It opens on a mountaintop in Malibu, where the five meet. They have no idea of what lies ahead -- the treasure-hunt component puts viewer and "cast members" on equal footing.

It opens on a mountaintop in Malibu, where the five meet. They have no idea of what lies ahead — the treasure-hunt component puts viewer and “cast members” on equal footing.

A cassette tape dropped from a helicopter instructs them to surrender credit cards and cash and directs them to their vehicle, which is full of camping, hikingand traveling gear. They’re armed with $ 1,000, told their first destination, and the trip is under way.

Sometimes on tape and othertimes in a coded message on the road, the travelers are given clues to their next port of call and the feat they must accomplish in order to proceed. Most tests are athletic in nature, such as land sailing, dog-sledding and sky-diving.

The second clue gives them two days to find the youngest mayor in the U.S. and do what it takes to win the key to the city. In Nogales, N.M., the group competes in a pentathlon and one of the travelers gets into a margarita-driven interlude with the unsuspecting mayor.

The three gals and two guys are fun but not out of control, responsible but not compulsive, athletic but not intimidating, good-looking but not model-like. Casting director Felicia Fasano balances personalities, ethnicity and experience with a sure hand.

Shelly is a Kiowa Indian from Oklahoma City who just graduated from high school; Allison is a pre-med student from Long Island, N.Y.; and Los is a film student at Howard U. The group might have a tendency toward philosophical all-nighters were it not for Kit, a live wire from Atlanta who keeps conversations light, and Mark, a blond, all-American frat boy from U. of Florida , who makes it known that he can bench-press 315 pounds.

The sexual sparks fly from the get-go between Shelly and Los, adding to the high level of traveling tensions.

Director Adam Cohen, producer-director Clay Newbill and story editor Jim Johnston do well to set up the day’s events for the group and then stand back — cameras always at the ready — to let the action unfold.

Jack Reifert’s slick slicing and dicing of several kinds of tape emulates a musicvideo, quick and pleasing to the eye. The net’s current staple tunes are heard throughout, lest the viewer forget that this is MTV.

“Road Rules” is slick, fun and sure to please. Its hip cast, clever handling and the subtle air of nostalgia it evokes prove MTV’s connection with its viewership and its ability to learn from past successes.

Road Rules

(Wed. (19), 10:30-11 p.m., MTV)

Production

Filmed on location by MTV Networks. Exec producers, Mary-Ellis Bunim, John Murray; producer, Clay Newbill; directors, Adam Cohen, Newbill; supervising story editor, Jim Johnston; camera, Craig Spirko; editor, Jack Reifert; production managers, John Gumina, Rick de Oliveira; casting, Felicia Fasano; sound, Alicia Alexander; music supervisor, Kristina Long; theme music, Michael Skloff, Ian Christian Nickus. The clever gimmick that has propelled MTV's "The Real World" into a fourth season is fine-tuned and packed into a Winnebago for "Road Rules." Bound to attract "Real World" addicts, it also will pull in sports fans, homebound summer-bumming teens and anyone who wishes they could road-trip across the U.S. There is much to like here. Astutely mixing a treasure hunt, ESPN's "Extreme Games" and a battle of the sexes, the series spins on the premise of five twentysomething strangers traveling together for three weeks.
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