Roadgames (Richard Franklin / Australia, 1981):

Yanks and dingos and psychos in the Outback, "pilgrims all," from Melbourne to Perth in the cab of a truck. Slabs of beef are precious cargo in the midst of a butchers’ strike, the driver (Stacy Keach) is an American ex-soldier of fortune who quotes Brontë and plays Mozart in his harmonica, his 18-wheeler is adorned with a cartoon porker wielding a cleaver ("Pleased to meat you!"). A pooch nibbling at a suspicious garbage bag kicks off the profusion of Hitchcockisms, the main joke is that the rear window is a dusty windshield, or maybe that it sometimes takes a murderer to break the monotony of a long drive. Is the bloke zipping down the freeway the ripper on the loose, or just one of the diversions rattling inside Keach’s brain after so many hours on the road? The hitchhiking heiress he picks up along the way (Jamie Lee Curtis) is game to find out: "I could go to Disneyland for a little adventure. What I’m looking for is a little excitement." A very resourceful Panavision engineer, Richard Franklin visualizes the trajectory of Everett De Roche’s clever screenplay as a humorous portrait of impotence and resolve, a Borgesian fable of people taking turns chasing each other while living the narratives they've conjured up, and a gorgeous study of pictorial Australian contrasts. The endless desert floor suddenly segues into a seaside cliff, the valley rests in nocturnal blue tones until a flash of lightning illuminates its contours and dangers. Pausing at a sweltering outpost, the camera turns 360° past arcades and jukeboxes to reveal a mural depicting bloody colonizers and aborigines; the rest breezes towards a gentle echo of serendipity (swiftly followed by a gory little stinger) with that Aussie brand of breakneck gagwork (runaway boats, anchors and ropes figure marvelously in virtuoso set-pieces) that makes Hollywood actioners look arthritic by comparison. With Marion Edward, Grant Page, Thaddeus Smith, and Steve Millichamp.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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