While not a particularly interesting movie, the offbeat comedy Citizens Band represents the convergence of two interesting careers. For director Jonathan Demme, the movie was a breakthrough studio job after making three low-budget exploitation flicks for producer Roger Corman. For second-time screenwriter Paul Brickman, the movie provided a transition between working on existing material (Brickman debuted with the script for 1977’s The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training) and creating brand-new characters; Brickman later blossomed as the writer/director of the extraordinary Risky Business (1983). A further point of interest is that while Citizens Band tangentially belongs to the mid-’70s vogue for trucker movies, it’s much more concerned with the possibilities of a communication format to bridge distances between people. In other words, this is an earnest project from serious people, so it can’t be discounted. Nonetheless, watching all 98 minutes of the loosely plotted and sluggishly paced feature requires abundant patience.
Since Citizens Band never even remotely approaches outright hilarity, the charms of the picture are found in small character moments and—one of Demme’s specialties—scenes that celebrate human compassion and understanding. One wonders, however, whether a shambling assortment of kind-hearted vignettes was what Brickman had in mind, since certain sequences feel as if they were conceived to become full-on comedy setpieces. While Demme’s preference for intimacy over spectacle gives Citizens Band an amiable sense of reality, this directorial approach results in a decidedly low-energy cinematic experience.
Anyway, in lieu of a proper storyline, the movie has a number of interconnected subplots. The main character, if only by default since he has the largest number of scenes, is Spider (Paul LeMat), a small-town CB-radio operator who watches out for truckers and vainly tries to keep emergency frequencies free of outside chatter. Spider lives with his ornery father (Roberts Blossom), a former trucker, and Spider’s part of a love triangle involving his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Electra (Candy Clark), and Spider’s brother, Blood (Bruce McGill). The Spider scenes are quite sleepy except when he plays vigilante by destroying radio equipment belonging to rule-breaking CB operators. Another thread of the movie involves a long-haul trucker nicknamed “Chrome Angel” (Charles Napier), who is revealed as a secret bigamist; the first meeting of his two wives plays out with unexpected warmth. There’s also some material involving various eccentric radio enthusiasts, such as Hot Coffee (Alix Elias), a plain-Jane hooker catering to truckers. The movie toggles back and forth between various characters, presenting one inconsequential scene after another. (Don’t be fooled by the exciting opening sequence of a truck derailment; thrills are in short supply thereafter.)
Citizens Band has a slick look, thanks to inventive cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, though it’s questionable whether his moody style actually suits the material. Yet the presence of artful lighting is just one more random point in Citizens Band’s favor. The movie’s a collection of many things, some of which merit attention; the problem is that these things never coalesce into a worthwhile whole.
Citizens Band: FUNKY