Motorcycle Gang

The films in Showtime's Rebel Highway series–which featured loose, low-budget remakes of Eisenhower-era AIP B-movies by quirky contemporary filmmakers–tended to revolve around a common set of themes: squares versus hipsters, conformity versus rebellion, and the seedy underbelly of suburbia's cheerful façade. Consequently, much of the movies' appeal comes from seeing how the individual directors asserted their own personalities through the series' dominant tropes. John Milius' Motorcycle Gang lacks the energetic irreverence of the series' best entries (Robert Rodriguez's exuberant Roadracers and Allan Arkush's giddy Shake, Rattle & Rock!), but its sexual politics and dim view of the counterculture bear the fingerprints of one of cinema's most unapologetic conservatives. Like Jailbreakers, William Friedkin's entry in the series, Motorcycle Gang comes down firmly on one side of the cultural divide, and it's not the one hospitable to beatniks, greasers, hoods, and rock 'n' rollers with Brylcreem helmets and insouciant sneers. Major Dad's Gerald McRaney stars as a strong, silent, and lethal Texan who packs up his cheating, oversexed wife and his daughter Carla Gugino and heads to the promised land of California. En route, the women's good looks and heavy-breathing sexuality attracts the attention of Jake Busey and his gang of murderous, heroin-selling toughs, who promptly kidnap Gugino and take her to Mexico, where even Busey's underworld connections view him as an amoral monster. Gugino's fresh-faced virgin begins the trip with a Fabian button attached neatly to her sweater, but she clearly hungers for the darker allure of James Dean and Marlon Brando, which gives the film's first half an undertone of barely repressed sexuality. Milius adds fuel to the fire by eroticizing the gang's lust for speed, which makes it doubly unfortunate that Motorcycle Gang throws out even the faintest shred of ambiguity and turns into a violent, garden-variety revenge thriller. Motorcycle Gang gets off to a crackling start, but Milius' moralistic streak soon overtakes the film, turning a rambunctious B-movie into a grim, bloody cautionary tale.

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