but he’s a little too much for them to handle. The prize they’re really lusting after, though, is a strange outpost of civilization in the wilderness.

A small community which still clings to the mores and values of non-barbaric society occupies an oil refinery, defending it with flamethrowers and pneumatic dart guns from the perverse savages who rape and murder any who attempt to break through the siege and run for freedom.

After defeating (then taking captive) a snake-charming gyrocopter pilot, Max encounters this situation just as two would-be escapees meet their gruesome fate.

The alpha-dog ruling over the VOTL barbarians is a buff baddie called Humongous. Don’t ask me where he finds his vitamins, energy drinks and steroids out there in the post-apocalyptic desert. And though he probably has plenty of time on his hands, where he finds a gym to work out in is also a mystery.

Humongous’ go-to lieutenant is an acrobatic Sodomite who puts his crosshairs on our hero early when he gets wounded during road combat with Max. Later he comes totally unglued when his butt-boy is killed by a razor-edged boomerang that belongs to “the Feral Kid.”

The R rating is strictly for the violence…plus some brief non-titillating nudity. I don’t believe there’s any cussing at all. But the violence is on an epic scale for 1981–dished out with a mixture of Medieval weapons, improvised munitions and fast machines. There are only two firearms in the film–one owned by the hero; one by the villain. The ammo supply for both is extremely limited.

 

Those fast machines are what makes this movie required viewing for Speed Week Plus. Not only is Max’s Falcon Interceptor back (with the Hollywood clutched blower) but there are other Australian musclecars and some vehicles that look like hybrid dune buggies or sand rails.

The Lord Humongous…the Ayatolah of RocknRollah!

One of the suicide machines has two engines. One of them has a crude nitrous system (“noss” for those of you who acquired all your automotive knowledge from watching the Fast and Furious flicks). Add to all that horsepower the added boost of camera undercranking , and the result is insane speed for the chase sequences.

The Road Warrior has its flaws, which become more obvious over time and repeated viewing, but it’s still a great action adventure movie that requires no more suspension of disbelief than most of the CGI/green screen enhanced claptrap Hollywood’s been churning out in the new Millennium.

This is perhaps my favorite post-apocalyptic movie. What’s yours?

Speed Week Plus: A Classic Gearhead Novel, Reviewed

I first read this book even before the speed bug bit me, and enjoyed it then. As I did become obsessed with horsepower, my affection and appreciation only grew.

Larry Cook is, superficially speaking, a stereotypical high school nerd–glasses, braces, and a talent for playing the piano. (But even before his epiphany, he shows signs of a rebellious, independent spirit via secret jam sessions covering jazz numbers by Fats Waller and other niche legends.)

Then one day Larry sees a photo of a street rod on the cover of a magazine, and his inner rebel blossoms. With the help of a teacher (an exceptionally cool teacher the likes of which I never had) he rebuilds an old Ford (a Model A, I think) into a decent performer. Then, after graduating high school (and losing the braces), he is hired as the dining hall pianist at a snooty resort hotel (kinda’ like the resort in Dirty Dancing).

Larry’s summer promises interesting developments when he meets the spoiled, gorgeous debutante Barbara Wells, her filthy-rich grandfather, and her would-be suitor: Roger the Rednecked Romeo.

But the story really takes off when Larry becomes friends with the local mechanic and drag racer Finnegan. Finnegan’s 392 Hemi-powered Green Ghost is the title vehicle. When Finnegan breaks his leg packing chutes for the Ghost, Larry must step in to drive in the upcoming drags, but without letting his hoity-toity employer…or any of the resort guests…catch wise to it.

The character interaction between Finnegan and just about everyone else is priceless (he’s an incurable wiseacre), and Williams generates a feeling that something important is at stake concerning Larry and Barbara, without ever getting even close to mushy.

BTW: Internet research has led me to believe that “Patrick Williams” is a pseudonym of none other than W.E.B. Griffin–the author of all those bulky military potboilers.

This was written for a YA audience, but I would recommend it for anyone of any age who likes street rods and drag racing. It was written in the ’60s and out of print now, but if you find it used somewhere, do pick it up!

Fantastic book for a teenage boy, especially one with an interest in fast cars, and a highly enjoyable book for men of any age, in fact.

Speed Week Plus is visiting another hemisphere next time. Wanna hint?

“Two dyes ago I sar a vehicle that could haul that tankah. You wanna get outa’ heh? You tawk ta me.”

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A Rock & Roll Pioneer Dies

I am interrupting Speed Week Plus because I just found out that Chuck Berry died Saturday.

Elvis is still called the king of rock & roll but aside from vocal talent, Chuck had him beat in almost every way. He was a virtuoso with the guitar, wrote clever lyrics and was quite the crazy-legged entertainer on stage for both males and females. He also was the first to cross over the color line in music. Prior to Chuck Berry, white kids would only listen to “race records” on the down low.

ChuckBerry2Ironically, this is not necessarily an interruption of Speed Week, because Chuck Berry was not only a pioneer of rock & roll, but put his love of horsepower into some famous songs that still rock the house to this day. “You Can’t Catch Me” is a musical version of a fantasy many gearheads have probably entertained while wishing they could just rip down the open road at Ludicrous Speed without worrying about going to jail or having mandatory Insurance rates shoot up into the stratosphere. “Maybelline” has been a personal inspiration in many ways. For one, I named my favorite Street Machine after that song title. There is also a subplot in Fast Cars and Rock & Roll that is based on the lyrical Adventure in his invincible V-8 Ford.

The selection below is chosen because it plays on a red pill/neomasculine view of Sexual Market Value (SMV), but in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. His humorous lyrics are catchy and the guitar solo is understated but deft.

I read his autobiography and the man definitely had his flaws. But for a few golden years there in the mid-to-late 1950s, his musical genius really shined. Rest in peace, Chuck.

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Speed Week Plus: Bullitt – a Review

I mentioned this chase scene recently in my post about Cobra. Despite swinging ’60s soundtrack and the advance of both special effects and automotive technology since this cop flick was made, this is still the best car chase I’ve ever seen. So help me, if somebody so much as mentions any of the abysmal Fast and the Furious movies in this context…well, just count yourself lucky that you’re not within slapping range.

Here’s some rumors and trivia I’ve picked up here and there about this famous scene:

  1. The old fart with glasses at the wheel of the Charger is a stunt man who did the actual driving for the shoot.
  2. Steve McQueen did some of the stunt driving as well. Those little throttle blips just before the upshift were him showing off.
  3. At first the suspension of both cars were tuned to handle quite well (especially considering the era and the skinny bias ply tires), but the director wanted them to skid around the corners more dramatically and so had them de-tuned again.
  4. That 440 Mopar was bone stock, as was the Dodge body/frame.
  5. The Mustang’s 390 was warmed over a little, and the chassis stiffened to handle those spine-kinking jumps.

BTW younger generation: This is what an actual Dodge Charger looks like. Those pregnant 4-door luxury sedans on the streets now? They are a result of some German engineers having a few kegs too many at Oktoberfest and mixing the ugliest body styles from both Daimler-Benz and Chrysler (and it should have been called a Coronet or something, though even the Coronets were never that ugly). Putting a badge on it that says “Charger” is just sick German humor.

Geez, a whole lot of Pontiacs get in the way of this epic vehicular battle.

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I’ve heard people say that the movie Ronin has a great chase scene. I just watched it again, and it’s a decent flick with some good driving scenes. The chases aren’t as good as this one, though I think I know why some people find it exciting. I just blogged about it last time.

Speed Week Plus: Ronin

Welcome to Speed Week Plus! You’re in the middle of a series of blog posts dedicated to a specific selection of action adventure, featuring blazing horsepower, shattered speed limits and melting tire rubber.

Up this time is Ronin, an action flick that is part caper and part espionage, with plot twists and double-crosses in all the right places. Robert DeNiro is a superb actor who is brilliant in the villain role but no sloucher as a hero, either, as proven in this movie. In this one he’s a former spook who, like a samurai without a master, must rent out his skills to make a living. He is hired along with some other “specialists” to pull a job that grows increasingly complex as the twists pile up.

It’s a solid action yarn that is well worth spending an afternoon watching. But it was recommended to me specifically for the chase scene.

To be honest I found the car chase rather unremarkable. Its popularity probably has a lot to do with the body count in vehicular destruction, and the now obligatory driving-into-oncoming-traffic segment.

Anyway, the car chase is above for your viewing pleasure and you can decide for yourself how good it is.

I agree with Jean Reno, BTW: De Niro should have just shot her. But then there wouldn’t be an excuse to flog these European luxury sedans through traffic for eight minutes.

This is actually an idiosyncratic selection for me. Stay tuned to watch some American iron raising hell next time.

Speed Week Plus: Vanishing Point (1971) – a Review

In this low budget counter-culture extravaganza from the Vietnam era, a former race driver Kowalski, whose current job is delivering new cars, makes a bet Friday night that he can deliver the new white Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco by 3pm the next day.

That’s it–no medical situation, family emergency or secret assignment from the Impossible Mission Force. But he’s destined to become a famous (or infamous, depending on the culture of the beholder) antihero just the same.

Kowalski is plagued by flashbacks, hopped up on speed and just wants to put the hammer down in a tire-melting musclecar for the heck of it–even though the delivery’s not due until Monday.

Needless to say, local police don’t endorse his spontaneous quest for a burst of freedom and a chase ensues which lasts for the entire movie.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Kowalski’s driving evolves as the film goes on. At first he flogs the Challenger around like…well, like he’s on drugs, and not used to the car. But he tightens up during the chase, and there is a lot of hard driving scenes and a few stunts that make this cult favorite worth watching.

Stunt Coordinator Carey Loftin chose the Challenger R/T because of the fantastic horsepower and the toughness and handling potential of the torsion bar suspension. Though the trailer (above) calls it supercharged, and a police character in the film says, “We have reason to suspect it is supercharged,” the cars used during filming were bone-stock 440 four-speed cars, except for one 383 automatic. The only modification made was to install beefier shock absorbers in the car used for a stunt jump. Actor Barry Newman (who played Kowalski) remembered the 440 engine to be insanely powerful. Max Balchowsky, who also prepared the cars for the famous chase scene in Bullitt, tuned the stock suspensions of the Mopars in Vanishing Point.

The soundtrack is possibly a sample of the worst records produced in 1970, with the exception of Mississippi Queen by Mountain, which rocks so appropriately for a car scene that the Dukes of Hazard feature also employed it. The distorted power chords during the climactic scene fit nicely, too. Otherwise, you might as well replace the entire soundtrack with the psychadelic jams from the period.

Vanishing Point was remade as a TV movie in 1997. Though the script was a pleasant surprise, the acting and direction leave much to be desired. And the “high speed” chase scenes appear to top out at about 25 MPH. Couple that with the needless (yet obligatory) destruction of two fine automobiles and Viggo Mortensen spending 90 minutes auditioning for a toothpaste commercial, and the remake won’t be getting a write-up from me for Speed Week Plus.

Below is a scene with loads of potential…if only they’d filmed it at speed! BTW, somebody called the other car a Porsche. It is actually a Jaguar E-Type roadster. And trying to fender-bang a musclecar off the side of the road in one of these would be suicide. But Hollywood film makers consistently prove their ignorance about cars to this day, and this aspect of the scene is an example. What they got right: the Jag gains ground in the corners, and holds its own on the straights…until Kowalski bangs the Challenger into fourth gear.(Apologies, but this is the best presentation of the scene I can find, anymore.)

Finally, here’s the Charger vs. Challenger scene from the remake with Faggo Mortensen, in case you like: