In the 1980s, everybody seemed to be cranking out bizarre, dystopian science fiction films, in hopes of reeling in the same audience that made THE ROAD WARRIOR an international success. Most of them were violent, many of them were derivative swill, but only a rare few were as stupendously bewildering as this half-baked French-German co-production. Directed and co-written by Pierre-William Glenn (best known as a cinematographer for arthouse darlings like François Truffaut and Bertrand Tavernier) and featuring an odd array of actors -- aging French rock-and-roll legend Johnny Hallyday, slumming RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK alumnus Karen Allen, plus DAS BOOT's Jürgen Prochnow tackling three different roles -- it's more fascinatingly misguided than legitimately entertaining. No surprise, the film only received a handful of theatrical playdates in the US... In the (only vaguely post-apocalyptic) year 2037, a popular new sport has put a sadistic twist on cross-country rallying. A solitary racer drives a souped-up, two-story-tall, armored red truck on a 5000 kilometer trek, while pursued by a squad of grey trucks trained to kill the contestant before they reach the "End of the Line" and win 100 million francs. So far, no one has succeeded. Our film opens with aviator-goggled Gus (Karen Allen) as the latest pilot of this red truck, with the vehicle's A.I. talking-computer/auto-pilot "Monster" (basically KNIGHT RIDER's K.I.T.T., except with honest-to-goodness animatronic lips) as her only companion for this voyage. When her truck is hijacked by rebels, imprisoned Gus encounters grizzled yet handsome, one-handed fellow captive Stump (Hallyday, with a cheap bleach job). Prochnow initially turns up at the game's high-tech headquarters as a slick, bespectacled Doctor, whose genetically-engineered boy-genius offspring Mati (ROBOCOP 2's Gabriel Damon) programmed "Monster"; then as another driver, behind the wheel of a predatory, radar-proof yellow truck; and, strangest of all, as a manipulative boss known only as "Sir," wearing robes, white face paint and a flowing fluorescent-red wig. Allen is one of the film's more fortunate participants, exiting this baffling story after only 40 minutes and leaving Hallyday to take over as the red truck's new driver, now saddled with a ragamuffin little girl stowaway. Meanwhile, "Monster" begins to have suspicious glitches which endangers the overall mission and reeks of sabotage. This whole flaccid farrago is convoluted and excessively serious, with insufficient worldbuilding, listless stuntwork and atrocious makeup work. Continually substituting hackneyed style and derivative sci-fi concepts for actual substance, it's also incapable of delivering a satisfying emotional or visceral pay-off. Even worse, none of its talented cast members are given anything memorable to do, with even Prochnow's trio of oddballs never particularly compelling. Still, every time I was ready to give up on this mess, some truly bizarre moment (e.g., a truckload of half-formed clones) had me admiring its steadfastly incoherent agenda. FYI, the print screened for this review is the English-subtitled, 115-minute version. Considering its altogether confounding storyline, I can only imagine how incomprehensible the film's drastically edited international cuts -- some as short as 79 minutes! -- must've been to audiences. Like so many '80s films, it also includes a lousy end-credits song, "End of the Line" written and sung by Wall of Voodoo's Stan Ridgway.
© 2022 by Steven Puchalski.