Often flat-out hilarious, "Radio Free Steve" hoists the one-fingered salute to various artifacts of yee-haw culture. Posing as remains of a "lost" 1984 indie film, pic sputters occasionally but on the whole maintains a high-octane faux-dumbness that's pretty dang smart. It's natural midnight fare for under-30s with extensive pop-trash knowledge.

Often flat-out hilarious, “Radio Free Steve” hoists the one-fingered salute (its hero’s fave communique) to various artifacts of late ’70s/early ’80s yee-haw culture, most notably that road-tripping intersection betwixt “Smokey & the Bandit” demo derbies and “Road Warrior”-type sci-fi actioners. Posing as remains of a “lost” 1984 indie film, pic sputters occasionally but on the whole maintains a high-octane faux-dumbness that’s pretty dang smart. It’s natural midnight fare for under-30s with extensive pop-trash knowledge.

Flippin’ the bird nationwide is titular hero Steve (Ryan Junell), the kind of “outlaw” defined by mullet ‘do, voracious beer consumption and a flair for adolescent macho one-upmanship that seldom gets past the “No, fuck you!” stage. Having shanghaied perpetually annoyed, “Flashdance”-style girlfriend Sheena (Jessy Schwartz) for company — or at least nookie — this “Stevel Knievel” roams the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” in his customized van, broadcasting rants in flagrant disregard of the FCC’s media dictatorship. (The only legal broadcast is that Emergency Broadcasting System whine.) Steve further passes the time turning zombie “mutants” into roadkill, as well as eluding “FCC Bounty Hunter” supreme Dirk (Chris Sykes), his Camaro-driving sworn nemesis.

Episodic progress sets Steve on a quest to discover the source of a mysterious video transmission that suggests an intact, futuristic society — one that looks a whole lot like bad MTV programming from the late ’80s onward. En route from Texas to L.A., he picks up a New Age guru type, is menaced by roller-hockey-equipped “punks,” visits a “hippie commune” and undergoes a “Star Wars”-parodic Chosen Warrior crash course in breakdancing (in a scene shot at last year’s Burning Man fest). Characters met on the road, most briefly, constitute a series of inspired sketch-comedy turns, with nonstop arguments between Junell’s redneck superhero and Schwartz’s equally unbridled g.f. as the main motif.

Framing device posits Steve as a pudgy video-dupe technician 15 years later, his “lost” starring-directing magnum opus (abandoned because he fought on-set with Dirk) excavated and restored by visiting Euroart director Lars Von Biers (Erik Engstrom). This conceit is amusing enough, albeit not half so much as the oft-hysterical “film within the film,” which itself loses some momentum once it gets off-road in the final reels. But pic’s chaotic nature is intentional, and it manages to sustain what looks like a blind-leap goof far longer than one would expect.

The satire here may not run deep, but it is layered; different auds will get different mileage from jokes at the expense of ’70s CB faddism, cheesy ’80s TV shows (“Knight Rider,” “A-Team,” etc.), myriad bigscreen exploitation pics (including an animated salute to “Tron”) and writer-helmer Jules Beesley’s Texan roots. In its pop-smirky pastiche, “Radio Free Steve” is the funniest thing to come out of Texas youth culture since “Slacker.”

Production package is carefully tuned to suggest state-of-the-(amateur)-art videocamming, circa 1983, with crude f/x, distorted colors and “bad” editing duly in place. Terrific soundtrack features an original score by retro-schlock outfit the Friends of Dean Martinez, as well as gleefully period-unfaithful tracks by Cibo Matto, DJ Faust and other alternative acts.

Radio Free Steve

Production

An Ugh Films production. Produced by Amy Raymond. Executive producers, Wade Beesley, W. Hampton Beesley. Directed by Jules Beesley. Screenplay, Beesley, based on a story by Beesley, Ryan Junell.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Levy Castleberry; editor, Jason Tucker; music, Friends of Dean Martinez; music supervisors, Wade Beesley, Ryan Junell, Amy Raymond; production designer, Andy Blackwood; sound designer, Dave Nelson; associate producer, Junell; assistant director, Alex Korp. Reviewed at San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Jan. 13, 2001. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Ryan Junell, Jessy Schwartz, Chris Sykes, Dean Haglund, Joy Gohring, Johanna Stein, Dave Kendall, Kris McGaha, Nathan Zellner, Bruce Beesley, Christian Moore, Scott Meadows, Lisbeth Kennelly, Erik Engstrom.
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