Drive-in pulp with a smidgen of substance, this one combines all sorts of lurid elements—blue-collar rebellion, high-octane chase scenes, deadly revenge, rednecks, shootouts, smuggling, truckers, a Vietnam veteran, and, just to put the cherry atop the whole tasty treat, a colorful cast including R.G. Armstrong, Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, Don Porter, and Jan-Michael Vincent. In other words, if White Line Fever doesn’t get your blood pumping, then the repertoire at the grindhouse of your dreams is far different than the one at mine. White Line Fever has so many cool attributes that whether the movie’s actually “good” is quasi-irrelevant—therefore, the fact that the picture is somewhat respectable as a piece of low-rent drama becomes a bonus.
Vincent stars as Carrol Jo Hummer (seriously, that’s the character’s name), a good ol’ boy who returns from Vietnam intent on driving an independent big rig and living happily with his sexy young wife, Jerri (Lenz). In order to get the cash to buy his truck, Carrol Jo borrows money from disreputable types who expect Carrol Jo to pay off his debt by smuggling illegal goods. Once Carrol Jo realizes what he’s gotten into, he uses the court system, threats, and finally violence to declare his independence. That leads to beatings, hassles, intimidation, and, eventually, deadly results for those around Carrol Jo. The movie climaxes with Carrol Jo striking a highly symbolic blow against his enemies, because Our Hero uses his souped-up truck, which bears the name “Blue Mule,” as an instrument of working-man’s justice.
Co-writer/director Jonathan Kaplan, who spent the ’70s making well-crafted exploitation films before venturing into topical studio pictures (notably 1989’s The Accused) and then a long career in television that continues to this day, displays his signature touch for stirring up juicy narrative conflict. Predictably, however, logic takes a backseat to slam-bang spectacle. Like Kaplan’s enjoyable blaxploitation pictures The Slams (1973) and Truck Turner (1974), White Line Fever feels like a hard-edged comic book—when Vincent struts out of his hovel with a shotgun in his hand, then hops into the cab of “Blue Mule” hell-bent for vengeance while pounding music blasts on the soundtrack, the movie rises to a plane of intoxicating macho silliness.
I freely admit to having an inexplicable affinity for Vincent’s lackadaisical screen persona, so chances are I watch this particular B-movie through forgiving eyes. I’m also sweet on Lenz, and I can watch Armstrong and Pickens in nearly anything. So take this praise for White Line Fever with the appropriate caveat: If you don’t groove to the idea of Jan-Michael Vincent playing an avenging trucker, then there’s probably only so much White Line Fever is going to do for you. But if you’re intrigued, strap in for a trashy good time.
White Line Fever: GROOVY