Judge Michael Nazarewycz is patching up the tour bus.
The story of a boy and his equipment.
The early 1980s, with its advent of cable, was a very important time in my youth. In addition to the obvious formative events (witnessing the birth of MTV, for example), the era afforded me the opportunity to see films I would never have had the chance to see theatrically, given (a) my age and (b) the limited cinematic options in suburbia. A film like 1980's Roadie would have been an unlikely theatrical possibility for me, and I know I eventually saw it on cable (probably Cinemax) but I had very little recollection of it. With its formidable list of musical guest stars, I was looking forward to a great ride down memory lane.
Facts of the Case
Travis W. Redfish (Meat Loaf, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is a simple beer delivery truck driver in Texas. One day on his route, he sees Lola Bouilliabase (Kaki Hunter, Porky's) stuck in a disabled camper and pulls over to help, with the hopes of scoring with the young woman. The camper turns out to be part of Hank Williams, Jr.'s entourage, and the singer's next show lives and dies with that camper getting fixed.
Travis happens to be a whiz at fixing things, and before you know it, he not only has the camper running, he's left his beer truck and has taken over as camper driver (motivated by his Lola lust). After a series of misunderstandings and some quick handiwork have him identified as Williams' roadie, Travis finds himself promoted to roadie for the Rock 'N Roll Circus, a traveling rock show featuring Blondie.
All Travis wants is to be with Lola, but all Lola wants is to be Alice Cooper's biggest groupie—so much so that she is saving her virginity for him.
Roadie is one of those 1980s comedies that could have fallen into one of three categories: road comedy (like The Sure Thing); musical comedy (like The Blues Brothers); or sex comedy (there's an endless list of those, but let's go with Private School). It fails—miserably—at all three.
The problem with the film as a road comedy is that the road leads to nowhere. Unlike The Sure Thing, which has a lead who as an actual goal, thus making the conflict of impediment more ripe for humor, Travis is rudderless. He's Gump-like in his travels, letting circumstances (and sometimes unconsciousness) lead him around the country. Because he has no destination, we don't care if his progress is impeded, and unlike Gump, he is completely devoid of charm.
The problem with the film as a musical comedy is that the musicians are wasted. This was the most disappointing thing to me about the film. In June of 1980, Hank Williams, Jr. was on album three of what would become a 17-consectutive-release run of gold or platinum albums. He performs in one bar scene that is interrupted by the movie's dialogue and action. Legend Roy Orbison is nothing more than stunt-casting, appearing briefly in that same bar scene and belting out only a line or two with Williams. Alice Cooper, who was in a lull in his career, suffers the same people-talking-during-the-singing problem that Williams faces. The worst, though, is the misuse of Blondie. They cover, quite well, Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." But so many other things are happening at the same time, their great performance—which sounds like it was recorded live while filming, not dubbed—is ruined. Remember the performers who appear in The Blues Brothers? Remember how great their performances were? Of course you do, because the filmmakers understood what they had and showcased it. Here, it's a bait-and-switch offer to viewer.
As sex comedies go, there's no sex. There is only one underwear shot of Lola and one other scene of Travis' sister Alice Poo (Rhonda Bates, Fast Break) and his best friend B.B. (Gailard Sartain, Fried Green Tomatoes) groping in a hammock. One might argue that maybe it was never the film's intent to be a sex comedy. I would argue that Travis follows his path because of his Lola lust, and when her butt shot comes early in the film, it's natural to expect more. There is also a point in the film when Lola reveals her age to be 16. Travis is stunned, to which Lola replies, and quite loudly, "That's right honey. Jailbait!" This doesn't deter Travis, though.
I've addressed the road and music and sex, but I haven't addressed the comedy. There isn't any. Every joke falls flat because every joke is built on the foundation that anything said with a southern accent is going to be funny, and if it's said loudly, it will be funnier. No and no. From coast to coast, this is a painful trip, not a painfully funny one.
There is no redemption in the periphery, either. For a film with so many big names, only the Theatrical Trailer and a Commentary are offered. The former is standard fare. The latter is offered by film co-writers Michael Ventura (Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo) and Big Boy Medlin. They got their start at the LA Weekly (Ventura was a co-founder, Medlin a writer) and decided since they wrote so much ABOUT movies, they thought they could write ACTUAL movies. Ventura says, quoting his younger self when asked about being able to write a screenplay, "Man, we're writers. We've been watching this stuff all our lives. If we can't write a movie, we should pack it in."
In the 33 years since Roadie was released, Medlin has written no other feature screenplays; Ventura has written one.
The sharp DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is excellent, but wasted because the talk-too-much plague mentioned above holds true for the rest of the pre-recorded soundtrack as wee, which features rising '80s stars like Pat Benatar and Cheap Trick. On the video side, the 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen images are hit-or-miss. The opening five minutes of the film look like a VHS tape. The image quality greatly improves, particularly with dark interior scenes, but the pattern throughout the film seems to be that the brighter the image, the poorer the image quality.
Lola has a clever quote in the film: "The musicians make it rock but the roadies make it roll." I would have been happy if this film had done one or the other.
Don't turn it to eleven. Pull the plug instead. Guilty.
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