Roadgames (1981)
By: Lauren Monaghan on January 24, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1, Anamoprphic English DD 2.0 100 minutes
The Movie
Director: Richard Franklin
Starring: Stacy Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis
Screenplay: Everett De Roche
Music: Brian May
Tagline: On the world's loneliest highway it's not a game - it's murder!
Country: Australia
Every now and then you come across a movie that really knocks your socks off. The kind of movie that sucks you right through the screen and into its fantasy world, having wooed you with its mesmeric plot, stylistic genius and perhaps a booby or two. Alas, Roadgames is not that movie.

No, Roadgames is the kind of film that instead makes you want to charge through the screen and throttle your way across the cinescape like Darth Vader on crack, if only to alleviate the excruciating boredom.

Now don't get me wrong - if watching Stacy Keach alternate between screeching away on a harmonica and babbling to a pet dingo is your kind of thing, then boy is this movie for you. For the rest of us, though, there's not that much on offer.

Keach plays the role of Pat Quid, an American truckie making some cash transporting meat across the Australian outback. In between his solitary chin wagging and harmonica-fellating, Quid manages to find himself caught up in a spot of bother – it seems there's a serial killer travelling the very same route, picking up young female hitchhikers and sending them off to meet their maker.

Taking it upon himself to help identify the madman, Quid ends up tracking the driver of a mysterious green van, whose penchant for burying things in the desert seems a bit off. Along the way, our yammering lead picks up young hitcher Pamela (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), who is also eager to help solve the case. The duo's curiosity, however, only ends up getting them in trouble, with Quid drawing the suspicions of the police, and Pamela ending up MIA.

This is a film that subtly tries to keep the viewer guessing. Is the killer really the van driver? Or is it Quid? Or even Pamela? Hey, maybe it's all just a figment of the exhausted trucker's imagination? But with the movie plodding along at an excruciatingly slow pace and doing very little to keep our attention, the burning question soon becomes: do we even care?

Even the climax of the film is as drawn out as possible – a back-street car chase through a sleepy town, where the vehicles are travelling at less than 10km/h, as the frequent and time-absorbing shots of the speedometer so conveniently point out.

But while director and producer Richard Franklin's attempts at stylish suspense a'la Hitchcock fall flat (Franklin describes Roadgames as "Rear Window in a moving vehicle"), the film does occasionally have its moments– particularly its flashes of comedy, which are sometimes enough to draw you back in, if only for a little while. The great and talented cast are also worth a mention, with Stacy Keach doing his darndest to bring life to the many, many scenes involving just himself, a dog and the inside of a rig, and Jamie Lee Curtis making the most of her small role.
The 16x9 enhanced, 2.35:1 transfer is not too bad, with most of the daytime scenes being bright and clear. The main issue is towards the end of the film, where the events take place at night and are not as clear to discern as they could be.
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, Roadgames is one of those annoying movies where to hear the dialogue at an acceptable level you need the volume turned right up, making the musical soundtrack blaringly loud.
Extra Features
The disc features a variety of extras, including a short featurette on the making of the movie in which Stacy Keach does his best to convince us of the film's merits – even going so far as to name it his favourite movie in which he has starred. There's also an audio commentary with Richard Franklin, whose passion for the film is moving, yet remains unable to make the movie any more bearable, for this reviewer at least.

Having an original story board gallery on a DVD release for once seems warranted (but not necessarily interesting), with Franklin having previously discussed the importance of his sketches in the featurette. Thrown in for good measure the disc also has a poster and stills gallery, a few trailers for other Umbrella releases and the trailer for Roadgames itself (which, by the by, is pretty much all the non-harmonica-ing, non-dog-talking, non-boring bits thrown together to make for one fine piece of false advertising).
The Verdict
Sadly, a hit and miss for the Aussies – made out to be a fast-paced and exciting tale of terror, Roadgames is more a drawn-out and bland snoozefest. While producer and director Richard Franklin rightly describes suspense as about "holding off on your punch line" and keeping people waiting, he forgets that they should be able to stay awake long enough to remember what it is they are waiting for.
Movie Score
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