Between body horrors Rabid and The Brood, director David Cronenberg made a pit stop in the world of minor-league drag racing. The film follows a crew travelling the northwest circuit. They’re sponsored by a motor-oil company repped by John Saxon. Conflict arises between the team’s drive to win and Saxon’s corrupt motives.
The film captures the camaraderie and bittersweet lack of roots endemic to nomadic life. Travel, setup, race, pack up, repeat. The races convey the speed and ever-present danger as a rush the crew is forever chasing. Save a scene involving two hitchhiking groupies, the film proves non-judgemental, neither indicting nor glamorizing. Cronenberg relies on his charismatic cast to win us over, which they do with ease.
William Smith surprised me as the crew lead. His jutting chin and delivery reminded me of Kirk Douglas, while his hulking presence and quiet manner echoed Charles Bronson. Though he lacks either man’s superstar charisma, he’s well-suited to this low-key effort.
Opposite Smith, John Saxon is all smarmy sleaze. He exists to propel a plot reminiscent of a B-Movie western. This may seem like a bad thing, but Cronenberg appears to possess a genuine affinity for the drag racing world and the disposable plot doesn’t distract from the immersive experience.
The Blue Underground Blu-ray looks terrific. The 16mm second-unit shots display the expected grain, but the 35mm shots look pristine with endless clear skies, mountain vistas, and grassy fields. Who knew Cronenberg had it in him?