Richard Franklin’s Road Games

The premise of Richard Franklin’s Road Games is a delicious one: a laidback, eccentric long haul truck driver (Stacy Keach) and the free spirited young hitchhiker he picks up (Jamie Lee Curtis) spend a bit too much time people watching and suspect the driver of a mysterious green van in a string of serial killings. Did I mention it’s set in the Australian outback? What you have there is a recipe for perfect horror thriller material and yet… the film comes across more as a leisurely paced, quirky, cavalier, character based road movie with some horror elements thrown in almost as an afterthought. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I thought it was an excellent film, I fell in love with both main characters as they’re so well written and acted, the score and setting are to die for, the photography gorgeous, and Keach even has an actual dingo dog named Boswell as his sidekick, so really what’s not to love? His character is such a rare used archetype, and one I’ve come across in my working life more than once: the charismatic, well read renaissance man who happens to be working in a labor job usually populated by, let’s say, less intellectually inclined people. “Just because I drive a truck does not make me a truck driver” he proudly announces, considers himself an aristocrat and we believe him because the character is so well written and acted by the always awesome Keach, he feels like a dude you could run into in real life and not some caricature. Curtis is terrific as the hitchhiker he calls ‘Hitch’ (one of the numerous and deliberate Hitchcock references), a fiercely independent, strong willed girl who is blunt when discussing herself, sex, the highway murders and nonchalantly psychoanalyzes Keach which makes for stimulating banter and enjoyable chemistry between the two. There are a few scenes of killing, suspense, car chases, tension and violence but they’re put there to service plot and in this film it’s not plot that matters or immerses us most, it’s character. The scenes that I got the most enjoyment from and will stay with me aren’t killer related but rather Keach driving down the highway talking to his beloved dog, playing a harmonica, playing ‘I Spy’ to pass the time and sitting around a cozy campfire with Curtis talking about everything from politics to bunny rabbits. I was completely ok with the fact that this is more a laidback character piece than a thriller, and I enjoyed the horror elements as a sort of cherry on top as well. Just don’t go in expecting a full on white knuckle horror show or you’re gonna be hella disappointed. I greatly enjoyed this curious, ragtag little film and it’s comforting to me that there was a buddy road movie out there starring Keach and Curtis that in my 20 odd years of watching films I’d never come across, because now I wonder what other hidden gems are out there in the Outback of cinematic history I’ve yet to discover. Good times.

-Nate Hill

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