After making two low-budget horror flicks on his own, and then a pair of arty dramas under the tutelage of Robert Altman, eclectic writer-director Alan Rudolph spent the early ’80s trying to work in a more commercial vein, beginning with this ensemble comedy set in the world of rock-music touring. Despite the trappings of a mainstream movie—lowbrow sex humor, moronic slapstick gags, performances by chart-topping musicians—Roadie is so fundamentally bizarre that it’s clear Rudolph had not yet strayed from his arthouse roots.
Corpulent rock singer Meat Loaf stars as Travis W. Redfish, a Texas trucker who lives with his screechy sister, Alice Poo (Rhonda Bates), and his weird father, wheelchair-bound gadget addict Corpus C. Redfish (Art Carney). While out driving a beer truck one morning, Travis spots attractive young Lola Bouilliabase (Kaki Hunter) sitting in the window of a disabled motor home. In the course of repairing the motor home, Travis discovers that Lola is part of the entourage for a “rock circus” organized by megastar promoter Mohammed Johnson (Don Cornelius). Then, through a convoluted series of events, Travis winds up accompanying Lola and her team to a show, where Travis saves the day by setting up equipment for a Hank Williams Jr. performance in record time. (Never mind asking how Travis learned to install amps and mics.) Mohammed hires Travis to be a roadie. Then, while Travis is “brain-locked” thanks to a head injury, Lola and Mohammed take Travis to Los Angeles, where his roadie adventure continues.
Everything in Roadie is goofy and loud, from Meat Loaf’s histrionic lead performance to the various absurd plot contrivances, so the picture’s limited appeal stems from its madcap vibe. (Think nonsense dialogue along the lines of, “What’s the relationship between Styrofoam and the planet Jupiter?” or, “Yaga-yaga-yaga, this is the Redfish saga!”) Some of the jokes are mildly amusing, but many are merely strange. On the plus side, Roadie features onscreen musical performances by notables including Alice Cooper, Asleep at the Wheel, Blondie, Roy Orbison, and others. (Cooper and Blondie’s Deborah Harry also contribute sizable acting performances.) Somehow, the quirkiness of Roadie keeps the picture watchable, albeit sometimes in a traffic-accident sort of way. Particularly when the picture grinds toward its outlandish finale, which reflects either desperation or a failure of imagination, Roadie is like a guilty-pleasure rock song—studying the lyrics too closely takes the fun out of enjoying the groove.