Hellman, as his later inactivity testifies, seems to have turned himself into box-office anathema by toying once too often with his beloved actes gratuites, so open-ended that they would delight even the most demanding existentialist. Here two young hot-rodders (Taylor, Wilson), making their way across America by picking up racing bets on the side, challenge (or are challenged by) the boastful middle-aged owner of a gleaming new Pontiac (Oates). As their mesmeric duel unfolds within a landscape that narrows down to a claustrophobic tunnel of highways, filling stations and roadside cafés, it soon becomes apparent that Hellman is less interested in allegory (class and generation conflicts as in Easy Rider) or in the race itself (which simply fizzles out), than in the mysterious process whereby a challenge is subtly metamorphosed into an obsession. Self-enclosed, self-absorbed, and self-destructive (as the last shot of the film catching in the projector and burning suggests), it's absolutely riveting.
Cast and crew
Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry
James Taylor Warren Oates Laurie Bird Dennis Wilson David Drake Rudolph Wurlitzer Harry Dean Stanton