Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!
In the world of Ozploitation films, Roadgames is unique in one particular way. This is a film that is very clearly Australian, but stars two Americans: Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis. It was also the most expensive Australian production for the time. There are some connections to a number of films here--Roadgames makes no bones about being influenced in many respects by Rear Window, but there’s just as much Duel here. It’s also a film that seems to have influenced others; The Hitcher comes to mind.
To be fair, Roadgames is essentially the opposite of Duel. In Duel, an innocent driver is harassed by an unknown truck driver. In Roadgames, a truck driver finds that he is sharing the road with a serial killer who is attempting to frame him for his crimes. In a significant respect, this is as much a precursor to The Hitcher than it is a role-reversed Duel. The biggest difference, and I’m going to say this as nicely as I can, is that most of the people in Roadgames are pretty dumb.
In a very real sense, Roadgames is a dumber, first draft version of The Hitcher, but set in Australia with American main characters. To be blunt, I’ve had a really difficult time writing up this review specifically because I haven’t really felt like I’ve had a great deal to say about it. This is a film that is generally well-received. It’s considered a classic by a lot of film fans, but for the life of me, I can’t get passed the essential stupidity of the characters.
It is beautifully shot. There’s a starkness to the long stretches of desert road and the feeling of complete isolation, and that works really well. As our trucker Pat Quid (Stacy Keach) finds himself more and more dragged into the danger of being taken for the serial killer who is traveling the same stretches of highway, there is a real sense of his separation from everything—and him being an American driver in Australia only adds to that.
Much of this also centers around Pamela Rushworth (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is running away from her posh lifestyle and her diplomat father in particular. She is picked up by Quid as a hitchhiker, and he promptly nicknames her “Hitch” because of this. The two discuss the rash of grisly murders occurring in the area, in some respects to make sure that neither of them are the actual killer. True to form, Quid and Hitch do their own investigative work, which eventually leads to Hitch being taken by the actual killer and Quid being forced to pursue to save her.
But, and this is really where I have trouble with Roadgames, it’s the getting there that ruins the movie for me. Quid and Hitch act in ways that work specifically to move the plot forward rather than in ways that people who are literally pursuing a violent killer would. At a rest stop, for instance, they find what they presume is the killer’s vehicle, and leads Hitch to investigate it on her own while Quid is in the bathroom with what he thinks might be the killer. And, naturally, this is how Hitch gets taken away—and despite being only a minute or two behind the killer’s van, Quid is miles away from catching up to her. We have to have that suspense, after all.
There are also some ridiculous assumptions made by the characters. We have established that Hitch has bailed on Quid and that there is a brutal serial killer in the area. When the man in the bathroom proves to be someone other than the killer, Quid just assumes that Hitch went off with the van driver, and when he eventually catches up to the van and hears people nearby having sex in the bushes, he assumes it’s her and the van driver despite the voice he is hearing being nothing close to hers.
There’s a story here that would work for a film of this nature. The problem is that, as written, too much happens because the writers had a particular story in mind and forced the characters to act in ways to get what was wanted rather than figuring out character-based motivations to get to the right conclusion. As much as I wanted to like this, I just don’t.
Why to watch Roadgames: Despite its connections, there’s a lot here that’s pretty unique.
Why not to watch: The last five minutes are the weakest five minutes.