At times like this, Appellate Judge Tom Becker really misses Charles Kuralt.
Two beautiful girls, alone on their first vacation…
There is no force in the universe more powerful at turning crap into gold than nostalgia. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the way some people look at cheesy, older, "drive-in" movies. I say this with assurance, since I'm one of those people. In my fantasy universe, archivists are overseeing painstaking restorations on films like Blue Summer, and critics and historians are lining up to offer sage commentary and insights on the social, cultural, and political significance of these forgotten gems.
Of course, in the real world, I understand quite well why these "forgotten gems" are, for the most part, forgotten, but that doesn't mean they're not a good time. The fact that something was put together for no money and screened in the open air for a bunch of people reveling in the freedom of their learners permits doesn't automatically make it a classic. There are plenty of "drive-in" films that are little more than horribly wasteful excuses to burn through some celluloid, and looking at them now, you can only marvel that the filmmakers weren't sued for alcohol-related injuries or unintended pregnancies, since drinking and fornicating would have been the only honorable ways to have avoided the dreadfulness of what was being projected on the big, white, pockmarked screen.
Case in point: Girls on the Road.
In this misguided attempt to entertain the "old enough to drive, too young to get into an R-rated movie" masses, this PG-approved mess gives us a decidedly uninteresting pair of recent high school grads—blonde Debbie (Kathleen Cody, Snowball Express) and bespectacled Karen (Dianne Hull, The Onion Field)—who hit the road in mom and dad's car for a vacation at mom and dad's beach house. Even though the radio station breaks into its generic music program every 20 seconds to announce that a serial killer has left yet another body someplace or another near by, our empty-headed lovelies insist on picking up "cute" hitchhikers.
They finally hit the crackpot—er, jackpot—with Will (Michael Ontkean, Slap Shot), a deranged (what else?) Vietnam vet with a winning smile and a waxed chest. We know that Will's a loon: We've already seen him almost kill two guys in an otherwise benign bar fight, plus he keeps having wavy-screened flashbacks to his army days, especially his sessions with a military shrink. Our Dumb Doras figure this out eventually—he does pull a gun on them when they wake him unexpectedly—but they want to sleep with him anyway. The power of a waxed chest…
Will is headed for a commune conveniently located within spitting distance from where the girls are staying. The commune is run by an older, bearded guy named John (Ralph Waite, The Waltons) and includes the usual assortment of peace, love, and understanding hippie types, though one member—The Maker, they call him—seems a bit too Haight even for this Ashbury.
While the girls coo over the unhinged Will like he's a Jonas brother, the serial killings continue unabated—offscreen, but thanks for the updates, Radio Guy!—and the commune people become more annoying. Slowly, dense Debbie and klutzy Karen come to realize what the audience has been feeling since the opening credits: something's not right here, and they just want to go home.
Something is definitely not "right" with Girls on the Road, and you couldn't blame the average drive-in viewer for taking off with the speaker still clamped to the window to escape this dull, annoying thing. It's a film that takes the least interesting parts of a whole bunch of genres and mixes them together to make the least interesting drive-in movie I've ever seen. It's a road movie, only the characters get to where they're headed after 20 minutes. It's a beach movie, only no one puts on a bathing suit. It's a psycho killer movie, only no one gets psycho killed (onscreen, at any rate). It's a summer sex movie, only no one has sex. It's a youth high jinx movie, only these youths have no jinx to hi. It has hippies who aren't hip living in a free-love commune where they all keep their clothes on, and they're still subject to withering moralizing by the crazy-as-drying-paint soldier and the nubile yet priggish teens.
There's all kinds of stuff floating around, but nothing ever coalesces; instead, we get scenes where people talk about things like serial killings and sex with an unstable army vet, but no one actually does anything about it. It's less like a film than an early incarnation of Twitter. There's a yawn-inducing "big reveal"—I'm looking at you, Psycho Killer person!—and an ending that looks so tacked on, it seems the production just ran out of film. If all drive-in movies were like Girls on the Road, people in the '70s would have spent more time walking.
Since the disc is from Scorpion, the presentation is far better than film merits. There's a solid anamorphic image and acceptable mono sound. There are also some nice extras, including a funny interview with one of the writers—whose opinion of the film is no better than mine—and a tribute to the director, who died unexpectedly just a couple of years after making Girls on the Road. I wish Scorpion had given us more of the writer's interview; it seems the film's production history was pretty tumultuous, but the interview here seems to skip around some, so we don't get as clear a picture as we could. There's also an alternate title sequence—oddly, the title sequence shown during the film calls it Hot Summer Week; Girls on the Road is the alternate title, also the one that turns up in the pedestrian "original trailer."
The kind of film that gives "drive-in fare" a bad name, Girls on the Road is guilty of third-degree tedium. Don't drive or operate heavy machinery after watching this one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
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