During my travels around Europe, I always got a kick out of straight-to-video American movies (typically starring Van Damme or Seagal) that sometimes played in European theaters. If only they knew that these movies went straight to video in the States. So the joke is on me when I learned that many famous European movies were originally TV series/movies! I had no idea that Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage, Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, and Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy movies originally aired on TV. Last night, I got tricked again – I thought Robert Rodriguez’ Roadracers was an obscure indie film that played in some theaters in 1994. Quite the opposite, Roadracers is actually just the pilot episode for Showtime’s Rebel Highway series that focused on the 1950s, rebellious youth, fast cars, rock & roll, and greasy hair.
In the 1950s, a rebellious teenager named Dude (David Arquette) speeds around town in his flashy car all day and fantasizes about becoming a famous guitarist. Along with his girlfriend Donna (Salma Hayek) and funny best friend Nixer (John Hawkes), they spend most of their time running away from the local sheriff Sarge (William Sadler), as well as Sarge’s bully son Teddy (Jason Wiles) all because of Dude accidentally setting Teddy’s girlfriend’s hair on fire with a cigarette. Roadracers doesn’t have a focused story, but if you watch this movie thinking that it’s like a darker and more violent 1950s version of Linklater’s Dazed & Confused, you may be entertained.
Roadracers was one of the ten mini-movies made for Showtime in 1994 as part of their Rebel Highway series about rebellious teens of the 1950s. With a budget of one million bucks, Rodriguez actually worked wonders with the short amount of time he had to make this film. Even for a big-budget episode, I don’t know how Rodriguez accomplished this. He had ten days to write the script, 13 days to film the movie, and 15 days to edit the film. Rodriguez made a complete film in less time it took him to make El Mariachi!
While the film production and direction is more impressive than the movie itself, Roadracers was just another portfolio film for Rodriguez and Salma Hayek to see if they can make it in Hollywood. Rodriguez is a wizard with the camera. Give him a limited budget and short time frame to make a movie and he’ll still make an entertaining film with creative camerawork and inspiring performances from his actors, even with a weak screenplay. In her first English-speaking Hollywood film, Salma Hayek does stand out as she usually does. Her likability and beauty were as clear in Roadracers as in any of her other later films. The best acting in the film mainly comes from William Sadler whose character is supposed to represent strict authority, but he actually comes across as the most relatable character. The main protagonist, Dude, is not likable at all and his actions throughout the movie come across as just being demented rather than being the actions of a typical rebellious teen. A young John Hawkes also stands out in the film playing the philosophical-stoner-type friend. How unfortunate that John Hawkes only really got noticed in Hollywood in his late 40s. One would think that Hawkes could have had a career like Johnny Depp after watching him in Roadracers – he was mature, talented, and had a bizarre presence that should have given him more chances to headline Hollywood films in his youth.
Echo Bridge has had a questionable track record with their Blu-rays, but they pulled off an impressive video with Roadracers. Originally shown on TV in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, we are fortunately given a 1080p 1.78:1 presentation which seems to be the way it was originally filmed – the video certainly doesn’t seem chopped or tightened in the widescreen format. For a 1990s TV movie, I was expecting a video full of softness, but actually most scenes are crisp, colorful, and exhibit a beautiful level of detail. Black levels are not questionable and look nice. The many nighttime sequences surprisingly show some nice depth. A few nighttime quick-cut shots have massive amounts of grain, but these just briefly pop up. All the classy cars that appear in this movie are shiny and pop out with clarity. This is a very impressive video presentation, especially with Salma Hayek looking great in HD.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 is an absolutely solid audio mix. Each channel is brought to life with the movie’s constant usage of cars, music, roller skating scenes, and guns. Once again, knowing Echo Bridge’s past track record, I was surprised by the active audio. The mix won’t blow the roof off your house but is still totally satisfying for a TV movie. Dialogue is intelligible even during the rock & roll music that often plays throughout the film. Also, The track is clean – free of any hissy noise.
An English Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix is also included. No subtitles are on this Blu-ray.
Even with a slim amount of extras, the director’s commentary and 10-minute documentary are really all you need for this film. Robert Rodriguez is not a greedy nor a secretive director – he is open about the filmmaking process and shares all of his tricks in home video extras. After watching and listening to him on this Blu-ray, I have no choice but to give more respect to a film that is already fair and forgettable!
– Director’s Commentary
– Ten Minute Film School: The Making of A Degenerate Hot Rod Flick (10 minutes)
Roadracers is hard to classify. As a theatrical movie, it’s forgettable, but as a TV episode (which it was), Roadracers is pretty slick. Overall, Roadracers is entertaining and has some inspiring filmmaking by Robert Rodriguez. The man is talented – with a bigger budget and more time to make a movie, Rodriguez can actually make something even more impressive. As much as he likes to pride himself in making quickly-produced movies, he really shines when he spends more time on one, such as his masterpiece Sin City. After watching his first two movies, El Mariachi and Roadracers, his third film Desperado seems even more remarkable since he got more money and more time to film. There are so many up-and-coming directors which make amazing movies with little money and then when given the chance to make a big-budget movie, they come up short. Robert Rodriguez is one of the few directors that can work wonders with any budget and time frame. Roadracers is a perfect example of the miracles that he can pull.
The Echo Bridge Blu-ray has excellent video and audio quality and is worth a watch for Rodriguez fans or for filmmakers interested in how to make a film with a low budget and tight filming schedule. Definitely worth a look!