Arguably the Trope Maker
/ Ur Example
of the car chase movie, or in any case the Trope Codifier
In a post-Woodstock '70s
US, Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a car delivery man with a mysterious past, now working for Argo's Car Delivery Service in Denver, Colorado. The film opens on Sunday, 10:02 am, with him driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger into a roadblock with the police in hot pursuit; just before he hits it, however, the film flashes back to two days earlier. Kowalski has been assigned to deliver the Challenger to San Francisco
; he makes a bet with his dealer Jake (Lee Weaver) that he can get there in just fifteen hours. Setting off, Kowalski ends up running afoul of the police when he runs a motorcycle cop off the road. A blind African-American DJ at KOW known as Super Soul (Cleavon Little) listens to the police radio frequency and encourages Kowalski to evade the police. By doing so, he is turned into an overnight folk hero; revered by the counterculture scene across the west.
Along his journey, Kowalski encounters a man who collects snakes, a faith-healer named J-Hovah, a pair of gay carjackers, and a nude woman on a motorcycle. We eventually learn Kowalski's (whose first name is never revealed
) past; he is a Vietnam veteran who later became a cop, but quit when his partner molested a woman, then became a car and motorcycle racer until two near-fatal accidents forced him to retire, and then became the "adrenaline junkie" he is today. Vera, the only woman he ever loved, died in a surfing accident.
Does Kowalski evade the police and make it through the roadblock? Does he make it to San Francisco? We won't spoil that...
in 1997 as a Made-for-TV Movie
starring Viggo Mortensen
, Jason Priestley
and Keith David
. Many of the characters are heavily changed; in the remake, Kowalski (who now has a first name, Jimmy) is a Gulf War
vet trying to get to his pregnant wife in Idaho, while the DJ is now a right-wing shock jock named "The Voice" who views Kowalski's race home against the police as a battle against government oppression.
See also Easy Rider
and Two Lane Blacktop
, two other counter-culture road films from the same era.
This film provides examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: Kowalski doesn't make it through the roadblock. He crashes and he dies. However, in doing so, he evades capture, and is put out of the internal torment he is in.
- Might also count as a Bolivian Army Ending, since its unknown whether or not he escapes from his car before the crash, made it through the roadblock or simply dies in the explosion without a trace.
- Car Chase: The whole movie is one car chase, with as few interruptions as possible.
- Car Fu
- Cool Car: The Dodge Challenger. The final scene has it somehow turn into a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.
- Drives Like Crazy
- Everybody Owns A Ford: Chrysler loaned the production company five 1970 Dodge Challenger. They had to be returned after filming (this is why the car that is crashed is a Camaro), repainted (white wasn't available on Challengers then), and sold to unsuspecting customers. Chrysler also supplied the police cars (all Dodges and Plymouths), and a new Imperial LeBaron.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: The Camaro at the end, standing in for the Challenger, was loaded with dynamite to explode when it crashes into the police barricade.
- The Hero Dies: Though it is left open as to whether or not Kowalski dies in the explosion.
- Right Wing Militia Fanatic: "The Voice" in the remake.
- Road Movie
- The Seventies