Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
Exciting car chase action bolsters wildly confused, pretentious allegory. Exploitation of stunt driving aspects should give b.o. prospects a lift in action markets, particularly with youthful audiences. Rating: GP.
This wild sort of shaggy‑car story is fast‑moving and sparked by enough shock effects to excite action fans, especially the youthful segment so preoccupied with visual excitement today. Composed of a series of flashbacks experienced by Barry Newman, an ex‑cop and medal of honor‑winner‑turned speed freak, during a high‑speed across‑country auto chase, the 20th Century Fox release never achieves the dramatic and social impact it seems to strive for, but the action elements are often exciting, thanks to some terrific stunt driving. Director Richard Sarafian (ANDY, RUN WILD RUN FREE), manages to create a sensation of real speed through camera movement and lens trickery. VANISHING POINT should be most profitably sold as a straight action entry for the youth‑dominated drive‑in and ballyhoo markets.
Such frills as motivation and coherence go by the boards in favor of visual thrills and some **now**‑style ambiguity in Guillermo Cain’s mixed‑up allegorical screenplay. Apparently to win a bet, Newman tries to set a new speed record while delivering a souped‑up Dodge Challenger from Denver to Los Angeles, and is pursued by police of several states across the desert. Along the way he meets several odd characters and relives various parts of his life in flashback. A blind black disc jockey named Super Soul (Cleavon Little) feeds him periodic information via radio about roadblocks, etc., until the racist inhabitants of his grubby Western town beat him up. Two romantic interludes cry out to be deleted since they slow down the film’s pace without being convincing. One is a phony, flashy walking‑on‑the‑beach flashback with Newman’s late surfer girl friend Victoria Medlin, overlaid with soppy music, and the other a risible encounter with stoned hitchhiker Charlotte Rampling, who mouths philosophical inanities while Newman moons at her.
Dean Jagger is on hand as a desert prospector, Severn Darden as the leader of a band of desert snake worshippers, Anthony James and Arthur Malet as crazy homosexual robber‑hitchhikers. Gilda Texter is a surprisingly GP‑rated eyeful as a completely nude blonde motorcyclist Newman meets when he stops in the desert to re‑stock his supply of pep pills, which he gobbles like M&Ms. Viewers seeking significance, real or imagined, will find food for thought when Newman’s car vanishes in mid‑air at the beginning, then roaches the same point at the end, except this time he plows his car into a roadblock and blows himself up spectacularly. Rock music, none of it especially distinctive, drenches everything. John A. Alonzo’s excellent Deluxe color photography is a big plus factor. Sharp editing could improve VANISHING POINT considerably.
1971. 20th Century‑Fox (A Cupid Production). Deluxe Color. 107 minutes. Barry Newman, Charlotte Ramplinq, Dean Jagger. Produced by Norman Spencer. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian.