While it’s unmistakably a drive-in action flick about truckers, High-Ballin’ has a much more serious vibe than its silly poster and title might suggest. In fact, within the confines of being a clichéd thrill ride about cartoonish villains preying upon one-dimensional heroes, the picture has a more or less credible storyline, as well as a few passages of comparatively heavy drama. So, while the movie ultimately succumbs to mediocrity, it goes down a lot smoother than the usual “10-4, good buddy” junk. Set in Ontario, the picture depicts a rapidly escalating battle between independent drivers and thugs in the employ of King Carroll (Chris Wiggins), a trucking magnate who’s trying to put competitors out of business. King Carroll’s chosen technique is hiring attractive women to feign roadside trouble as a way of luring truckers into the proximity of armed hijackers who emerge from hiding to beat the truckers and steal their rigs.
When the story starts, amiable trucker Duke (Jerry Reed) greets old friend Rane (Peter Fonda), a former trucker now living a vagabond lifestyle as a born-t0-be-wild biker. Together with Rane’s new love interest, a tough-talking lady trucker named “Pickup” (Helen Shaver), Duke and Rane try to survive hauling a shipment through King Carroll’s territory. The highlight of the picture is an extended chase scene that’s fairly exciting—Rane climbs onto Duke’s trailer, which is full of cars, and detaches the cars to use them as projectiles. Then, after Duke gets taken out of commission, Rane declares revenge, leading to a major standoff.
Nothing in High-Ballin’ will tax your intelligence, but even if the overall concept is trite, the scene-to-scene energy of the movie is moderately engaging. Fonda’s got a great laid-back rapport with Reed, and the love scenes between Fonda and Shaver play up his everydude charm and her take-no-guff brand of sexiness. The picture drags in the middle, big-time, with too many chatty vignettes between action scenes, and colorful supporting players including Clint Howard and Michael Ironside are underused. (Plus, despite some online listings to the contrary, Joe Don Baker isn’t in the movie—more’s the pity.) It should also be noted that the movie is quite tame in terms of language, sex, and violence, which could be interpreted as a strength or a weakness; viewed favorably, the picture exercises restraint, but viewed unfavorably, the flick is toothless. Either way, this is undemanding cinema that provides intermittent entertainment.