It’s a shame that the made-for-TV movie has become a marker of cheap, melodramatic movies because Robert Rodriguez’ 1994 flick Roadracers—a stylish drama that’s like American Graffiti meets Pulp Fiction—could be a proving ground for unknown directors to practice their craft with a low budget and serve as an outlet for actors to become discovered. Starring David Arquette (Scream), Salma Hayek (Desperado) and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene), this tale of a rebellious rocker who fights the law while bumming around the streets of a nondescript southern town is as much wish fulfillment for the writers as it is homage to the 50s flicks that inspired it. Loaded with great dirty bluesy rock, Roadracers is an unexpected treat.
Written by Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids, and Sin City) and partner Tommy Nix write the lead characters like stylized versions of themselves, planted straight into a gritty James Dean movie. The film’s surprising depth and wonderful style shows great promise for the future of all its parts. Rodriguez has become a filmmaker who bucked the studio system, making movies his way.
John Hawkes steals every scene he’s in, as is his wont. A nerdy, awkward Jughead to Dude’s (Arquette) charismatic rebel, Nixer seems like an amalgamation of writer Tommy Nix and frequent Rodriguez collaborator, Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino.
The filmmaker’s love of movies is obvious in both homage to greaser stories like The Outsiders and subtle connections to classic American cinema, including a cameo appearance from actor Kevin McCarthy, the star of the 1956 sci-fi horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers when the characters are watching the film theatrically.
Dude battles a group of local toughs, a police captain out for his head, and his own fear of applying his incredible talents because he fears failing. Taking the path of least resistance, Dude’s eventual struggle for what he loves is a tragic reminder of the pains of growing up. Do you sell out for your dream or stay true (and poor?) Do you deny who you are or embrace your destiny?
A solid, uneven film that has a harsh turn in its third act, Roadracers is a sign of what is to come for the careers of all involved.
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