Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stone (1974)

          Just as the biker-movie craze was losing steam in the U.S., where it originated, the genre found new life Down Under. Yes, Stone is an Australian flick about two-wheelers and the violent men who ride them, complete with bar brawls, a biker funeral, drug-trip montages, senseless violence, unexpected poeticism, and, of course, the beloved combination of compliant chicks and plentiful booze. Stone starts like gangbusters and has a somewhat enjoyable action finale, but it goes slack in the middle once the filmmakers realize they’re run out of plot. Thus, Stone is not only a loving tribute to American biker movies but also a stylistic cousin to them—because, after all, most U.S. biker movies fall apart in the middle, too. It’s all about fighting, freedom, and fucking, man, so we don’t need your rules and your structure. Can you dig it?
          In Stone, someone is systematically terminating members of an outfit called the Grave Diggers, so an undercover cop is assigned to ride with the gang until the culprit (or culprits) can be identified. Predictably, the bikers resist the intrusion of an outsider, but when muscle-bound policeman Stone (Ken Shorter) proves his mettle in a fight, the Grave Diggers cautiously accept him into the fold. Turns out the folks behind the assassinations are business-suited conspirators who want the bikers eliminated because one of the Grave Diggers witnessed a political assassination. Further complicating matters is the fact that the biker who saw the event, hulking Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne), was so wigged out on acid at the time of the murder that he’s not sure whether what he saw really happened.
          Obviously, the plot is not the big draw here—but what Stone lacks in substance, it makes up for in scuzzy style. The Grave Diggers all look believably filthy and wasted (real Aussie bikers participated in the making of the film), the “kills” are flamboyantly nasty, and it’s a kick to see the behaviors of American motor clubs transposed to the environs of coastal Australia. In particular, it’s amusing to hear typical I-gotta-be-me biker speeches rendered in Aussie accents. (Imagine feasting your ears on this spiel: “Whoever got you’s gonna get got, too . . . ol’ Satan’ll be in there with you, so you’ll be all right.”) Stone also benefits from a handful of snazzy design flourishes, like the boxy sidecar driven by a Grave Digger during the funeral, or the crazy eye-patch/missing tooth ensemble sported by biker Dr. Death (Vincent Gil). Furthermore, Stone is slathered front-to-back with crunchy rock music courtesy of Billy Green. Given the low expectations that reasonable folks bring to the biker-movie genre, Stone satisfies with its piquant mixture of lurid elements. If tested by any higher standards, however, the picture would be found wanting.

Stone: FUNKY

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