With its enjoyably ludicrous premise and its tasty combination of leading players, Race With the Devil should be a winner—I mean, come on, it’s a drive-in thriller starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as a couple of everydudes who witness a murder committed by Satanists, escape in their Winnebago, and suffer through a frightening chase across the Lone Star state. What’s not to like? Well, there’s a whole lot of dead space between the kicky opening act and the wild finale, and the middle of the movie is surprisingly turgid. Director Jack Starrett, whose career started with a couple of lively biker movies, had a bad habit of landing on projects with wobbly scripts—just like Race With the Devil, his movies Cleopatra Jones (1973), The Gravy Train (1974), and A Small Town in Texas (1976) sound great in concept, but end up being tough sits in reality. Part of the problem, obviously, is that Starrett concentrates on generating pulpy sensations instead of building credible characters. Individual scenes in his ’70s movies are exciting, but there’s very little emotional momentum to keep people watching during quiet sequences. Which brings up a major issue with this particular picture—just how many quiet sequences does a movie called Race With the Devil actually need? During the picture’s spongy middle stretch, Fonda and Oates sit around and chat a whole lot. They also fall into the classic Satanist-movie trap—relying on third parties who turn out to be in cahoots with the devil worshippers. Still, Fonda and Oates share an easy chemistry, so some scenes are mildly pleasurable just for the fun of watching two interesting personalities share the same space. The supporting cast isn’t of much note, with Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H fame and the lovely Lara Parker playing the heroes’ wives—both actresses do a lot of screaming—and reliable screen heavy R.G. Armstrong snarling his way through a trite role as a redneck sheriff. Considering how sluggish this movie gets, there’s some irony to the tagline in the flick’s whiz-bang trailer: “When you race with the devil, you’d better be faster than hell!” Had the filmmakers heeded that advice, Race With the Devil could have realized its considerable potential.
Race With the Devil: FUNKY