Not many of David Carradine’s projects for penny-pinching producer Roger Corman edge into the realm of credible cinema, but Fast Charlie . . . The Moonbeam Rider, a motorcycle picture set in the 1920s, is highly watchable even though certain elements are undercooked. Rather than displaying his martial-arts acumen or posturing like some tight-lipped tough guy, Carradine gets to demonstrate equal measures of charm and vulnerability as a World War I veteran who exaggerates the scope of his military service while swindling friends and strangers alike until the love of a stalwart woman instills him with a newfound sense of pride. The character arc is predictable, and so is the outcome of the cross-country road race that gives the story its structure. Nonetheless, the film’s creative team—which includes reliably unpretentious B-movie director Steve Carver and story co-author Ed Spielman, who helped create Carradine’s famous TV series Kung Fu—keeps things lively with an eventful narrative and flashes of colorful dialogue. Although the picture slips into dull ruts now and then, particularly during racing scenes in which it’s hard to tell one dust-covered motorcyclist from another, the movie’s best moments have style and swing.
Carradine plays Charlie Swattle, a con man who recruits guys from his old U.S. Army motorcycle-courier unit to serve as a pit crew for the impending race, which begins in St. Louis and terminates in San Francisco. Complicating matters is the fact that Charlie abandoned his unit during combat, so most of his former friends now hate Charlie. He sways them with promises that he’s changed. Also falling under silver-tongued Charlie’s spell is Grace (Brenda Vaccaro), a waitress who tags along with Charlie ostensibly because he owes her money. None of this material is particularly fresh, and neither is the subplot about the avaricious motorcycle entrepreneur who considers Charlie a threat. Yet the undemanding fun of a picture like this one involves watching archetypal characters dance to familiar rhythms. Carradine’s character escapes deadly traps while pulling scams and telling lies, Vaccaro’s character pushes him to ask more of himself, and the war buddies played by L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong threaten Charlie with violence if he disappoints them again—you get the idea. Fast Charlie . . . The Moonbeam Rider isn’t drive-in trash, since the film’s PG rating precludes sex and vulgarity, so it’s better to describe the flick as drive-in comfort food.
Fast Charlie . . . The Moonbeam Rider: FUNKY