Roadie (DVD)

Robert Altman protégé Alan Rudolph has imbued his best-loved work with a signature blend of glamorous Hollywood iconography, outsized romanticism, and oddball humanism. Rudolph's predilection for the lush glamour of classic films might make him an odd director for a Meat Loaf vehicle, but 1980's Roadie (just released on a no-frills DVD) is a marriage made in heaven rather than the shotgun wedding it initially appears to be. Boasting a story co-written by Rudolph, future softcore schlockmeister Zalman King, and screenwriters Big Boy Medlin and Michael Ventura, the film casts Loaf as an amiable hillbilly whose MacGyver-like way with electronics comes in handy when he encounters a broken-down tour bus. Future Porky's trilogy veteran Kaki Hunter co-stars as one of the bus' passengers, a virginal, deluded 16-year-old would-be groupie who is saving herself for the right man–who, regrettably, happens to be Alice Cooper. Intoxicated by Hunter, Loaf begins working as a roadie, quickly developing a reputation as the greatest roadie that ever lived. His new profession takes him out of Texas for the first time and introduces him to a strange, exciting new world populated by the likes of Cooper, Hank Williams Jr., Roy Orbison, and the members of Blondie and Asleep At The Wheel. The rock-world milieu lends itself surprisingly well to Rudolph's directorial trademarks, and Loaf and Hunter acquit themselves nicely as typical Rudolph dreamers out of step with the world at large. Roadie feels like it would fall apart if it slowed down for a minute, but the director keeps the spirits high and the tone good-natured from start to finish. The film makes terrific use of its rock-star-studded cast, deriving laughs from the contrast between Cooper's over-the-top shtick and the schlubby ordinariness of his offstage personality. Rudolph similarly exploits Blondie's heavily stylized new-wave weirdness to memorable effect, but the film's real standout is Soul Train mastermind Don Cornelius, who steals his every scene as a vaguely Don King-like promoter with a knack for making grand pronouncements in a comically theatrical fashion. Roadie doesn't occupy a particularly esteemed place in the Rudolph canon, but its DVD release might win it a second chance among Meat Loaf fans and Rudolph auteurists alike.

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