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Fast Company (1979)

by on 2012/08/03

“Give me a few more runs, all right? Then you’ll be sucking my pipes.”

* * *

In junior high school, I feigned some interest in competitive stock car racing. I did it to ingratiate myself with the industrial arts teacher. While part of me found my own behaviour slightly hard to believe, another part had to admit . . . I wasn’t an actor enough to pretend I liked it. I actually did.

It seemed surprising at the time but, in retrospect, not so much. I’m a geek, and borderline technical, despite little passion for cars, yet a big fan of driving games on various consoles. Which explains my soft spot for this anomalous David Cronenberg gem.

Fast Company is an early, minor work of his, more Duel or Days of Thunder than Dead Zone. Co-writing and directing another person’s story, I wouldn’t have guessed it was made by our auteur at all. It’s an exploitative hunk of Seventies polenta, with equal parts cheese and corn. There’s drag racing, topless women, funny car racing, and topless women. Also some fighting, explosions, and more topless women.

William Smith (Conan the Barbarian) stars as Lonnie Johnson, a dragster who mentors a young Nicholas Campbell (The Englishman’s Boy) as “Billy the Kid” Brooker. They’re beset on two sides, by bitter rivals on the “Blacksmith” team, and their own unsavoury employer, Adamson (John Saxon of Black Christmas).

There is little science fiction here, and only marginally more horror. Instead we find what could — charitably — be called a character drama, complete with the trappings common to B-pictures of the era. If you’re a fan of The Cannonball Run, The Dukes of Hazzard, or Smokey and the Bandit, you’re probably going to have yourself a real good time.

There’s not a lot of subtlety, it’s a near-carnival atmosphere, with the broadest of strokes applied to characters and plot. The bad guys are led by a fellow named “Black”, a wise old advisor is called “Elder”, and “Billy the Kid” is, obviously, the kid.

I found greater depth in being reminded the races were not about winning, but exposing the public to marketing, in support of one product or another: FastCo Motor Treatment, Pacemaker Performance Parts, or even the actual placements like Budweiser and Valvoline. I recalled a similar thread in Clint Eastwood’s later film Flags of Our Fathers, here swapping auto widgets for war bonds.

And then I’d be shaken from such thoughts by bared breasts or a musical montage. Numerous and overt, the latter interludes flashed me back to The A-Team, with nearly-familiar-yet-anonymous songs evoking Willie Nelson or Bob Seger. Banjos, harmonicas, and lyrics of plainspoken posturing rule this roost.

Unfortunately, the audio levels in the version that I saw were seriously out of kilter, to the point of annoyance. Music was consistently too loud (by far), effects were somewhere in the middle, and spoken dialogue was so damn low I had to turn on the subtitles. Experiencing a driver’s life should not require me to ride the controls of my own at-home cockpit.

All in all, however, it is a singular guilty pleasure. Like watching the future award-winner James Cameron cut his teeth on a Roger Corman flick, Fast Company is your destination to see David Cronenberg revving up.

Or maybe just free-loving hitchers and machines that go vroom.

* * *

Rated R

93 minutes

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