Judge Gordon Sullivan is a hard rider; he has saddle sores.
Still looking for America…
Every film bears the marks of its era. From the words chosen for dialogue to the actors cast on the screen to the camera technology that captures the performances, every film is at least partially determined by the historical moment in which it is brought to life. For many films, this is a one-way street; they're determined by their history but add little to it. Sometimes, however, the relationship is reciprocal, and a film can change history as much as it is changed by it.
Easy Rider is one of those films. Say whatever you want about its merits as a film, it was a massive success. More importantly, it helped highlight the impact of youth culture on the movie business and helped drive one of the final nails into the old Hollywood studio system. It gave its production company the cash to make several other films (like The Last Picture Show) that are now classics. That's a significant legacy, one that any filmmaker with an eye on the bottom line would like to tap into. The way to do that is to create something worthy of that legacy. Instead, Easy Rider: The Ride Back feels like a cheap attempt to cash in that offers none of the charms of the first film, and demands that audience sit through a dubiously crafted film for little return.
In the present day, the younger brother (Phil Pitzer, who also wrote the screenplay) of Captain America (played by Peter Fonda in the original Easy Rider) is visited by his sister. She tells him that their father, from whom he is estranged, is about to die. This sets Morgan up on a journey to "ride back" to in Captain America's original jacket (which he naturally salvaged) and his refurbished bike with pal Wes Coast (Jeff Fahey, Grindhouse).
Let me first say that I don't think Easy Rider is the greatest film of all time. It has some great moments—almost all of them featuring Jack Nicholson—but overall the film hasn't aged well. Still, I respect its legacy and importance, as well as bow down before the amazing soundtrack. I don't have a problem with the idea of a sequel in principle; I think there are a lot of stories to tell about that moment, and a lot of ways to look back on its legacy (like, say, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas did).
Easy Rider: The Ride Back, however, is not the way to do that. One of the reasons Easy Rider works is that it's a strange kind of survey of America of the era. Instead of recreating that journey on "the ride back," this flick offers up a series of stereotypes that make the brief glimpses of cardboard racists in the original seem like Shakespearean characters in contrast. Even worse, the film tries to give us a backstory to Captain America. That character is largely an icon precisely because we don't know much about him or his family. Spending the majority of the film throwing light on his shadowy past does everyone a disservice.
The film would be an easier pill to swallow if it wasn't incompetent at pretty much every level. The acting is generally pretty terrible, but that's forgivable since the dialogue is a thousand times worse. Add to that the fact that it sounds like it was recorded by a Fisher-Price My First Microphone, and you've got a recipe for a story that's hard to understand even if you care about it.
At least the DVD isn't terrible. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks fine. The film appears to have been shot digitally, and this is a generally clean and bright image. Things look a bit cheap now and then, but that's a source problem, not a transfer difficulty. The film is watchable, at least visually, though it's none too impressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is similarly fine, but dialogue sounds like it was recorded poorly, so no amount of mixing is going to make up for the fact that half the lines are unintelligible. We get a bit of roar from the hogs now and again, and a bit of directionality, but this is serviceable rather than standout kind of work.
Extras start with a redundant commentary from Pitzer and Sheree Wilson (who plays Captain America's sister). They spend most of the time explaining what's happening on screen, which is a shame because I'm sure there are some great stories about how this thing came to be. There are 25 minutes of deleted scenes if you want to see even more of the film (trust me, you don't), along with another 15 minutes or so of EPK-style interview footage and a featurette on the Salton Sea. Finally, there's 20 minutes of Pitzer and Co hawking the film at various locations.
The best decision anyone made concerning Easy Rider: The Ride Back was casting Jeff Fahey. He's not the world's greatest actor, but this is a role he can do half-asleep. He elevates the material he's given more than it deserves, so I can see Fahey diehards giving this flick a spin.
Easy Rider: The Ride Back is a waste of time and energy for both the filmmakers and prospective viewers. It spends half the time answering questions nobody asked and the other half providing a stereotypical "portrait" of America. Should be avoided by all but the most masochistic of viewers.
Guilty of not finding anything worthwhile.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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