Almighty B-movie he-man William Smith calls his own shots, fights to keep his integrity and stubbornly refuses to knuckle under to the Man’s rigid stay on the narrow path and just do what you’re told nonsense as fiercely autonomous and uncompromising champion professional race car driver Lonny “Lucky Man” Johnson, a rugged individualist in excelsis who butts heads with venal crudbag big company greedy jerk Phil (John Saxon in peak snaky, slimy, lizard charisma oozing from every scuzzy pore form) and attempts to rekindle the flame with supportive, but long-suffering erstwhile old lady Sammy (a lively, luminous performance by late, great, simply gorgeous 70’s drive-in movie goddess Claudia Jennings in her final film role).
David Cronenberg’s typically precise, meticulous direction, ably abetted by Mark Irwin’s sparkling, slicker-than-fresh-motor-oil cinematography, Fred Mollin’s vivacious banjo-plucking and harmonica-wailing country and western score, rough-thrashing rock tunes by Michael Stanley, superlative acting, a firm, moving camaraderie between Smith and his pit crew, such always pleasing exploitation picture ingredients as a little nudity and soft-core sex, wild fisticuffs, gritty, ragged-around-the-edges iconoclastic characters, hard-hitting profane dialogue, and the expectedly thrilling pedal-pushed-to-the-near-breaking-point-medal neck-snappingly fast and dangerous racetrack action (said racetrack action smokes more than the faulty exhaust fumes on a freaky souped-up funny car), offers a tantalizingly vivid and absorbing evocation of the racetrack milieu and its funky subculture (fawning groupies, harshly competitive male rivalry, on the take race officials, grimy, incredibly loyal and courageous pit crews, faceless fascistic corporate sponsor scum) that’s so exact and credible that it will overpower the viewer’s nostrils with the fetid stench of hot sweat, filthy petrol, stale beer and greasy engines.
Better still, the gutsy, heartfelt script Cronenberg co-wrote with Phil Savoth and Courtney Smith tackles head-on the eternally winning and right-on theme of a “be your own self and to hell with anyone who tries to cramp my style”-type loner nonconformist daring to stand up to and willingly defy the staid, restrictive, it-don’t-do-no-one-any-good sectarian code of conduct that anal retentive conformist bilge naturally epitomizes. A rowdy, rollicking and boisterously romping break-from-the-mold grindhouse feature departure for Cronenberg, this extremely entertaining and damn satisfying, but alas unjustly obscure and underrated motorhead outing deserves to be both better known and more widely seen. Fortunately, the outstanding Blue Underground DVD gives this honey the deluxe treatment: It’s a beautiful widescreen presentation along with a fine and informative Cronenberg commentary, delightful interviews with William Smith, John Saxon, and Mark Irwin, the theatrical trailer, and a pretty extensive still and poster gallery.