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Cynical look at a 50's rebellious Rocker who has to confront his future, thugs with knives, and the crooked town sheriff.
For more about Roadracers and the Roadracers Blu-ray release, see Roadracers Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: David Arquette, John Hawkes, Salma Hayek, Jason Wiles, William Sadler, O'Neal Compton
Director: Robert Rodríguez (I)
» See full cast & crew
Roadracers Blu-ray Review
This early Robert Rodriguez film sees the director at his best.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 2, 2012
You got to know what to do with yourself.
Long gone are the days when "rebels" and "troublemakers" and "riffraff" lived on the edge, bucked the system, and listened to hip-swinging Rock music, drove fast, slicked down their hair, smoked cigarettes, and mouthed off to cops. But as Director Robert Rodriguez's (El Mariachi) Roadracers goes to show, mistrust and bad vibes and conflict and physical altercations and violence and murder never go out of style. A stylish, rhythmic, nicely acted, well-executed, and ultimately bloody tale of clashing personalities and teenage rebel drama taken to the extreme, Roadracers pulls its audience into a world that might be looked back upon with fondness but that was still home to some pretty shady characters and just as representative of the unpredictability and fleetingness of life. The picture meshes "cool" and "frightening" with incredible ease, playing it edgy and stylish but with a dark undercurrent as it cruises towards a bleak resolution that the audience hopes can somehow can be avoided but that seems the inevitable outcome the closer to the end the picture moves.
Dude Delaney (David Arquette) might be a bad boy, but he's really an OK kind of guy. He has big dreams of music fame and fortune -- dreams bigger than his small Texas hometown could ever offer -- and a good-looking girl in Donna (Salma Hayek) on his hip. He might be Joe Cool, greasing his hair and smoking cigarettes and driving around in a convertible, but he's certainly not the most universally-beloved figure in town. When he and his friend Nixer (John Hawkes) meet Teddy (Jason Wiles) and his crew on the streets, a war of words and automobile cylinders aren't all that spark. An errant cigarette butt lands in Teddy's girlfriend's hair, leaving her bald and forced to wear a wig. Teddy vows revenge, and his father, the town sheriff who goes by "Sarge" (William Sadler), also has it out for dude, though that history goes a little further back than the burning butt incident. As tensions flare and both sides loose their collective cools, it would seem that there's only one way out of town for Dude, and it's the hard way.
There might not be a director as ready for primetime right out of the gate as Robert Rodriguez. What the man does with a small budget and a big idea truly defies cinema logic. His first film, El Mariachi, was made for pennies, practically, yet it plays much bigger than its budget not only because Rodriguez knows how to stretch his nickels and dimes to their limits, but because his steady touch and eye for storytelling are both unsurpassed, even by those directors with larger films, bigger budgets, and broader appeal. Rodriguez's films exemplify the art and craft of cinema. Roadracers certainly shows a little roughness around its edges, but the movie's natural ebb and flow and real-life feel that's unhindered by the boundaries of the screen and the supposed limitations of the medium trump its budget by a large margin. Rodriguez immediately allows his audience to not only relate to these characters, but at worst to feel as if an important cog in the middle of the fray, at best to see beyond the physical performances he directs and shoots and inhabit the characters and feel their fears, angers, misgivings, doubts, and courage to take their conflict to an unspeakable end. It's not life-changing cinema or anything of the sort, but Roadracers easily rises above the average time killer not necessarily because it has an important story to tell or great characters to build, but because it has a once-in-a-generation director shaping it into something well beyond the expected.
Even from a broader, more casual perspective, Roadracers still works incredibly well. The movie enjoys a stylish veneer that lacks polish, but the end result is charm, not choppiness. The period setting proves absorbing and convincing, and the minimalist approach pays dividends as various joints -- the diner, the rollerblade rink -- become not just locations but homes to the drama and action and character development. Roadracers uses music to excellent effect. It's not just for mood or even rhythm, but it sets a tone for the movie in all regards, whether in love, war, fun, or attitude. The picture uses humor to good effect and makes it part of the story. A scene featuring Dude lathering his hair with an ungodly amount of gel proves funny in its own right, but it's what he does a little bit later in the film with all that excess slime that's when the joke really pays off. The acting might be a little off when it comes to the secondary characters, but the leads have the thing nailed down to a science. David Arquette shines as a bad boy rebel, even if he looks a few years older than the part suggests. Salma Hayek proves more than capable of shedding the eye candy outside to show some range in her part, as thematically limited and compact it may be, and William Sadler and Jason Wiles convincingly play a father-son tandem at odds with Dude. All told, this is a fairly complete film, a rare accomplishment for a picture made for television and on a relatively low budget at that. Today's filmmakers working under similar constraints could take a lesson or two from the Roadracers playbook rather than phone their movies in week after week.
Roadracers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Roadracers features a proficient but not high-end 1080p Blu-ray transfer. Echo Bridge's transfer delivers satisfactory detailing and crispness for a high definition transfer. Neither faces nor clothes appear strikingly authentic or film-accurate, but rarely does any element appear pasty and never does the transfer look flat or poorly defined, save for a handful of shots where the image appears sourced from low-resolution video, the shots coming when Dude picks up Donna from her home in chapter seven, followed by another such shot in a movie theater shortly thereafter. Several shots simply go soft, but not video-fuzzy and messy. Faces do contend with a few bouts of sloppy color transitions when shadows lay over them. Colors are somewhat bland, mostly, and a touch too vibrant in brighter scenes, noted when Teddy and friends accost a red sweater-wearing Donna. Blacks are generally stable, only rarely crushing out details. Skin tones are largely even and reflective of each scene's color scheme. Excess blocking and other unwanted elements are largely absent. This isn't a striking transfer by any means, but for a budget Blu-ray the end result is more than passable.
Roadracers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Roadracers speeds onto Blu-ray with an active, but not always exacting, DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The track plays big from the get-go; clarity is a little raw, but the opening music features an overdose of energy, good spacing, and hefty surround support. Crashes and sirens and squealing tires and other action sound effects also lack pristine clarity and realism, but the net effect is positive, with good separation, fine spacing, and decent clarity. Gunshots as heard near the end of the film won't be mistaken for the real deal, but they ring out effectively and with adequate power. Dialogue is often even, balanced, and clear, but it's usually muddled and hollow when forced to compete with surrounding music and effects. This track won't set sound systems ablaze with pure energy or leave listeners mistakenly transported back into the 1950s, but Echo Bridge's lossless soundtrack effectively conveys the picture's sonic elements.
Roadracers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Roadracers contains only two extras. Ten Minute Film School: The Making of A Degenerate Hot Rod Flick (480p, 10:01) features Robert Rodriguez discussing almost the entire filmmaking process, including the tight shooting schedule, writing the script, casting Salma Hayek so she could be later cast in Desperado, working raw ideas into the script, the speed of the shoot, and much more. This is a fascinating piece that shows Rodriguez's smarts, remarkable style, and ability to work on a small budget and within a short period of time. Also included is an audio commentary track with Director Robert Rodriguez. He discusses the differences between this and El Mariachi in terms of length of shoot and budget; shooting quickly; the technical details of numerous scenes; the work of the cast; the film's plot; stories from the set; various real-life people, places, and things that made it into the movie; inspirations for various elements; and more. This is a fast but balanced and highly informative track. Fans of the film and the director or those interested in low-budget cinema should give this one a listen.
Roadracers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Roadracers is Robert Rodriguez at the top of his game though barely out of the gate. The movie doesn't quite live up to the excellence of his first film, but then again they're two entirely different animals. Roadracers is a fun and intoxicating but sobering look into the past, a past where "trouble" might have meant something different but still leads down a rather dark path with no way back out. The movie is well acted, but it's Robert Rodriguez who elevates the picture far above its peers. No budget, no problem; Rodriguez uses raw skill that just can't be taught, raw knowledge and an eye for art that money just cannot buy to shape his movie into something far greater than the sum of its parts. It's not his best film, but it's a super example of style and know-how masking a whole lot of shortcomings. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of Roadracers features decent video and audio to go along with two extras. Recommended.
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