The best B-movies either take advantage of the disreputability of their genre to get extra-kinky or they embrace the preposterousness of their stories and settle for being simple, escapist fun. It’d be a stretch to call the 1982 sci-fi/Western Timerider “great,” but at least writer-director William Dear was aware of what he was making. The film stars Fred Ward as a scruffy dirt-bike racer who accidentally drives into the middle of an experiment designed to send a monkey back to the 19th century, and finds himself fighting outlaws in the California desert in 1875. This is not the kind of movie that demands sober contemplation about the ethical ramifications of time-travel or the burden of being a hero. This is a movie about sweaty men in cowboy hats shooting at a motorcycle because they think it’s a demon. And Dear, God bless him, knew that.
This isn’t to say that Timerider is as good as a low-budget picture about a time-traveling dirt-biker could be. It takes way too long to get to the plot, with far too much of Ward tooling around in the dust and brush in 1982 (in interminable first-person shots, no less); and once Ward arrives in the past, it takes forever for either him or his old-timey hosts to grasp the situation they’re in (which may be a more realistic reaction, but is less entertaining). Also, Timerider doesn’t do enough with the possibilities of a modern man thrust into the middle of a white-hat/black-hat Western. Outside of a scene where Ward amazes a priest and posse with his futuristic doo-dads—a glow-stick, an energy bar, a helmet with night-vision—Timerider mostly goes in for old-fashioned gunfights on horseback.
But Dear’s cast is like a who’s-who of top-drawer B-movies. Peter Coyote plays the leader of the band of bad guys, while Tracy Walter and Richard Masur ride along with him; and Ed Lauter plays the priest, who rallies L.Q. Jones and Chris Mulkey to join him in rescuing proto-feminist Belinda Bauer from Coyote’s clutches. All of these people also know what Timerider is. They don’t play it as a joke, but they understand that lines like, “You blew his nose clean off!” and, “You shot it, you buttheads!” aren’t meant to be Shakespeare, and deliver them with the proper gusto. (In an interview on the Timerider Blu-ray, producer/co-writer/composer/ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith describes the movie as not a comedy, but having “a twinkle in its eye.”)
The best of the bunch is Ward, who was still a relative novice when he was chosen to be the lead in Timerider, and is playing a distinctly early-’80s character: a technophile rebel who builds his own gear with the help of his Silicon Valley gearhead pals. Ward is never less than believable as a gruff-but-plucky guy who could be plopped down anywhere and get the job done. In fact, that may be the most important key to making a memorable B-movie: Just hire Fred Ward, and most of the work is done.
Key features: Interviews with Dear and Nesmith, plus a jovial, tech-heavy Dear commentary.