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GRAND THEFT AUTO - No, the other Grand Theft Auto.
Written: Aug 3, 2012 (Updated Aug 3, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Loads of car wreck action, the type of which you don't get these days.
Cons:The climax is a bit ham fisted and clunky.
The Bottom Line: When you get down to it, Grand Theft Auto is goofy, mindless, dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers and frequently very, very entertaining.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
There are two producers in Hollywood who have changed the face of film making - wait, no - entertainment and media more than any other have or ever will again. The first is George Lucas - who of course invented the blockbuster summer movie (along with Jaws), created the way Hollywood handles merchandising, and created the biggest special effects house on the planet. Above and beyond Star Wars, he's reworked sound design in theaters, built the premier recording studio in Skywalker Sound and pretty much changed the face of movies forever.
The other person is Roger Corman, King of the B-Movies. He has personally launched more tallent that went on to do bigger and better things than the UCLA fims school. Ever heard of Martin Scorsese? Jack Nicholson? Joe Dante? Francis Ford Coppola? Peter Fonda? Dennis Hopper? Talia Shire? Robert De Niro? Ever heard of James Cameron? Each and every one got their start in the Roger Corman School - including the director of today's review, director of Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code - lil' Opie Taylor (AKA Ron Howard) in 1977's Grand Theft Auto.
Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan from the really dreadful Americathon) is in love with Sam Freeman (Lil Opie). Sam is in love with Paula. Paula's dad Bigby (Barry Cahill from the blaxploitation classic Coffy) hates Sam and forbids the two from getting married. Bigby plans on wedding Paula to rich snob Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke from Motel Hell) to increase the family's position and standing so Bigby can run for Governor of California.
Since the two love birds won't stand for it, Paula steals daddies vintage 1959 Rolls Royce and the pair take off for Vegas. Daddy wants his little girl (and his Rolls) back and sets off in pursuit. The jilted fiancee finds out about the pair eloping, promptly blows a gaskit and also takes off in pursuit - offering a $25,000 bounty on Sam's head. Collins' mother (Marion Ross - Lil' Opie's mother from Happy Days) finds out that her Poor Sweet Innocent Baby is breakneck racing after the pair and also offers a 25,000 bounty on his safe return before also giving chase.
And suddenly every nut between California and Nevada with access to a pair of wheels are out in force looking for a half a million buck payday. Thus for the next hour and a half, we get car stunts, car wrecks, car chases, explosions, jumps, swooping helicopters and the Real Don Steel announcing play-by-play. The question is not so much if the lovers can get to Vegas to tie the knot (that's a given). The question is how far can Ron Howard stretch Rocger Corman's junk vehicle budget for the endless car wrecks. . . .
And that's the plot: Lovers want to get to Vegas, everyone else in world wants to stop them. No real character development is present - the Powers family are boorish (and rich), the Hedgeworth family are inept (and rich), the army of people chasing them are nothing more than sweeping stereotypes - Mexicans in low riders, Italian Mafia in nice suits, rednecks with Skoal tin outlines in their back pocket, religious bible thumpers, and blacks looking like they wandered off the set of Shaft.
The acting? It's pretty dire. Marion Ross is totally playing against type (Ms C flipping people the bird? Horrors!) and chewing the scenery like she was a starving man on a desert island while Ron's real life dad Rance and real life brother Clint are clearly mugging for the camera. Meanwhile Ron is - well, he's a better director than actor and Nancy? My mother always said if you cant say something nice. . . .
Sadly, Dick Miller is nowhere to be seen.
But lets face it - the real stars of Grand Theft Auto are not the meatsacks wandering around spouting lines and occasionally throwing punches. No, the real stars of the movie are the stunts - and there are a LOT of them! We get sports cars and busses and helicopters and pickup trucks and semis crashing and flipping and exploding and smashing into one another. In fact I'm shocked that we didn't get the Jumping Through a Moving Boxcar gag - but I guess Roger Corman's budget wouldn't extend to renting a train for an hour.
(Speaking of how crazy low budget this flick is - as the cars race into a stadium that's in the middle of a demolition derby for the climactic showdown, I had to laugh at the announcer over the PA saying "Due to the dangerous nature of the event, we ask that all audience members vacate the north portion of the bleachers" - AKA, we couldn't afford to hire more than the 20 extras you see in the one full section. Ah, god bless good ol, Roger!)
I'll say it again - I firmly believe that the art of the car chase is lost in modern Hollywood. It's refreshing to find a movie were a little ingenuity, an artistic hunger and a long stretch of desert highway was more than enough to deliver some well choreographed and coordinated physical stunt work. Ron may not be that great of an actor, but he knows how to meticulously stage crashes, with cars flying over each other, smashing into each other and barely missing each other. His directorial eye for action makes up in spades for any deficiencies in the script.
Perfect? Not quite - the occasional scenes where the film is under-cranked to make the car chaos look that much faster is incredibly obvious and hokey, like a badly staged Keystone Kops than an action flick. And the aforementioned demolition derby is a little unfocused, with random shots of fenders smashing into doors, tires squealing and random close-ups instead of clear action. But you know, that's quibbling nitpicks. For the bulk of the running time, Grand Theft Auto is a damn entertaining (if incredibly brain-dead) flick. In the hands of a lesser director, what is a fun little romp of a flick could have easily turned into boring B-Movie schlock.
THE DVD -
There are a couple of versions of Grand Theft Auto floating around, an older version with a Full Frame print and a newer DVD from Shout Factory that comes packed with Ron's other Car Crashstravaganza Eat My Dust that sports a nice looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer - the version I have. While the low budget nature of the movie is clear - plenty of grain from the cheap film stock - it certainly gets the job done. The 2.0 soundtrack is pretty flat, but again that's more an artifact of the era than any flaw with the DVD.
THE EXTRAS -
Shout Factory again delivers the goods! We get a really good assortment of extras, some recycled from the GTA: Tricked Out Edition and couple of new features. We start out with a great commentary from Howard and Corman. The two strike a nice balance between technical "How we did this" and just talking about stories during production. Corman The second commentary track consists of Rance Howard, Allan Arkush (the second unit director), Ben Haller (key grip), and Joe Dante (who was a Corman studio editor before Gremlins) for a considerably less technical, a lot more chatty track.
From there we get a short introduction to the flick by Roger Corman, a short bit with Rance and Clint Howard, a longer solo interview with Roger and then a strangely underlit session with Roger and Ron that looks grainy as hell. Last but not least are a ton of television spots and a theatrical trailer.
Oh yeah, plus the other half of a double feature.
THE BOTTOM LINE -
Make no bones about it, Grand Theft Auto is an hour and a half of car chase with just a light sprinkling of character development. The script is simply an excuse to smash cars in creative and impressive ways. Anyone looking for enrichment through the thespian arts best look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for hour and a half of entertaining automotive mayhem, this is the movie for you!
I give it four out of five smashed fenders!
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12