I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Motorcycle Gang

tn_motorcyclegangI found this DVD called MOTORCYCLE GANG, starring Carla Gugino and Jake Busey, directed by John Milius. That’s gotta be a TV movie, right? Yes, upon closer inspection I figured out it was part of the Rebel Highway series that Showtime did in 1994.

Rebel Highway was what happened when producers Lou Arkoff (son of Samuel Z.) and Debra Hill (one-time producing partner of John Carpenter) put together a group of ten directors and let them choose titles from the American International Pictures library of ’50s drive-in movies. They could remake it or just use the title if they wanted. They got low budgets and short shooting schedules, but apparently they were given final cut and encouraged to make them sleazy. So it was alot like the original AIP. Some of the directors included John McNaughton, Joe Dante and William Friedkin. The only one I’d seen before this was ROADRACERS, which was Robert Rodriguez’s practice movie between EL MARIACHI and DESPERADO.

I guess this was one that just used the title and not the original plot. But like some of the hot rod movies I remember (and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, sort of), this is the story of a middle class family who break down on a cross-country trip and then get terrorized by young toughs of a different social class. The dad is Gerald McRaney (from Simon and Simon), the mom is Elan Oberon (Milius’s wife), the teenage daughter is Gugino. They’re moving from Texas to the promised land of California when they run into a motorcycle gang – oh shit, that’s where the title comes from – led by Jake Busey and including Richard Edson (DO THE RIGHT THING) and John Cassini.

Starring Jake Busey and Carla Gugino, seen here in other movies besides the one this poster is advertising.
Starring Jake Busey and Carla Gugino, seen here in other movies besides the one this poster is advertising.

Each family member has something they’re keeping inside. The dad’s is his experiences in the war. This is a John Milius movie, after all. I like how it’s revealed by the “Go For Broke” tattoo on his hand and the fearless but cautious way he walks around the hoodlums sitting on his car in a parking lot, obviously trying to scare him. He seems like a nice guy and (more important to Milius) a good protector of his women. Like so many good characters he hates violence and is really good at it. But he’s frustrated because his wife is bored with him and jerking him around, purposely getting him horny and then going to sleep.

I’m not sure what that lady’s problem is, but back at the old place she was having an affair with a neighbor, right under her husband’s nose. That’s her secret. And the daughter’s secret is that she knows about that. Also that she’s growing up and she’s super horny and attracted to bad boys.

Gugino was about 22 at the time. Her previous movie was SON IN LAW with Pauly Shore. The main thrust of her character is summed up by her sweater: buttoned down good girl type of clothing; cannot hide big boobs. In promoting the series Arkoff said “if you made REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE today… it would be more lurid, sexier, and much more dangerous, and you definitely would have had Natalie Wood’s top off.” Well, no tops come off in this one. I think Milius was more interested in the old school idea of women who are completely clothed but simmering with barely contained sexuality ready to explode. When the family stops to eat, Gugino’s sitting right there with her mom but she starts making eyes at an adult cowboy and fondling her Coke bottle.

Mom and daughter get racy together when the beatnik couple who run a hotel they’re staying at invite them to drink wine and pose for “artistic” photos. This scene isn’t important to the plot but it adds nuance to the movie by complicating the generational conflict. These type of stories take advantage of age and class gaps, you’re supposed to relate to the family and be hateful of these bikers. They’re young and different and scary, you’re supposed to fear people who are different from you.

But they don’t fear these beatniks, they enjoy their company and are open to their different values and try to convince dad that their lifestyle is “cute” and that they’re “artists.” So Milius isn’t against all young punks and bums. He likes some of them. Dad is appalled when he sees the photos they posed for, but we know they’re innocent. Mostly.

The motorcycle gang expects to take advantage of Gugino’s burgeoning sexuality and attraction to the forbidden fruit. They’re involved in drug trafficking over the Mexican border and murder of some of their contacts, and when they come across Gugino they decide to become kidnappers too. Busey, who we’ve previously seen as a typical Buseyian nut, pretends to be a sweet-talking James Dean when he talks to the girl. He pretends he had to take her away to protect her from the other bikers. He calls her “baby” and “angel” and tries to squint and look dreamy, but he has those giant teeth, you know? Maybe that’s why she doesn’t fall for it.

Whoever cast Busey was ahead of their time, because this was before he started breaking out in THE FRIGHTENERS, CONTACT and STARSHIP TROOPERS. These young bikers are real psychos, they are not good people. They’re not all that interesting though. There was one part I really liked where either Edson or Cassini (I forget which) shoots a guy that’s prone on the ground and the other one pats him on the shoulder and says “Nice shot!” He seems genuinely proud.

The movie starts with narration by Gugino’s character, and she was the reason I rented it (a man has needs), but I think Milius was right to make the story focus on the dad. The things he goes through and achieves are mostly non-verbal. He tenses up at the sound of motorcycles in the distance, he decides to not get help from the police after recognizing one of them from the war, he tricks the corrupt Mexican border patrol into giving him information by making them think he doesn’t understand Spanish, he confesses and receives the approval of a police officer with a mere look and salute, because both are vets. And, you know, some chokes and some throat chops and stuff. He has some pretty brutal moves, no doubt heavily researched by Milius.

In THE HILLS HAVE EYES the family had to turn into savages for any of them to get out of there. Most of them were killed, one was used as bait. But that was the Vietnam era. MOTORCYCLE GANG is the ’50s, so it’s a little more optimistic about the survival of the family unit. The horrors they’ve gone through have actually made them closer. Now mom and daughter really know how dad feels about having killed people, because they’ve done it too. And dad feels truly understood. Maybe mom’ll stop fucking around now and dad’ll hang out with her beatnik friends. As for daughter, she gets a job as a rollerskating waitress. Not sure where that fits in to all the themes and shit but that’s shown in the wraparound narration parts.

This is not a great movie, and definitely feels like it was made for TV. And I’m guessing that could be said of all the Rebel Highway movies. But the Milius voice and some interesting themes definitely come through within the limitations, so I think it’s a successful neo-B-movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 25th, 2012 at 1:23 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “Motorcycle Gang”

  1. didn’t they do something similar in the early 2000’s when a group of producers (the same ones maybe?) allowed a bunch of indie filmmakers to remake 1950’s B horror movies and do whatever they wanted? (on low budgets of course)

    I think two of the movies to come from that was Larry Clark’s Teenage Caveman (which was awful) and George Huang’s How To Make a Monster (which was also awful)

  2. Teenage Cavemen is a wonderful freakout of a movie.

  3. I actually watched many of the Rebel Highway movies, but this is the only one I remember. I remember thinking the beatnik part to be really weird, because the mom and daughter did it together.

    And that Rebel quote just tells me he didn’t understand the portrayal of the innocence of the main characters, despite their involvement in dangerous lifestyles.

  4. Roadracers is of course essential viewing, especially the scene where David Arquette drives his hot rod while playing guitar AND making out with Salma Hayek. It doesn’t get more Rock ‘n Roll than that. I also recommend the so-awful-it’s-funnier-than-most-comedies, Hot Rods to Hell (1966).

  5. it’s roadracers! roaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadraceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeers!!!!

  6. I always wondered how ROAD RACERS and RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS ended up on Rodriguez’s and Dante’s filmography.

  7. Jareth Cutestory

    March 26th, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Apparently the actress who played Jerry’s mom on SEINFELD was once engaged to James Dean. Even though I’ve seen pictures of her as a young woman, I can’t help but imagine her as Jerry’s mom dating James Dean.

  8. So, is ROAD RACERS really worth the time? Its on Netflix streaming, but I’m skeptical.

  9. It’s okay. I’ve seen it a couple times now, so I imagine you can get through it once. Don’t expect an action movie, though. It’s more of a light drama that gets darker at the end. Excellent rollerskating, though.

  10. If you’re a fan of rock’n roll, it’s more than okay. The music is by Link Wray, and Arquette’s character sort of invents the sound Wray made famous in the 50’s. Really cool, if you’re into rock that is.

  11. Gerald McRaney was scary as hell in DEADWOOD, which is saying something considering how many scary fuckers that had.

  12. for those wondering, I just checked. The entire line of Rebel Highway movies are available for streaming.

    They are:
    Girls in Prison – Directed by John McNaughton and starring Anne Heche and Ione Skye.
    Dragstrip Girl – Directed by Mary Lambert and starring Mark Dacascos and Natasha Gregson Wagner.
    Shake, Rattle and Rock! – Directed by Allan Arkush and starring Renée Zellweger and Howie Mandel.
    Runaway Daughters – Directed by Joe Dante and starring Julie Bowen and Paul Rudd.
    Roadracers – Directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring David Arquette and Salma Hayek.
    Reform School Girl – Directed by Jonathan Kaplan and starring Aimee Graham and Matt LeBlanc.
    Motorcycle Gang – Directed by John Milius and starring Gerald McRaney and Jake Busey.
    Jailbreakers – Directed by William Friedkin and starring Antonio Sabato Jr. and Shannen Doherty.
    Cool and the Crazy – Directed by Ralph Bakshi and starring Jared Leto and Alicia Silverstone.
    Confessions of a Sorority Girl – Directed by Uli Edel and starring Jamie Luner and Alyssa Milano.

    I’ve only ever seen Roadracers and Girls in Prison

  13. @ Bloo, yeah i’m wondering. Available where?

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>