A Joseph Minion (AFTER HOURS, VAMPIRE'S KISS) script suffers from an excess of attitude at the expense of feeling in the hands of first-time director Barry Shils. Nevertheless, this "On the Road Alone" spoof can't help being an intriguing satirical take on roadside America from one of
America's most original screenwriters.
In Minion's reworking of the road movie genre, 10-year-old Gus (Jordan Christopher Michael) steals a mint-condition cherry-red 1960s-vintage Mustang and hits the road, competing for $500 million in the "Motorama" road game. The object is to stop at gas stations owned by the fictional Chimera oil
company and collect game cards that spell out the word Motorama. As Gus crosses a fictional series of states, most of them carrying names of counties in New Jersey (Bergen and Mercer, for example,) he has odd run-ins with such characters as a creepy motel owner (Jack Nance) obsessed with gassing
squirrels; a sleazy Cadillac driver (Sandy Baron) and his mistress (Mary Woronov), who gouge out one of Gus's eyes and torture him for trying to steal gas from their car; a biker (Meat Loaf) who tattoos Gus's missing Motorama letters onto the youngster's arm; and a picnicking family man (Dick
Miller) who abandons his two young children after Gus beats him out of all his money in a game of horseshoes. Using his last bit of money at his final gas stop, Gus obtains the final letter he needs. But instead of awarding Gus the prize at Chimera's high-rise headquarters, the executive in charge
of the game (Robin Duke) has his winning cards confiscated and has him tossed out a 102nd-floor window.
While tumbling through the air, Gus awakens next to a stream, back where his adventure began. Realizing the folly of his ways, he abandons the Mustang and hitchhikes back to the Chimera gas station, where he takes a job. A passing motorist (Shelly Berman) stops by to brag about $1 million he's
just won gambling in "Las Huevos," only to get creamed in a head-on with a semi soon after leaving the gas station.
On the strengths of Minion's script, Michael's surprisingly nuanced performance as Gus, and the crazy quilt of B-cameos along the way--Martha Quinn, Flea, Garrett Morris, Michael J. Pollard, and Drew Barrymore among them--MOTORAMA is never less than quirkily entertaining, though too often it
strays into a too-familiar mood of strained outrageousness characteristic of would-be midnight movie classics. The weak link is Shils' direction, which never establishes a consistent mood; he also lacks comic timing and pacing. Shils never solves the technical problem of Minion's elliptical
narrative, which deliberately fails to build to a conventional plot climax, favoring instead an impressionist vision of an America descending into mean-spirited desperation in the face of viciously diminishing expectations. Instead, the movie simply keeps awkwardly shifting gears from broad,
klutzy farce to Lynchian deadpan lunacy (underscored by the presence of Lynch regular Nance) to plain B-movie ennui. Too much of the film's final third consists of Gus aimlessly driving up and down highways, scratching at "Motorama" game cards and muttering "Damn!" with each worthless card he
uncovers. Love him or hate him, Minion is one of the most ambitious and original screenwriters working today. His produced scripts recall the novels of Nathanael West in their peculiarly American surreal-absurdist black comic tales of strivers maimed, mutilated, and driven insane in pursuit of
their worldly goals: the perfect date (AFTER HOURS), the perfect state of yuppie materialistic fulfillment (VAMPIRE'S KISS), and, in MOTORAMA, the perfect jackpot. It's apparent, however, that only a visionary director like AFTER HOURS' Martin Scorsese has the artistic focus to fully bring the
screenwriter's tricky conceits to life. In the meantime, MOTORAMA, though something short of ideal, hints at greatness in its best moments. (Profanity, violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: A Joseph Minion (AFTER HOURS, VAMPIRE'S KISS) script suffers from an excess of attitude at the expense of feeling in the hands of first-time director Barry Shils. Nevertheless, this "On the Road Alone" spoof can't help being an intriguing satirical take on… (more)