Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rolling Vengeance

(Steven H. Stern, 1987)
At first you're struck by the surprising dramatic competence and nuanced characterization of this monster-truck action revenge movie. Soon, though, you're tormented by it. Instead of burlesquing this outrageously dumb material, Stern tries to turn it into a heartfelt allegory about the beleaguered nuclear family's triumph over the blackhearted predations of murderous drunken rednecks. The class fear this scenario so urgently expresses does not achieve a lived-in view of the rural life, and yet the film's misbegotten earnestness removes the general orgy of death and destruction from the safe cover of showbiz and becomes alternately tin-eared and prescriptive. Of course, it would be just about impossible to flatten the comic effect of this drill-enhanced big wheeled messenger of vengeance barrelling over hill and dale toward the bug-eyed bad guys, but there's no joy in watching bland normative warrior Don Michael Paul squish his bastard adversaries. The bastards do their nose-pickin' and beer-guzzlin' best to be humorous, and sheriff Michael J. Reynolds' raised-eyebrow bemusement does suggest a suitable contempt for the script. But ultimately the only performer that wriggles out from under the director's heavy thumb is highway entrepreneur Ned Beatty, and even he is denied the dignity of a funny reaction shot - or any reaction, really - when Paul demolishes his entire used car lot.

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