Reviewed by: Dave Murray
Jamie Lee Curtis
What's it about
Quid (Stacy Keach) is a long haul trucker, an American hauling sides of beef across Australia and spending an awful amount of time alone with his dingo. That is until he meets a tenacious hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) whose time is running out, and runs into a van-driving psycho who like to strangle pretty young hitchhikers with a guitar string. Now Quid's latest haul becomes a nightmare of survival and revenge on the desolate Outback highways in this "Down Under Hitchcock" classic thriller.
Is it good movie?
Let's file this one under that most beloved subgenre "Awesome Road Movies". You know the ones I mean: big rigs, car chases, a shadowy psycho stalking hitchers and truckers and teenagers and even dogs for no discernible reason. The tension is usually ratcheted up high, and the body count, while not as high as straight forward slasher flicks, is usually diverse and with a creative twist. And there's always the charming (or sullen) hero that the audience roots for, and the pretty young girl that is either a token sidekick, a throwaway victim or the kicker of many an ass herself. Yes, these movies are awesome, and I personally love them.
Well Road Games is unique in my experience, because as well as being a soli road movie with story threads of menace and revenge, it also rests its laurels solely on the performance of Stacy Keach. His character Quid has the most screen time, and he spends almost all of it talking to himself and his pet dingo. And oddly enough, it works and its entertaining. His running commentary on the people he sees on the highways of the Australian Outback are one of the most interesting and personal aspects of the movie. And they serve to make his character charming and endearing, giving us everything we need to know about him after only a few sentences. Itmakes you care about the character, and roo for him even more once the tension cranks and the chasing begins.
The impetus for the revenge-tinged roadrage is a very short cameo from a young Jamie Lee Curtis. Fresh off of her success, and shot to stardom, in Halloween, she puts in a token appearance here, albeit a memorable one, as a hitchhiker who has a profound effect on the hero. She, of course, becomes the target of the mysterious "guitar string" strangler in the movie. It's a small role (which with such a small cast got her top-name billing), but it's a good one. The killer also has some memorable scenes, especially during the harrowing highway chases and cat and mouse sequences with Quid. There's also an early scene where he is sneaking up behind a hitchhiker he picked up and brought to a motel. She's playing the guitar, naked (which is always a plus), and the whole scene is beautiful and creepy, as her lonely guitar provides the only soundtrack.
The soundtrack itself is very minimal, which seems to compliment the stark emptiness of the highway vistas. And this is where the horror in this "game" lies. The players move about in a landscaoe that is almost devoid of other forms of life, and also far away from any authority or opportunities to seek assistance. Much like High Tension (although significantly less horific), this is a harrowing tale of psychological survival, but here instead of crazy fantasies it's all wrapped up in hurtling steel vehicles and nicely staged introspective scenes. Australian director Richard Franklin shoots his movie with an alternating style that goes from stark realism to dreary and comfortable moments of Keach playing for the camera. In all it's a fine piece of genre cinema from a country that has a long history of producing it. Check it out if you're a fan of thrillers and road movies. Trust me, it's worth the ride.
Sorry. That was lame, but I had to say it.
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 2.35:1. For a cheaply made ussie road flick from he very early 80's, this looks awesome. Nice job, Anchor Bay.
Audio: English (Dolby Mono 2.0) and English closed captioning. Great minimal soundtrack, and great dialogue from Keach. Despite the single mono track, it all sounds sweet.
First off, there's a fairly dry Audio Commentary by director Franklin, which is moderated by some guy named Perry Martin. Why does a commentary track by one guy need a moderator? To remind us to stay awake. There's also a recently recorded Making Of Featurette with interviews from Franklin and Keach, and a look back at this surprise 80's thriller that got quite the great critical response, considering its subject matter and presentation. It's like the little Aussie flick that could! The disc is capped off with more of the usual fare, such as the Trailer, some Storyboards, Talent Bios and finally a Poster and Still Gallery. Not a tonne of features, but since the movie itself is digitally cleaned up in a nice way, I don't mind that much. What's here is interesting, but not as engaging as the actual movie.
Filmed with minimalist talent and played with a tongue in cheek charm by Stacy Keach, Road Games is a decent and entertaining highway thriller with a simple premise and an executon hat holds up against sub-genre classics like The Hitcher and Dual. There are even some shades of Mad Max in there, minus the apocalypse of course. For a film that relys so much on one performance and a shitload of dialogue, it manages to succeed without any pretention of self absorption, which is why it works in the first place. This movie could have been a steaming pile morning-after-extra-cheese-nachos shit. Since it's not you should check out this entry into the Cult Fiction series from Anchor Bay. Great addition to a mostly quality set.
Just one thing though. This is the second Cult Fiction DVD to have frozen sides of beef hanging from meathooks. Am I sensing a subtle theme here? Nah.