Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pickup on 101 (1972)

          Contrived and hokey, the cross-generational road movie Pickup on 101 depicts the odyssey of three unlikely traveling companions: an elderly hobo, a manipulative musician, and a sexy young woman experimenting with the hippie lifestyle. Beliefs are challenged, relationships are formed, and secrets are revealed as the young people learn about integrity and mortality from their aged friend, and characters spend lots of time accusing each other of wasting their lives. On some level, the picture is respectable inasmuch as it has elements of sociopolitical questioning, with a dash of existentialism. Yet the chaotic tone of the piece—which wobbles between comedy, drama, erotica, and tragedy—reveals that Pickup at 101 is as directionless as its characters. Were it not for the presence of interesting actors in the leading roles, Pickup on 101 would be entirely forgettable.
          Without describing the tiresome circumstances by which the characters converge, suffice to say that the main group comprises Jedediah (Jack Albertson), an old-school vagabond who travels by hitching illegal rides on freight trains; Lester (Martin Sheen), a self-important musician willing to do or say anything in order to get what he wants; and Nicky (Lesley Ann Warren), a beautiful young woman who ditches her uptight boyfriend, Chuck (Michael Ontkean), because he puts down her interest in living on a commune. Jedediah, Lester, and Nicky share misadventures involving an exploding car, hidden cash reserves, hitch-hiking, a night in jail, and plentiful tension emanating from who does and/or doesn’t want to sleep with Nicky. Eventually, the story coalesces into a bittersweet quest, but that doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of the picture.
          Despite the skill of the actors involved, a general feeling of artificiality permeates Pickup on 101. For instance, the Nicky character represents the openness and optimism of hippie culture, and yet Warren is largely presented as an ornamental sex object. Similarly, the Lester character seems to represent dilettantes who play the counterculture game for opportunistic reasons, and yet Sheen vents a fair amount of legitimate righteous indignation against The Man. The Jedediah character is the most convincing one in the batch, perhaps because Albertson’s grizzled-wise-man routine is so appealing. Every so often, Pickup on 101 approaches provocative subject matter, as when Nicky contemplates turning tricks in order to survive, but then the movie retracts into blandly schematic storytelling. By the time the film reaches its hard-to-believe sentimental conclusion, the bogus textures of Pickup at 101 have overwhelmed the precious few resonant nuances.

Pickup on 101: FUNKY

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