** SPOILERS ON THE ROAD!!! **
I was ready for another 1970's car chase/truckin'/CB radio movie.
That isn't what I got.
I was ready for a ridiculous comedy.
That isn't what I got.
What I got was more of a dramedy. Don't get me wrong, there are many moments of slapstick, goofiness and ribaldry. After all, much of the plot concerns the fates of hookers and their Madam. Also, some marijuana is smoked. I believe that this was mandatory in movies made in the Seventies, be they Blaxploitation films or nature documentaries. Also, Nietzsche is mentioned and quoted, several times. Ouch. Them's the Seventies for ya.
And yes, there is a cross-country road journey. In a big 18-wheeler. It also happens to be stolen. And there is a roadblock of police cars that gets smashed.
But all of that was sort of just window dressing, beside the point of the movie. The movie is really about kicking death in the ass and going out in style and with dignity, instead of wasting away in a hospital bed. Kids, this is more James L. Brooks territory than Roger Corman. Elegant John, Henry Fonda's character, retains his dignity, and heads out on the open road with no money, for one last adventure. And he gets it, in spades, before he shuffles off this mortal coil, just short of completing that elusive "one last perfect run."
The most bothersome parts to me are the shifts in tone, from pathos to wacky slapstick. Actually, I guess life is like that sometimes, but this isn't life, it's a movie, and this could have been handled a little more deftly. There are a few jarring shifts in tone. Also, the pace is a little slow. It takes far too long for our hero to load up his truck with hookers and hit the road.
Even the fact of the stolen truck, which should be titillating and exploitive, is sad and winsome: he stole back his own truck which was repossessed because he was sick in the hospital and missed his payments because he couldn't work.
Most of the actors are spot on. Fonda is rock solid as always. Eileen Brennan is great. Robert Englund is funny and highly believable. Susan Sarandon is adorable and charming. Dub Taylor does that same insane character he always plays. And John Byner and Austin Pendleton are really freaking annoying. Especially Austin Pendleton. But that's what he does. Asking Austin Pendleton to avoid being annoying is akin to asking a plant to stop photosynthesizing.
Having made all the objections I have, I would still rate this film as better than expected, but can't recommend it without reservations. You will be disappointed if you're looking for another Smokey and The Bandit. It seems like the filmmakers wanted you as the viewer to reach for the handkerchief far too much, and far too little for the beer. By the same token, those looking for a good weeper are not going to turn to this occasionally ribald semi-slapstick comedy with the exploitation title.