Having a car seems like a full time job in Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, an arty yet earthy road movie that sits neatly in the slipstream of Easy Rider and Vanishing Point. The subject is a cross-country road race, and the film was one of the inspirations for the Cannonball Run. But we’re not talking celebrity cameos and car crashes here, and although we see several illegal car races, this isn’t franchise material either, although Fast and Furious Presents: Two Lane Blacktop is a title that potentially intrigues.
Singer James Taylor and Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson are two men who race their souped-up jalopy in one small-town after another; they soon pick up a girl (Laurie Bird), and get into a rivalry with GTO (Warren Oates). How GTO got his dazzling yellow sports car is never fully explained; the truth is not in him, and yet an odd friendship develops from their rivalry.
All the characters featured here are ciphers; as in Walter Hill’s The Driver, they are named for their function; Girl, Driver, Mechanic. GTO functions much like Jack Nicholson’s character in Easy Rider, an emblem of a lifestyle that the protagonists still can’t help but reject, even if he’s still pretty counter-culture.
A downbeat line about the life-cycle of cicadas nails the film’s sociological ideas pretty succinctly, and the studied naturalism is something of a joy. Two Lane Blacktop has been tough to find and locate over the last fifty years, with music clearances offering the usual obstacles, but it’s really worth the effort. Wikipedia’s plot summary says, “The film ends abruptly’ but that’s something of a dry understatement; it ends as it begins, in an unconventional style that’s rarely been bettered. Two Lane Blacktop is a cult film that delivers the goods when you drop the hammer, whether you’re a pertrol-head or not.
And as a post-script, I’ve just noticed that Fast and Furious supremo Justin Lin is indeed remaking this with Pitbull, so there’s that to look forward to…