Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, May 29, 2016

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Roadie (1980)

Have I ever mentioned my fondness for the musical work of Mr. Marvin Aday, better known as Meat Loaf? Both of my parents considered “Bat Out of Hell” one of the ultimate rock album and it was probably the earliest music in the genre I was ever exposed to. I still love it. Yes, the songs are overblown and ridiculous. Yet the pure power of Mr. Loaf’s voice and the operatic production creates an audio experience as vivid as any movie or concert. What does any of that have to do with “Roadie,” a singularly dumb eighties rock-comedy? Well, Mr. Aday has occasionally dabbled in acting. While “Rocky Horror” and “Fight Club” are classics of some sort or another, the same can’t be said for most of the rest of his movies. So if “Roadie” is so stupid, why do I own it?

Travis W. Redfish is a truck driver living deep in southern Texas. He lives with his eccentric inventor father and has picked up a similar knack for mechanics. While driving through the desert, he spots a tour bus stuck on the side of the road. Once Redfish gets a glance at the 16 year old girl on-board, he decides to stop and help. His intuitive understanding of machines has him easily fixing the bus, causing the road manager to ask him to tag along. Soon, Redfish is traveling from band to band, saving the day each time with his superior technical skills. This earns him the reputation as the world’s greatest roadie. Meanwhile, Travis and the girl, Lola, develop romantic feelings for each other, despite her insistence of traveling to New York and loosing her virginity to Alice Cooper.

“Roadie” was directed by Alan Rudolph, a director with some sort of cult following, whose best known films include “Breakfast of Champions” and “The Secret Lives of Dentists.” I’m not especially well-versed in Rudolph’s career but, if “Roadie’ is a typical example, I’m not tempted to dig any further. “Roadie” is less a movie and more of a collection of exasperatingly dumb, vaguely music related gags. Such as a long scene of Travis and Lola in a laundry mat, where they get into a misunderstanding with a pair of DEA agents involving cocaine disguised as detergent and vice versa. Or how about a painfully long sequence devoted to the members of Blondie, including a clearly confused Debbie Harry, taking Redfish to a country club/bar/restaurant? The movie seems to be reaching for extended nuttiness, such as car chase scene that keeps topping itself in terms of collateral damage. (If that reminds you of “The Blues Brothers,” the comparison is probably intentional, as two Aykroyd and Belushi look-a-likes stop in later for a cameo.) But “Roadie’ is so rambling, unfocused, and lacking in wit that the film never reaches any sort of comedic satisfaction.

As a starring vehicle for Meat Loaf, “Roadie” does not make much of a case for its leading man’s skills. Sometimes, the rotund rock star attempts to match the script’s shrill wackiness with his own exaggerated antics. There’s a lot of yelling and hooting. Other times, Meat seems exhausted or oddly dour, especially whenever the movie attempts to engineer a dramatic moment. The worst example of this is when Redfish receives a concussion, which the film calls “brain lock.” The character stares blankly, babbling nonsensical word vomit, while the sound design rings in his and our ears. And that central love story doesn’t help matters either. “Roadie” never seems to understand how kind of gross a love story between an adult man and a teenager girl is. Lola is honestly an irritating character, constantly rambling on about her obsession with Mr. Cooper, salad, or rock stardom. That Redfish would be immediately smitten with Lola is hard to believe, considering actress Kaki Hunter is hardly conventionally attractive.

There’s a real grotesque streak running through “Roadie” and it is not endearing. Travis’ family lives in squalor. His dad, played by a blank Art Carney, sits in a wheelchair, starring at a wall of TV. His own daughter’s wedding isn’t enough to pull his attention away from the televisions. At least, I think she’s his daughter. Carney lives with two characters, named B.B. and Alice Poo. The film interchangeably refers to them as Travis’ best friend and sibling. Both characters are equally unpleasant. Alice, played by a shrieking Rhonda Bates, is introduced with whipped cream all over her face, brandishing some sort of backpack vacuum cleaner. The implausibly named Gailard Sartain slurs, sweats, and swears his way through the role of B.B. The most stomach churning scene in “Roadie” is devoted to these three characters eating barbecued ribs and corn on the cob. The food sticks to their faces, as they talk and toss undigested debris through the air. It’s sickening and these sequences in “Roadie” are deeply unpleasant.

Of course, Art Carney wasn’t the real marquee name in “Roadie.” As a movie about the rock n’ roll business, the film somehow gathered together a list of well known musicians for bit parts and cameos. Roy Orbison and Hank Williams Jr. show up in an early scene, singing in a dive bar. Don Cornelius, of “Soul Train” fame, plays Mohammad Johnson, the increasingly antagonistic road manager. The aforementioned Blondie sings an odd cover of “Ring of Fire” while Ms. Harry trades almost charming dialogue with Meat. Yes, Alice Cooper eventually appears on-screen. Alice seems pretty spaced out, his delivery being oddly relaxed, stretched out and practically businessman like. Despite “Roadie” being made during Cooper’s short lived New Wave phase, the film still drags out Alice’s shock rock goth-horror get-up. Weirdly, despite starring so many musicians, “Roadie” features very little music. Cooper briefly sings a bit of “Only Women Bleed.” Orbison and Williams warble through a rendition of “Eyes of Texas.” Meat Loaf doesn’t sing at all! How can a movie about rock, starring many rock stars, contain so little rock n’ roll?

Why Do I Own This?: “Roadie” clearly isn’t a good movie. Why does it continue to linger on my DVD shelves? Naturally, this was a movie I fished out of the Best Buy bargain bin. I had never even heard of the film but the list of talent on the back compelled me to purchase it. Hey, it was only four dollars. After watching the film, I was baffled, mildly disgusted, and mostly irritated and bored. Considering my clear dislike of the film, it would’ve been easy to fling this one on the donation pile. Yet I can’t quite bring myself to do that. “Roadie” is terrible and remains terrible upon each re-watch. All the same, it’s the only movie to star Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, Blondie, and Art Carney! The cult film nerd in me can’t part with it, despite that obviously being the logical course of action. [4/10]

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