SEPTEMBER 19, 2009
While I couldn’t make all five of the films for the New Beverly’s TRUCKATHON, I knew for sure I’d get there for Roadgames, which I’ve been meaning to see for years. Not only is it an early 80s Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie (the only one that hasn’t been remade... yet), but it’s also the type of road thriller that I often enjoy (Duel, Breakdown, etc). And having Richard Franklin at the helm is a pretty sure sign of quality - I have yet to see a film from him that I have disliked. Shit, I even like F/X2, which is the movie that he hated working on so much that he essentially quit Hollywood.
His Hitchcock influence is as evident as ever here - the film is essentially Rear Window 2: Rearview Mirror. 85% of the movie is simply Stacy Keach driving and talking to himself or one of the two women he picks up (Curtis being one - I’m actually surprised how relatively small her role is). But it’s not the similar plotting; the dialogue contains a bit of that Hitchcock dry humor, and certain shots feel like something out of his suspense thrillers. The final shot in particular, even though it’s a completely different subject, reminds me of the final shot of Psycho (the car being pulled from the swamp).
But equally important to the film’s success is Keach. I mainly know him from his TV work (Titus, Prison Break, and the short-lived Unsolved Mysteries wannabe Missing: Reward), but here he proves to be an able leading man. And I mean lead - apart from his dingo-dog, he’s usually by himself. But he doesn’t sit in silence; he occasionally has full blown conversations (even arguments) with himself, saying one line aloud and keeping the response in his head. Not only does it keep the film from being silent, but it also allows us to understand that the character may be suffering from a mental disorder (and in turn, that he may be the killer himself, but not in a way that prevents us from liking him.
I just wish it was edited a bit tighter. Some of the “getting to know you” stuff between Keach and Curtis could have been lost without any significance (it’s Curtis pre-gray hair and yogurt - we like her the second she appears, no need to spend excessive time getting us on her side). The movie is PG, so I wasn’t expecting any significant on-screen violence or a big body count (and I'm amazed at how many writeups refer to this movie as a slasher), but even keeping that in mind, I got a bit restless at times during the 2nd act. The end also feels a bit convenient - people who dislike Keach (for comical reasons) suddenly show up and accuse him of being the villain, and then he is just as quickly saved by someone’s say-so. I wouldn’t have minded a dark ending where he is framed for the crime with his own behavior acting as evidence (sort of like Arlington Road), but that sort of thing was rarely Hitchcock’s style, so it’s not a surprise everything ends rather cheerfully for our heroes.
I mentioned remakes before - I’m actually surprised this one hasn’t been fed to the remake machine yet. Not only is it an early 80s genre film, but it’s the rare one that owes as much to its lead role as it does the plot. With so many actors having their own production companies these days, I could easily see one of them putting a remake together in order to give themselves a nice vehicle (pun half-intended) that would put them front and center the whole time. Indeed, while I don’t think he’s that type of guy, I would love to see Nic Cage (who does have his own company) take on the role. Not only is he someone I could watch for 90 minutes straight, but his inherent craziness would actually sell the whole “is he the killer himself” idea even to those who had seen the original. “OK, this time maybe he IS the killer!” a fan might say whenever Cage went into full-blown “I could eat a peach for hours...” mode.
And in the end, the greatest thing about the movie is that it hasn’t aged (even things like “just call for help” would be explained by a “no service” plot device in any modern version of the story). The suspense hasn’t been diluted one iota from all of the road thrillers that have come since, and Keach’s performance is award-worthy to boot. Seek it out and enjoy.
What say you?