Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: David Arquette, Salma Hayek, John Hawkes
Genre: Drama, Action
The name Robert Rodriguez is synonymous with genre defining yet defying cinema. He is, after all, the man behind not only the ever excellent From Dusk Til Dawn but also the film that brought Frank Miller back into the world of
Hollywood, , an action we should all be thankful for. Roadracers is no exception to the rule of Rodriguez’s oeuvre. If Grease was remade and each musical number was replaced by a knife fight or pyrotechnic stunt then you would be halfway towards understanding the 1950’s in which RR’s tale inhabits. Dude Delaney (Arquette) is something of a rebel, he sticks out and does little to try and prevent it from occurring. His daily struggle is between the small minded thugs of the town (who are intent on starting conflict with him due to his relationship with Donna), the Sheriff (who thinks he’s a one way ticket to the big house) and his own personal demons. His sidekick Nixer (played by John Hawks) is obsessed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and does little to help bridge the gap felt by Dude. Sin City
The first thing you notice about a Rodriguez film is the camera work, as a director there are few as hands on as he is. Watch a film and count them number of times he appears on the credits. With this film being shot in 1994 there’s a degree of teeth cutting to Roadracers but it’s still apparent that he has a very unique style of shooting yet at the same time is able to tailor it to suit the period in which the film is shot. The conservative look of Roadracers is helpful as it adds a level of production value to the piece that is lacking in any period film that doesn’t have the financial clout to control the environment in which it’s being shot. There are odd occasions in which his flair simply can’t be controlled and the film erupts with style only to return to it’s sleeping state before building to another eruption. On some occasions they are jarring and separates the audience from the film for a moment but it’s difficult to completely hold these flourishes against the film as it gave rise to the excellent sequence in which a greased up Dude goes to the roller disco and produces a moment of physical fun merged with childish imagination that simply had to belong to the writer/director.
The script has a couple of minor issues with it, initially a balance issue between acts as for the first fifteen minutes you seem to wonder what the film’s going to be able as to goes from set piece to set piece but it’s not long before the characters and conflict is established and it leaves Rodriguez to doing what he does best, which is come up with ingenius and, on occasion, extremely comical ways of dealing with said conflict.
The performances in the film are great. Rodriguez has a way of getting every inch of talent out of his stars, Clooney (From Dusk Til Dawn) took years to deliver the quality of performance that RR managed to get out of him, Willis (Sin City) was the freshest version of the Willis ‘tired cop’ mode he has been in years and a genuine revelation and that’s no different than this outing with Arquette. This is not the David Arquette that
has sold to the audiences, it’s almost distracting looking back at this film and seeing the different range he can play It’s also probably one of his best performances. He has a level of complexity to his character that he never, not ever, has in the mainstream outings he has had in his career. John Hawks is, unsurprisingly, amazing. John Hawks is always amazing. He has a sincerity in his acting that always draws you to him, regardless of how dark, seedy, or odd the character is. As Nixer he plays the slightly hapless friend who’s head is turned by science fiction and the promise of the new Hollywood with rock ‘n’ roll meshed with a slightly disturbed teenage outcast and it’s perfect. Hayek (as Donna) is, sadly, the weakest line as her performance is uninvolved and leaves her, a lot of the time, as the princess who requires saving or eye candy. Hayek is a talented actor and her shortcomings in Roadracers could be down to inexperience but most likely it’s the underdeveloped nature of the females characters in the screenplay. Special mention should go out to O’Neal Compton who plays the machete wielding cook at the local diner, if there’s a better piece of casting in any film then we should all ‘colon capital O’ right now. America
The soundtrack to the film is exceptionally fun, several tracks penned by the one man entertainment industry Robert Rodriguez, and the use of these fifties inspired tracks over the opening credits made up of outtakes from the film is simply brilliant and adds to the feel of fun that accompanies the cinematic release of any RR film. There are some serious problems with Roadracers but it accomplishes more than it fails at and as the end credits roll you will have spent ninety five minutes being thoroughly entertained.