Friday, September 5, 2008

Motorama (Barry Shills, 1991)

One of the weirdest films I have ever seen, Motorama is an enigma wrapped in a package made out of golden cat...Uh, that thought isn't really going anywhere, let me try something else... I don't want sound like a piece of self-flagellating cheese, but when I say something is "the weirdest," it's gotta be weird. Boasting the hippest supporting cast ever assembled and the most aloof protagonist since Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, the film, written by After Hours scribe Joseph Minion, leaves you with a feeling of unease; the tone of the movie always seems a little off. I mean, it's almost as if it's set in alternate universe: the currency is rainbow-coloured, the states and provinces have names that don't appear on any map I'm aware of, and no one seems to be the slightest bit freaked out by the sight of a little boy purchasing gasoline for his red 1965 Mustang. However, once I got used to the bizarre spirit of the film, I was able to appreciate what it was getting at. Which is, that the road is an unforgiving place, and sometimes you've got to ditch your children at a roadside picnic area in order to break-even after an impromptu game of horseshoes goes awry. Motorama is essentially about Gus (Jordan Christopher Michael), a single-minded ten year old who decides to hit the open road and the adventures he gets into along the way. His main goal is to collect these special game cards that contain letters that spell out the word "M-O-T-O-R-A-M-A" (the name of a chain of gas stations) and win the substantial cash prize. It may sound straightforward: find the letters, spell the word, don't get killed by bikers. But procuring the 'R' is gonna be tough.

The film's surrealistic bent is exposed early on when Gus meets Phil (John Diehl, who played the killer in the original Angel), a gas station attendant who is minding a yellow kite tied to the antler of a plastic deer when the youngster pulls in. The kite has a picture of Phil shaking hands with a police officer (Robert Picardo), and apparently it's his way of showing an unseen entity that lives in the clouds that he's a decent human being.

After that, things just seem to get progressively stranger, as the diminutive road warrior plunges deeper into the offbeat landscape that is this nonspecific country.

It's not always the case, but having a child actor carry the bulk of a movie on his or her shoulders can be a risky endeavour. But in the case of Motorama, I think they bypassed disaster with Jordan Christopher Michael.

He imbues Gus with a sauciness that sets him apart from his more adorable brethren. For example, Jordan swears like a person who swears a lot, wears an eye-patch, arm wrestles Meat Loaf, and washes his face using rainwater that has collected in a discarded tractor tire. Things I can pretty much guarantee you would never see Jeremy Miller or Danny Pintauro doing in a million years.

The best part of the film (you know, the parts that didn't involve looking for letters or beautiful desert scenery) was the wide array of kooky people Gus comes across on his journey. It's a veritable who's who of unorthodox cool. Seriously, any film that sports VJ extraordinaire Martha Quinn as a shiftless bank teller and Jack Nance as a squirrel-hating motel clerk has got to have something going for it.

Add the fact that cult movie queen Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul) appears as an apathetic kidnapper (she is paired with Sandy Baron - Jack Klompus from Seinfeld), Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass player Flea shows up as an opportunistic busboy and the ubiquitous Dick Miller can be seen as an unpredictable father of two, and things get even cooler.


But wait, there's more!

The always delightful Susan Tyrrell (Forbidden Zone) serves Gus a cup of coffee, a pre-Poison Ivy Drew Barrymore waves at our hero while wearing a floral garland, a surprisingly leggy Robin Duke epitomizes your typical corporate shill, and Allyce "Moonlighting" Beasley plays a receptionist.

You see, this movie is steeped in coolness. Which, I must admit, is quite odd for something that was conceived during the extremely cool-free year of 1991.


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3 comments:

  1. I watched this movie last night, knowing nothing about it. I think it is terrific. A road movie, sure- bears a passing resemblance to 'Roadside prophets'- but you forget you are watching a road movie. I think the kid is amazing. And I love his line, "Calm down my ass! I want to see the head honcho!!" Good stuff. Great cameos...

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