23 September 2013

Banzai Runner

After an absence of nearly three months as we moved our headquarters from a secret mountain bunker to a lakeside chalet at the center of the world, Lost Video Archive is more or less back in action. We re-open our acute dissection of forgettable and often shitty cinema with just such an entry from the annals of the Reagan Era:

United States - 1987
Director - John G. Thomas
Vidmark Entertainment, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 26 minutes
The wonderful thing about the American Southwest is that it is largely empty of human made infrastructure save one thing; highways. Over vast distances of desolate and unforgiving terrain there is literally nothing but a strip of asphalt stretching to the horizon. This makes the Southwest, an area I personally know well, a great for location shooting both post-apocalyptic sci-fi and road racing movies on the cheap. Some of this has changed over the years of course, development has encroached on the desert and the various state’s chambers of commerce have learned to take advantage of these things. In the latter half of the 20th Century though, the southwest was still a veritable blank slate. Take for example 1987’s Banzai Runner, shot on location in California City, California. Boasting at present a population somewhere near 16 thousand, it was at the time of filming an as-yet undetonated boom-town with a mere four thousand souls living at the center a vast network of hot, empty pavement.

I’ve previously railed about comparing little unknown films to larger well-known titles. It’s generally unfair I think and neither requires nor expects much intellectual capacity from audience or writer. I am inclined however to point out the similarities, other than titular, between another recent LVA acquisition, Nomad Riders, and Banzai Runner. Though you mightn’t initially guess it, both films share an affinity for the open road, and in particular, the dusty barren open road of the southwest. They also share a thematic similarity that goes beyond the title screen to a plot about a guy driven to exact revenge on the nefarious highway-rogues who murdered his family.

Our protagonist Billy Baxter (Dean Stockwell) staggers into vengeance like a Sunday morning drunk into chapel. He was a cop out to bust high-speed, thrill-seeking Runners on the highway, but when his zeal proved excessive he was fired and now mopes about the house, aimless and distant. He only decides to avenge the hit and run murder of his brother as an afterthought when he stumbles across the murderer Syszek (Billy Drago) during a drug-sting, and then only after he takes that job to save his own house from a bitter ex-wife. Hey, if the opportunity presents itself, just twist his arm.

I might be displeased, but I'll let it slide this time!
This less than pressing vigilante justice nearly comes at the expense of Billy’s humanity, but when the rubber meets the road, Banzai Runner is really one of those old frontier fantasies that preceded the internal combustion engine into the mythical West. The rich jerks who flaunt the law will surely get their comeuppance when that magical (and effective) force of objective moral justice floating around out there inevitably sets things right for the downtrodden little guy. In classical fantasy tradition as the emotionally garbled lawman reluctantly pursues vindication he will learn to love and trust again and all will be right with the universe as class is once again carefully shorn of its relationship to power and smothered in a dose of corn sap fit to choke a small horse.

All fluffy feel-good stuff to be sure, but not very convincing. In Nomad Riders, the protagonist was an vigilante too, and an unlikable one at that, but he knew what he was up against. He was not encumbered by any delusions of an external morality to whom all must answer. Steve Thrust, that unpleasant bastard, knew that he had to make justice, to take it himself if there was to be any at all. Plus, he did it to a better soundtrack. 
This picture is about as clear as my  feelings about Banzai Runner are going to get.


RhuBarb said...

Funny and entertaining review here, keep up the good work.
I will recommend ur blog on some other sites cause i think it deserves more recognition.

Hope ur move went ok, i will be doing the same soon to somewhere better with luck.

DJ Davy B said...

Oh dear god I still have this on VHS...Oh my....