Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring David Arquette, Salma Hayek, and William Sadler
Rodriguez describes the film in the commentary as Happy Days for the first 75 minutes and Fonzie snapping with a shotgun in the last 10. Except, Fonzie’s not a self-destructive and pretentious ass, and Happy Days has likeable characters, so that doesn’t work at all.
Dude (played by David Arquette and not to be confused with THE Dude) is a small-town greaser in the 1950s, clashing with other switchblade-wielding greasers and constantly at odds with the hard-ass sheriff (William Sadler). Dude’s girl Donna (Salma Hayek) keeps trying to get Dude to do something with his life and pursue his music, but Dude just can’t stay tied down. He’s got to rebel against the system, against society, against the girlfriend trying to tame him.
The film is part of a series of 1950s period pieces for the Showtime network. It’s Robert Rodriguez’s first Hollywood production, fresh off El Mariachi, taking several of his quick, one-man-crew tricks with him. The film is well made, that’s for sure. The shots and editing is good. It consistently flows and actually remembers how much ammunition a gun can hold (not true for a lot of movies). The acting is good. It’s the actual story and the written characters where the film flounders.
Dude really is a rebel without a cause, in that I don’t really get any motivation out of him other than being a self-involved jerk. He has some daddy issues to give him a push to make something out of his life, but he doesn’t try that either. He’s rude and lewd when there’s no call, cares more for being his own man than for his friend or girlfriend. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers references (with cameo from Kevin McCarthy) try to play on Dude’s anti-conformist nature, but he’s trying too hard at it that it comes off as pretentious. David Arquette does a good job playing Dude, but he’s playing a character I don’t care about. Pretty sad for the focus of the film.
And the hair grease, I don’t know why, but it just looks disgusting. At least it pays off with the funniest part of the film at the skating rink.
There’s no catching ending or thrilling action. The movie is well made, but it’s just not captivating. Most of the characters are hard to connect to, and those who aren’t don’t get enough attention. The few high points it has where Dude outwits the others aren’t enough to save it.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with 1080p high definition. Really though, the Blu-Ray release doesn’t add anything noticeable. Rodriguez did re-color the film for home video, and the colors are vivid. The actual footage though doesn’t have that Blu-Ray pop of clarity, and some scenes are downright blurry thanks to poor zoom-ins.
The audio is all English, with 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, and it’s clear enough. The soundtrack is pretty fitting, with a lot of period early rock songs performed by Johnny Reno, who also played the head of the band in the film. There’s a weird clip from The Shadow radio shows added into the score, which doesn’t fit, but I can still appreciate it.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
If you look at this box and see Sin City, a more famous Robert Rodriguez film, you’d fall into the same trap I did. The cover puts stars Arquette and Hayek in black and white, except for Hayek’s red dress and lips. The back similarly mutes all the colors except red. Roadracers is not like Sin City, so don’t get your hopes up. (There’s also not a lot of roadracing either, but that’s a different story)
Bonuses are limited to audio commentary with Robert Rodriguez, and a 10-minute behind-the-scenes “film school” with Rodriguez. The commentary and the film school feature are really the only reason to own this at all. Not because they’re amazing, but because they showcase a prominent director who really is proficient at several aspects of movie making. The audience gets to see the process as he learned as well in making a Hollywood production on short time and cash and how to pull that through.
Overall (Not an Average)
One of the main reasons Robert Rodriguez says he did the film was simply to get Salma Hayek an English acting credit so the studio would let him cast her in Desperado. That level of directorial interest doesn’t speak highly. This film is a much better study piece on working with little time and cash, learning what tricks and tips to use. Beyond that, with its unlikeable characters that never seem to learn anything, it’s not worthwhile.
The Film 3/10
The Video 4/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 4/10