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RoadRacers: Director's Cut Blu-ray Review

RoadRacers (1994) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com RoadRacers
Movie & Blu-ray Details

Original Airdate: July 22, 1994 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Robert Rodriguez / Writers: Robert Rodriguez, Tommy Nix

Cast: David Arquette (Dude D----y), John Hawkes (Nixer), Salma Hayek (Donna), Jason Wiles (Teddy Leather), William Sadler (Sarge), O'Neal Compton (J.T.), Christian Klemash (Crony 1), Aaron Vaughn (Crony 2), Tammy Brady Conrad (Julie), Mark Lowenthal (Rookie), Karen Landry (Donna's Mom), Lance LeGault (Donna's Dad), Tommy Nix (Drummer), Gina Mari (Wanda), Boti Bliss (Julie's Friend), Johnny Reno (Rock N' Roller), Kevin McCarthy (Miles)

1.78:1 Widescreen / 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: April 6, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($9.99 SRP); Previously released on VHS by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (June 13, 2000)

Buy RoadRacers from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

Robert Rodriguez has one of the more interesting Hollywood breakthrough stories. At age 23, after finishing his first year at the University of Texas, Rodriguez wrote and directed a little film called El Mariachi. Legendarily shot in three weeks in the summer of 1991 for a remarkable $7,000 (half of which he raised by participating in clinical drug tests),
the 16mm Spanish language crime drama was intended for the Mexican home video market. But Columbia Pictures executives saw it, liked it, invested in postproduction work, and gave it a US theatrical release in February of 1993. Rodriguez followed up his debut, which was recently selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, with an English language sequel, Desperado. That 1995 film had a budget of $7 million and an accomplished cast led by Antonio Banderas.

In between those films, Rodriguez made a little TV movie for Showtime. RoadRacers launched Rebel Highway, the premium cable network's ten-week 1994 series of ten films taking their titles, sensibilities, and settings from 1950s B-movies. Rodriguez's RoadRacers is unrelated to the obscure 1959 movie of the same name, whose credits are void of a single person you might recognize. Per the design of Rebel Highway, RoadRacers was less tightly budgeted (around $1 million) but shot even more quickly (13 days) than Rodriguez's first film.

Dude (David Arquette) seems to have brought a shoe to a switchblade fight. In his introduction, Sarge (William Sadler) reveres the pigs in a blanket his mother makes for him every day on the job.

Playing against the goofball type for which he would become known, a 22-year-old David Arquette stars as Dude, a greaser in small-town Texas. Dude has a girlfriend in the adopted Mexican Donna (Salma Hayek) and has a friend in Nixer (John Hawkes, looking much younger than his 34 years). Dude likes to play the guitar, smoke cigarettes, and drive fast. That and a seemingly broken home appear to be all there is to this protagonist.

One night while driving around with Donna and Nixer, Dude is challenged to a drag race by hotshot Teddy Leather (Jason Wiles) and his entourage. Dude flicks his cigarette at the other car and winds up burning off most Teddy's girlfriend's (Tammy Brady Conrad) hair. This begins a feud between Dude and Teddy, who are each bad boys in their own way. Dude is hassled by policeman Sarge (William Sadler), whom he taunts. And Teddy is the Sarge's son, which affords him some protection as he schedules a rumble with Dude.

The same night as the scheduled skirmish, Dude is looking to try out with The Ramblers, a rock band he respects that could use a dedicated guitarist. Donna and Nixer are convinced that music can be Dude's ticket out of town. But the gel-slicked young man might prefer to settle his score with Teddy and his two unnamed cronies (Christian Klemash, Aaron Vaughn).

Peeved with Dude, antagonist Teddy Leather (Jason Wiles, right) and his unnamed cronies (Aaron Vaughn, Christian Klemash) turn to tormenting Donna. Nixer (a young John Hawkes) gets philosophical with a French fry on a toothpick.

The limitations of this production are evident. RoadRacers is underlit and occasionally out of focus. It is kind of oddly edited, with a few prominent continuity errors for all to see. And yet, Rodriguez displays some invention and talent within these confines.
The screenplay, which he wrote with his University of Texas classmate Tommy Nix, is full of standard 1950s youth movie elements: the sympathetic rebel without a cause, his girlfriend's concerned parents, a stifling small town atmosphere, antagonistic law enforcement, a go-to burger joint. I imagine such aspects were the groundwork for most, if not all, of the Rebel Highway movies.

But sprinkled among such generic devices are some catchy, clever, and memorable exchanges. Sarge is introduced by explaining the importance of the sacred pigs in a blanket his mother makes him every day and which keeps his shirt pocket unappetizingly well-stocked. Nixer may be something of a ne'er-do-well tagalong third wheel, but he has a moment of profundity when he conveys his existence with a French fry. Even the diner's chef (O'Neal Compton) seems to be speaking from genuine experience and regret as he dispatches a bit of advice to his young customers.

Such arresting moments, which also include an inspired roller rink gag, do their part to add interest to the thin, standard story and its familiar beats. Making just his second low-budget film and his first for Hollywood, Rodriguez already has a handle on style and he generates some intrigue with quick cuts, even if scenes aren't as always as taut and coherent as they should be. RoadRacers' violent and somewhat disappointing climax foreshadows Rodriguez's tastes that have found him regularly crossing paths with Quentin Tarantino on films like Sin City and Grindhouse.

For film fans, one of the neatest aspects of RoadRacers is Nixer's borderline obsession with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which he talks up to anyone who will listen. When he finally gets Dude to see it, they find themselves in the company of Invasion star Kevin McCarthy, a clever homage Rodriguez has brief fun with in the movie and returns to in a post-credits tag.

On Tuesday, RoadRacers becomes the last of the ten Rebel Highway movies released to DVD. It arrives from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment as part of their acquired half of the Miramax Films library. Then, two weeks later, it becomes the series' first movie released on Blu-ray Disc. It's rather unexpected and a nice byproduct of the inexplicably long wait for a DVD. I would guess that the number of pre-HD TV movies available on Blu-ray is very small. But then the cast, director, and content prevent RoadRacers from being easily identified as a telefilm.

In some of their earliest movie work, Salma Hayek and David Arquette star as boyfriend and girlfriend in Robert Rodriguez's "RoadRacers." In this post-credits scene, Miles (Kevin McCarthy) chats with Nixer (John Hawkes) after a showing of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Both the DVD and Blu-ray are called a Director's Cut, which despite an identical runtime, Buena Vista Home Entertainment's 2000 VHS release was not labeled. It's unclear when, how, and why Rodriguez might have re-edited this from its original broadcast version. The MPAA's R rating, listed here, was assigned back in 1997, so I suspect this is the same presentation as the VHS.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it aired in the old standard television aspect ratio of 1.33:1, in which every Rebel Highway movie to date has been presented on DVD, RoadRacers is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen on Blu-ray and does not seem questionably framed in those dimensions. Whatever shortcomings there are seem to be a fault of the fast, cheap shoot. The picture sometimes exhibits light grain and its blacks are often more like dark grays. Otherwise, though, the element is surprisingly clean and detailed. Earlier this year, I reviewed another movie from this series on an Echo Bridge DVD and it was highly unsightly. I suspect Rodriguez might have been more involved with this transfer, which based on information he relayed, may very well have occurred several years ago.

The Blu-ray lets you choose between 5.1 DTS-HD master audio and a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix. I naturally went with the default former, but I suspect the differences aren't extreme. The mediocre sound is very anchored in the front, passing only a tiny bit of activity to the rear channels. The sound recording technology leaves more to be desired than the camera and may have you lamenting Echo Bridge's usual lack of subtitles. However, no major audio issues seriously detract from your viewing experience.

Director Robert Rodriguez gets low to shoot a "RoadRacers" roller rink scene in the behind-the-scenes footage from "Ten Minute Film School: The Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick." Smoke billows and the police lights flash on the animated Roadracers Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN

Another reason to suspect that this disc was put together long before Disney's Miramax sale: bonus features are included, something rarely found on Echo Bridge releases.

First up is "Ten Minute Film School: The Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick" (SD), which lives up to its implied runtime and adds to a Robert Rodriguez DVD tradition.
The director talks over revealing 1.33:1 B-roll and windowboxed film clips, recalling the hurried production, casting Salma Hayek, his co-writer Tommy Nix, shooting in pieces, following whims, and cramming in as many setups as he could. It's a really valuable look behind the scenes, treatment any film would benefit from.

Next, from the Setup submenu, is a feature audio commentary by Rodriguez, which he seems to have recorded all the way back in 1997. That ensures he has vivid memories of production, which he describes candidly, thoroughly, and enthusiastically. There is nary a lull, as the director touches on the movie's title, its look, its intentions ("make the '50s as represented by Link Wray"), its music (which pissed off frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino after he used one of the same songs in Pulp Fiction), its techniques, the real-life experiences that inspired the screenplay, and licensing Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The passion in this commentary is unmistakable.

The menu subtly animates the police car backdrop behind Arquette and Hayek's Sin City-ish black, white, and red cover pose to a loop of "Race with the Devil." Bookmarks and resuming playback are not supported here, but at least there is little to delay the viewing experience.

A bloodied Dude (David Arquette) chuckles maniacally in the closing shot of "Roadracers."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Don't be thrown by its TV movie origins; RoadRacers can be considered within the careers of Robert Rodriguez and his stars and judged as any other shoestring-budgeted indie film. That's because the movie is moderately compelling and composed with some skill and tact. It stands as an interesting 1990s take on the 1950s rebel youth film.

Echo Bridge is known more for low prices than for strong picture quality and bonus features, so RoadRacers is a pleasant surprise in those regards. And current Amazon preorder discounts put this at a most reasonable price, even under the $10 DVD. Those who have been waiting and waiting for the DVD should be even more pleased by this Blu-ray.

Buy RoadRacers from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / VHS

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Related Reviews:
New: Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel Young Adult Like Crazy The Last Temptation of Christ The Muppets
Directed by Robert Rodriguez: Four Rooms Sin City | Rebel Highway Series: Runaway Daughters
Salma Hayek: Grown Ups Puss in Boots | John Hawkes: Winter's Bone Contagion | William Sadler: Jesse Stone: No Remorse
The '90s: Dead Man Dazed and Confused Bottle Rocket Glory Daze Beavis and Butt-Head: Mike Judge's Most Wanted

RoadRacers Songs List: Charlie Sexton - "Race with the Devil", Link Wray - "The Shadow Knows", Link Wray - "Genocide", Link Wray - "Ace of Spades", Link Wray and His Raymen - "Rumble", Hasil Adkins - "No More Hot Dogs", Johnny Reno - "My Mistake", Johnny Reno and Paul Boll - "Rehearsal Riff", Glen Glenn - "One Cup of Coffee", Ralph Nielsen and the Chancellors - "Scream", Charlie Feathers - "Stutterin' Cindy", Johnny Reno - "Don't Let Go", Johnny and the Brain Eaters - "Flying Saucer Baby", Johnny Reno - "Race with the Devil"

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Reviewed March 17, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1994 Showtime, Drive-In Classics, and 2012 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment and Miramax.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.