Friday, July 17, 2009

Film Review: ROADGAMES (1981, Richard Franklin)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis (both John Carpenter favorites, with the former in BODY BAGS and ESCAPE FROM L.A. and the latter in HALLOWEEN and THE FOG).
Tag-lines: "The truck driver plays games... The hitchhiker plays games. And the killer is playing the deadliest game of all!"
Best one-liner: "Hors d'ouevre, Boswell?"

A lot of people like to blather on about how Brian de Palma is the most noteworthy Hitchcock disciple, but I gotta say that the Aussie Richard Franklin (PSYCHO II, CLOAK & DAGGER) seriously deserves his due. I find myself increasingly impressed by his engaging stories (which exquisitely blur the line between paranoid fantasy and reality), his obsessive attention to aesthetic and aural detail, and his ability to duplicate that elusive Hitchcock atmosphere with such confidence that he doesn't need to pour in gratuitous heapings of sex and violence to mask his own insecurities (like de Palma).

But on to ROADGAMES: Stacy Keach is brilliant as our jocular, overeducated truck driver, or, I should say, a man who at the moment happens to drive a truck. He lives only to share his internal monologue with his dingo, Boswell, and to dazzle the unsuspecting hitchhiker with his encyclopedic knowledge of Bronte and Pope, his rapier wit, his stylish innuendo.

He is a man with boundless imagination, capable of transforming his cab into Madame Geoffrin's salon, his harmonica noodlings into 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik,' and a fellow traveler into Jack the Ripper- or maybe he's not imagining things at all...

Teaming up with hitchhiking runaway heiress Jamie Lee Curtis, Keach becomes an amateur sleuth par excellence- he just needs some sleep, or perhaps a few more pills, to avoid the frame and unravel the enigma.

Franklin tautly and gleefully imparts his tale with little slices of pure cinema: the killer lurks behind a victim as she tunes a guitar- the pitch rising with each step- this diegetic sound cleverly replacing what could have involved a cliched musical score.

A 360-degree pan in a roadhouse (as Keach tries to call the cops) is a mini-master's course in filmmaking- a natural rhythm is established by the inviting noises of a pinball machine, the reactions of the patrons are gradual and believable, and a macabre mural is revealed at the perfect moment. Bravo! I know Hitch would be proud. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

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