Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Checkered Flag or Crash (1977)

This car-race picture comes awfully close to qualifying as entertainment, but dodgy editing and vapid storytelling eventually become so distracting that it’s hard to classify Checkered Flag or Crash as anything other than a dud. Set in the Philippines, the movie depicts a 1,000-mile road race that attracts sportsmen driving cars, dune buggies, and motorcycles. Part demolition derby, part endurance test, and part speed trial, the race scenario offers great potential for action, comedy, and drama. Alas, writer Michael Allin and director Alan Gibson mostly substitute shots of cars driving through dirt patches and thick jungles for actual cinematic content. Joe Don Baker stars as champion driver “Walkaway” Madden, a bearish American, and Susan Sarandon costars as C.C. Wainwright, a car-magazine reporter who rides shotgun in Madden’s rig during the race. The other significant characters are Bo Cochran (Larry Hagman), the race’s good-ol’-boy organizer, and “Doc” Pyle (Alan Vint), Madden’s ex-partner and a rival driver. The movie largely comprises so-so racing footage, interspersed with cutesy romantic-banter scenes involving Baker and Sarandon. While both actors display their considerable innate charm, there’s no chemistry between them, and the characters are underdeveloped to the point of barely existing. Furthermore, there’s no tension in the movie, since Madden’s first-place finish is never in doubt. (After all, most of the other drivers are portrayed as losers and/or nincompoops.) The picture has decent production values, but these don’t count for much because the shooting and cutting of racing scenes is sloppy—camera angles are so close that it’s hard to distinguish details, and the editing relies on blur shots for connective tissue. Considering that Checkered Flag or Crash is a race movie, the presence of substandard racing footage pretty much scotches the whole deal. Yet the movie’s most galling element, by far, is the atrocious music score, which has a cornpone Nashville-meets-Vegas quality. Some of the cues seem pulled from old Hee-Haw sketches, and the title song is the worst kind of truckstop earworm.

Checkered Flag or Crash: LAME

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