Review of Grand Theft Auto
1997 was a memorable year. I can`t believe that it`s been 11 years since the original, top down 2D Grand Theft Auto came out, much to the horror of many a tabloid reader. I`ve now passed that age, that point in life that I term a Matrix moment, where computer games stop being fun, and turn into an effort to accumulate stats and raise variables. You`re left playing puzzle games like Freecell and Mahjong, while the youthful still get a buzz out of fragging and deathmatching. But Grand Theft Auto was a great deal of fun, one of the first 18 rated computer games, it allowed you to go on a crime rampage through a fictional city, a nice release from the drudgery of the real world. And, fulfilling the Daily Mail stereotype, I got a little obsessed, hopped in my Toyota, and went and mowed down a train of Hare Krishnas. Oh, Happy Days…
Speaking of Happy Days (you know that segue was too blatant to resist), twenty years earlier, Ron Howard was in a movie called Grand Theft Auto. I didn`t know this until the most recent Reviewer disc delivery, and the idea of Richie Cunningham getting up to such nasty shenanigans, gave me a brief brain freeze. Except, quite obviously this film has nothing to do with the computer game, and it`s rated PG to boot. What`s notable about this comedy is that it is Ron Howard`s directorial debut, and Roger Corman was the executive producer. It is certainly worth ninety minutes of anyone`s time to see what the man who gave us Apollo 13 and Ransom, cooked up the first time he got behind the lens.
Hard up student Sam Freeman is in love with Paula Powers, and wants to marry her. The trouble is that Paula comes from a rich family, her father is a gubernatorial candidate, and she`s been betrothed to wealthy, and weak chinned heir, Collins Hedgeworth. She`s not having any of this, gets into a row, then steals daddy`s Rolls and takes Sam on a drive to Vegas to get married regardless. Soon Daddy`s hired a security firm to get his daughter and precious car back. Collins is in hot pursuit of his escaping fiancée, Collins` mum is chasing after her precious baby, and a reward is posted on the fleeing couple. A breakneck chase ensues, with everyone wanting a piece of the action, and a play-by-play report courtesy of the local radio jock.
I got a DVD-R to review, so you can guess how motivated I am to write something about the technical qualities of the disc.
It`s not a final disc, there`s no menu and it just goes straight into the movie, but they gave me the extras to watch, sticking them straight after the main feature. Obviously you`ll get to choose to watch them at your leisure, instead of having to sit through the film first. What you get is one tacky trailer, and one 5-minute interview with Roger Corman about how he gave Ron Howard his directorial break.
Apparently Grand Theft Auto is a comedy. I did laugh, once, when an evangelist exploded. It`s compulsory to laugh at those moments, even in real life. But other than that, this film is a mirth free zone. Actually, I`m more proud of the fact that I didn`t fall asleep while watching it, and that without resorting to pinching myself, splashing cold water in my face, or overdosing on caffeine. Grand Theft Auto is about as dispiriting an experience that I have yet had watching a chase movie, and I`ve seen the Gumball Rally.
I`ve never been a fan of Ron Howard the actor, preferring by far his comparatively prodigious talent as a director, and in Grand Theft Auto, he plays love interest Sam Freeman, the upright boy that motivates Paula in her act of automotive defiance. My stomach turned just a little when the two got even slightly intimate. But that`s my usual reaction to fresh-faced all-American apple pie. As a directorial first effort, it`s plodding and workmanlike, stretching ninety minutes into what feels like twice the time, and most devastating to the film, it lacks any sense of comic timing. It`s a comedy that just isn`t funny, although that may have something to do with how much the film has dated. I`m sure that Marion Ross in a caftan would have been funny 30 years ago; today it just looks sad. The hip radio DJ, with a way with words and a toothy grin, needs to be beaten around the head with an effigy of Dave Lee Travis… Daddio! Stereotypes and limp humour do not make for an enjoyable movie.
Most telling of all is that coming out in 1977, Grand Theft Auto seems to be hanging on to the coattails of Smokey and the Bandit, which had hit big the previous year. It may have the car wrecks, but without the wit, the charm, the character and most importantly the humour, it`s a damp squib of a film. Even if they are giving this film away (which they are on one website), it`s best left alone. But, every great movie director has to start somewhere, and not all of them start with Duel.
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