Showtime’s smart, fresh “Rebel Highway” series debuts in high gear with “Roadracers,”’50s teen pastiche helmed by Robert Rodriguez. Telepic is first in a series of 10 to be aired weekly, emulating low-budget programmers of ’50s and ’60s.
Dude Delaney (David Arquette) lives on the poor side of town, dates Chicana Donna (Salma Hayek) and aspires to be a guitarist in the mold of Link Wray. “Is he popular?” Donna asks. “No,” Dude replies. “That’s why he’s cool.”
Dude gets into trouble with gang leader Teddy (Jason Wiles) — over girls, natch — with matters soon turning ugly and violent. Into all of this steps Sarge (William Sadler), a tough local cop with his own nefarious agenda.
Rodriguez has a terrific visual sense and one of the fastest editing knives in the business, punctuating the intentionally generic original story with several striking set pieces, including a dazzler in a roller-skating rink. Script has more than its share of good lines, and soundtrack is rife with obscure old (and old-sounding) rock ‘n’ roll records.
Perfs, most of which involve glowering, are uniformly strong, with O’Neal Compton notable as a cafe owner, real-life musician Johnny Reno as a band leader , Lance LeGault and Helen Shaver as Donna’s parents and John Hawkes as an especially annoying friend of Dude’s. Casting, by Julie Alter, is right-on throughout.
Subplot involving the run of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at the local Bijou leads to funny payoff for those watching carefully, though Philip Kaufman has already done much the same thing in his remake.
Rodriguez hits you over the head with his version of the gag, offering an alternate version under the end titles. Main storyline involving racial tensions , leading to deadly climax,is handled more seriously.
Directors of upcoming “Rebel Highway” vidpix include William Friedkin, Joe Dante, Ralph Bakshi, John Milius, Mary Lambert and Jonathan Kaplan; co-exec producer Lou Arkoff is son of American Intl. Pictures co-founder Sam A. and former AIP head of production.