A treatise on metal-as-flesh, tucked into an envelope to be later opened and expanded into Crash, but also a sharp experiment in drive-in cinema, a blithe dip into the mainstream, a tribute to Hal Needham -- why not, David Cronenberg is behind the wheel. The drag-racing strip is the environment, where vehicles click, stutter, purr, and roar: the director's formalism hinges on speed, "You wanna win, you can't stand still." William Smith is the lumpy, big-jawed hero, the racing circuit superstar around whom Cronenberg arranges the good-humored drama; Nicholas Campbell supplies the greenhorn support, Cedric Smith provides rivalry, slimy manager John Saxon cares only about shilling advertisement. The basis is Hawks' Red Line 7000 abstracted limpidly via mechanic snapshots surpassing even Kenneth Anger's: the camera is placed in the dashboard looking out the window as the speedometer is superimposed on the corner of the screen, then straight at the driver as flames begin licking the inside of the car. Traveling shots down the highway are angled to give you the beauty of Canada, just like Peckinpah cataloged the American Southwest in Convoy, but the filmmaker respects the horny appeal of the B-movie -- Claudia Jennings gets a fine send-off, an upward tilt licks Judy Foster in her cowgirl outfit, and, when it looks like the bodily horrors have been suppressed long enough to bring out hitchhikers in hot pants, a ménage a trois is readily doused in motor lubricant. Elsewhere, Smokey and the Bandit is given a shoutout (Smith decides to reclaim his vehicle from an auto show and a low-angled shot precipitates the goofy comic interlude), though the climactic race is a tug-of-war between man and machine that could only be realized fully by the future maker of Videodrome. In other words, a beer-swilling, ass-chasing genre piece, a spartan hypothesis, a keen work. With Don Francks, Robert Haley, and George Buza.
--- Fernando F. Croce