While Robert Rodriguez is now a big name, big time Hollywood director responsible for tens of millions of dollars of studio money, as anyone who has ever read Rebel Without a Crew, his deliriously insightful account of the handmade making of El Mariachi can attest, there was a time when this whole filmmaking thing was all just larks. Case in point, Roadracers, a made-for-TV genre picture produced as part of a Showtime homage series to teen drive-in movies of the 1950's, now granted a blu-ray release by Miramax seemingly on the strength of its director's brand as a grindhouse auteur.
While Rodriguez is, and always was, an exceptional talent, this is no lost classic to be sure. A throwaway exercise in style over substance made by a director under little pressure, no weight of expectation, and even less constraint. Perhaps unsurprisingly there is barely enough going on in what is a mostly non-existent plot to sustain itself through what is, in all honesty, a threadbare 94 minutes.
Cobbled together before Jeffrey Lebowski was even a glint in the Coen Bros' eyes, Roadracers stars a pre-scream, pre-celebrity marriage David Arquette as Dude, a too-cool-for-school rebel who cruises around his dead-end town in an open top, feuding with a local badboy (Jason Wiles) and inviting the ire of local sheriff (William Sadler). A never-more beautiful Salma Hayek plays the Dude's squeeze, and a babyfaced John Hawkes his best friend, a somewhat spaced-out conspiracy theorist.
With a vaguely surrealist tone to it, and a washed out color palette drably painted over vaguely non-specific Americana iconography (diners, movie theaters, roller rinks), you could say that Rodriguez was trying to put a dark, Lynchian twist on the likes of American Graffiti. But honestly, that's probably looking for depth that isn't there. Far more likely is simply that Rodriguez was thrilled to bits to have a camera, a handful of willing actors, and a little money to play with as he tried things out he thought might look cool on the screen.
With very little of any substance actually going on, the standout sequence on offer is, unsurprisingly, a dizzyingly fluid chase on roller-skates around the local rink, offering early evidence for the case of a fine young director who would, and did, go on to bigger and better things.
Blu-ray special Features:
A feature length commentary track by director Robert Rodriguez and a ten minute featurette on the basic fundamentals of independent feature film production.