Having been shot in just eleven days, for under a million bucks, ROAD RACERS nevertheless oozes style. One can see how it was an important bridge from EL MARIACHI to DESPERADO, as he was able to hone his craft working on 35mm with an American crew. Would DESPERADO have been as good if he hadn’t been able to hone out the kinks in his technique with this? Probably not.
While essentially an exercise, ROAD RACERS has that cool mid-nineties indie feel that I love (despite taking place in the fifties). Arquette, who never quite crossed over (outside his role in the SCREAM franchise) does a great job as Dude- with him ramping up the James Dean-style brooding to an (intentionally) ridiculous degree. As his best pal Nixer, we get a really young John Hawkes- who steals enough scenes here that Rodriguez used him again a few years later as the unfortunate corner-store clerk who gets set aflame by the Gekko brothers in FROM DUSK TILL’ DAWN.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all is that ROAD RACERS marked Salma Hayek’s English language debut- with Rodriguez explaining that part of the reason he took this was to prove to Sony that Hayek could handle the lead in an English language film. Throughout, Hayek is almost hypnotically beautiful, and if she was struggling at all with her first role in English, you’d never know it here.
As a whole, ROAD RACERS cruises along really well until about the point when he goes to check out INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with Nixer at the local theater. From there, it takes a turn into the absurd- but again, that seems to be an intentional move on Rodriguez’s part- not only faithful to the way these fifties AIP movies tended to play out, but perhaps also suggesting that the last act is unfolding in Dude ‘s head. ROAD RACERS kinda makes me wish Rodriguez would get back to this kind of film- rather than the Grindhouse route he’s taken lately.