Two-Lane Blacktop

Film
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
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Photograph: Courtesy The Criterion Collection

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Any movie in which the leads are credited as the Driver (James Taylor), the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and the Girl (Laurie Bird) is obviously going to be about as minimalist as they come. Equipped with a script so full of car jargon that the dialogue often sounds like midperiod Springsteen lyrics, Monte Hellman’s existential 1971 drive-in special is rightly hailed as one of the best American road movies. Two-Lane Blacktop subverts expectations even more today than it did 36 years ago by featuring superwuss Taylor as a virile and calculating street racer whose rival is an ascot-wearing dandy played by The Wild Bunch’s Warren Oates. Taylor and Wilson (the Beach Boys drummer who drowned in 1983) emit a rough, confident charisma that makes it a wonder neither landed more screen roles; at the very least, both would have their pick of modeling offers were they starting their careers today. The film has been available on DVD before (in editions that quickly became out-of-print collector’s items), but Criterion’s eagerly awaited two-disc package—including screen-test outtakes, loads of publicity materials, and a commentary by cowriter Rudolph Wurlitzer and critic David Meyer, as well as a paperback of the script by Wurlitzer and Will Corry—leaves the previous versions eating dust.

—Andrew Johnston

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