Friday, July 8, 2016

Hi-Riders (1978)

          Basically a biker flick featuring drag-racing cars instead of motorcycles, this moderately entertaining exploitation flick benefits from copious amounts of action as well as moody cinematography by Dean Cundey, who later became a favorite of directors John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Zemeckis. In fact, the best reason to watch this forgettable picture is to savor the grainy shadows with which Cundey imbues the storyline. As for that storyline, it’s wise to set your expectations low and still leave room for disappointment. The gist is that Mark (Darby Hinton) and his girl Lynn (Diane Peterson) prowl the countryside in their tricked-out car looking for suckers to race. One night, they drag against thuggish Billy (Roger Hampton), a member of a gang called the Hi-Riders. He loses but refuses to pay his debts, so they chase after him and land at Hi-Riders HQ. After the gang’s leader, T.J. (Wm. J. Beaudine), sides with the newcomers, Mark and Lynn decide to hang out with the gang for a while. Later, when a young guy from a local town is killed during a drag race with a Hi-Rider, the man’s father, Mr. Lewis (Stephen McNally), sics rednecks on the Hi-Riders. Mark and Lynn get caught in the crossfire.
          Noting how much of this stuff is predicated on silly coincidences is futile, because the characters are so one-dimensional it’s hard to care what happens. Still, Hi-Riders zips along fairly well. Burly Hampton is enjoyably nasty during early scenes, perky Peterson has fun spewing automotive trivia while playing an engine freak, and director Greydon Clark peppers the cast with a trio of familiar Hollywood players. Mel Ferrer and Ralph Meeker give indifferent performances as small-town cops, and craggy Neville Brand plays a bartender. Additionally, spunky rock tunes by a band called “Coyote and the Pack” fill the soundtrack. Does any of this high-octane noise mean anything, or will you even recall a frame of Hi-Riders after the credits roll? No, but the same could be said about most of the biker movies after which Hi-Riders is patterned. This is unapologetic lowest-common-denominator sludge, with exciting stunts and rebellious attitude and snarling bad guys, all set to the rhythm of roaring engines. 

Hi-Riders: FUNKY

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