Released on video in 1997, Robert Rodriguez' ROADRACERS was the first, and arguably the best, of the 10 low-budget movies made for Showtime in 1994 as part of their "Rebel Highway" series modeled on some 1950s American International Pictures teenpics.
In the mid-'50s, a Texas teenager named Dude (David Arquette) idolizes the leader (Johnny Reno) of a local rock 'n' roll group called The Ramblers, and dreams of playing guitar in his own band someday. He has a Mexican girlfriend named Donna (Salma Hayek) and a geeky best friend named Nixer (John
Hawkes) who spends most of his time at the local movie house watching INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). Dude is constantly battling the sadistic local sheriff, Sarge (William Sadler), as well as Sarge's bully son, Teddy (Jason Wiles). After Dude burns Teddy's girlfriend's hair by flicking a
cigarette into it and later humiliates Teddy at a roller-skating rink, Teddy retaliates by harassing Donna and trying to kiss her.
Teddy then challenges Dude to a fight that evening, but Donna learns that The Ramblers are looking for a new guitarist and are holding auditions at the same time. Nixer talks Dude into going to the audition, but at the club, Dude discovers that The Ramblers are frauds--lip-synching and playing to
a record--and he and Nixer attack the band members. As Dude is leaving the club, Teddy shoots him in the shoulder, but he's able to drive away and returns with a shotgun. After killing Teddy, Dude drives out of town, but Sarge pulls up next to him with a gun. Dude shoots out the tires on the
police car, and it crashes into a billboard and explodes.
The "Rebel Highway" series was co-produced by Lou Arkoff, the son of AIP co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff, but whereas most of the other films in the series were postmodern remakes of their namesakes, ROADRACERS simply takes the title of a cheapo 1959 auto racing movie and thankfully throws away the
story. Among the impressive list of high-profile directors who worked on the series (including Joe Dante, John Milius, Uli Edel, Jonathan Kaplan, and William Friedkin), Rodriguez seems to have struck the best balance between self-parody and straight action, even if the over-the-top bloody finale
is quite jarring. According to the press notes, each film in the series had to be shot in 12 days (just like the originals) and Rodriguez, who had made his reputation with the ultra-cheap EL MARIACHI (1992), astounded his crew by averaging around 45 camera set-ups per day (the industry average is
about 14), including a record-setting 76 set-up day. The rapid shooting schedule and "anything goes" attitude creates a sense of unpredictability and dynamic energy that's missing from big-budget Hollywood productions, although the film would have been even better if it were about 20 minutes
For the most part, it's a highly entertaining and amusing romp with a wild sense of humor and Rodriguez' trademark adrenaline-charged camerawork and slice-and-dice editing, resulting in some exhilarating set-pieces: intercutting The Ramblers performing Gene Vincent's "Race with the Devil" while
Dude is being chased by Sarge; Dude's drag race with Teddy while his girlfriend's hair is in flames; and the comical rumble at the roller-skating rink. David Arquette gives a hilarious performance as Dude, walking like a crab, with a perpetual half-demonic/half-goofball grin, and constantly
slicking back his hair with huge gobs of lard while sucking in his own smoke-rings. In her U.S. film debut, Salma Hayek demonstrates that she's more than just a pretty face, and John Hawkes is very funny as the nerdy Nixer, whose obsession with INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ties in neatly with
the film's subtext of conformity, and leads to a great in-joke cameo in which actor Kevin McCarthy is sitting next to him in the movie theater. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: Released on video in 1997, Robert Rodriguez' ROADRACERS was the first, and arguably the best, of the 10 low-budget movies made for Showtime in 1994 as part of their "Rebel Highway" series modeled on some 1950s American International Pictures teenpics. In… (more)