I think it was around 1983 or so and I’d seen four or five films by David Cronenberg when I found out he’d made the 1979 drag racing centered “B” movie Fast Company. At the time I had to search around for a video store that carried it because in the US, it wasn’t readily available as far as I was seeing. A friend of a friend got a copy of the film from one of his sources not too long afterward because he was just as curious as I was and its funny how that sort of thing works out, isn’t it? I recall liking the car stuff, but not liking the plot much, but overall it was a decent popcorn flick provided you didn’t take the story at all seriously.
Watching it again more recently reveals it’s still a pretty pedestrian (ha-ha) movie with a some great car action, a touch of sex and nudity not uncommon to the era and if you didn’t know it was directed by Cronenberg, you’d think you’ve gotten a pretty good made for cable flick from a time capsule. It’s not a badly made film at all, though. In fact, some of the drag race scenes and a later car reconstruction scene benefit from Cronenberg’s attention to detail and his real-life obsession with the sport. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, right? You could say “All body horror and no play make Jack a dull boy”, but that’s not true if you stop and think about it. Still, variety is indeed, the spice of life, so this one’s special like that.
Here’s the plot: Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (William Smith) is a veteran dragster racer racing for Fast Company in that category while younger driver Billy “The Kid” Brooker (Nicholas Campbell) drives FastCo.’s funny car. When Lonnie accidentally blows up his dragster during a race, team leader and bossy boss Phil Adamson (John Saxon) suggests replacing Billy with Lonnie on the remaining car because his bigger name and fading but still strong fame will get more butts in the seats (well, as long as he doesn’t wreck that other car as well).
While Lonnie clearly benefits from this with fans, neither driver is 100% happy with this arrangement. But it gets a bit more complicated when Adamson cancels the repairs to the dragster because he’s trying to compete as cheaply as possible so race fans will enjoy the thrills and buy more of his company’s motor oil. Well, that and he’s got his eye set on forcing Lonnie and his race team out at some point in the near future. Don’t tell Lonnie or his crew this, but Adamson is a pretty corrupt guy at the end of the day.
Lonnie becomes the very reluctant spokesman for FastCo., but after he records a pretty outrageous and NSFW ad and later, punches his boss down a stairway, (ow!) Adamson fires him and his crew and replaces then with a rival driver named Gary “The Blacksmith” Black (Cedric Smith) and his team, leaving his former original team without a car to race. Down, but not out, Lonnie and his crew come up with a Kobiyashi Maru-like solution to their lack of funny car problem (you’ll see), there are some more explosions that take place and at 91 minutes, you more or less get your average daily exploitation flick popcorn supply taken care of.
Although shot in Edmonton, Alberta and other Western Canadian locations, the film could almost pass for an American-made film save for some of the Canadian accents (and right about now, Canadians reading this are all saying “What accents?”). Fred Mollins’ countrified (or country-fried) score brings you some nice pre-butt rock tunes that fit the film perfectly, and you get a few touches of light humor when the script calls for it. Lonnie has a serious girlfriend named Sammy (former Playboy Playmate turned ’70’s “B”-movie queen Claudia Jennings, in her final film role) who’s decent eye candy, but I’ll admit to some brief confusion when she appears in a scene with another blonde actress, Judy Foster’s Candy, who turns up as Billy’s flame du jour.
As for a few directorial flourishes, the car shots are absolutely beautiful and I wish there were more of them here. Cronenberg even films a memorable and brief scene from inside a car as it blazes down the track and a timer pops in for just over six seconds to show how fast a drag race was in 1979. There’s another scene where a car’s fire suppression system is activated and the driver survives what looks like a horrific blaze with no injuries. Granted, the film does stretch things a wee bit much at the finale, but let’s leave that for you to discover.
Saaaay, did you realize this is part of the 2020 O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth over at Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy from March 6 – 8, 2020? If you did, you may have some special psychic talents and there are some very helpful special agents on the way to do something about that. But that’s probably another David Cronenberg film you’re more familiar with, I’d say.
Oh, I wrote this on February 3, 2020, so we get to see if WordPress’ does well with the whole pre-posting thing, as I’m also doing a few posts this way for other blogathons also in March. You’re part of an experiment, folks, and you don’t even need to be scanned or get a really bad case of the shivers (and isn’t that a good thing?)!
I believe this is the second time I’ve read a blogging friend’s review of this film, and both of you have said it’s worth a look, so look for it (and look AT it) I shall. And why did I think Gabe Kaplan was in this? It took me a moment, but I finally realized…’Fast BREAK’, also from 1979!
Oh, it’s a neat flick overall. A bit of exploitation fluff, but it’s interesting to see a Cronenberg film that’s not what you might expect and doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Gabe Kaplan? Eeeek! I remember seeing Fast Break at the movies, but I don’t know why… that’s one mystery I need to call a detective to solve…
Oh Greg, just admit it…you’ve got the ‘Fast Break’ blu-ray sitting on your shelf as we speak…
Hey! I needed coasters and the film was a buck new, so I bought all 26 copies Blockbuster had. Er. I just never got around to opening them, is all…
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First of all, I nearly spewed my water all over the screen when you said right about now Canadians would be asking “What accents?” That is hilarious!
Secondly, this film sounds intriguing. Normally, I wouldn’t give “car movies” a second thought, but last weekend I watched “Ford vs. Ferrari”, which I really liked and thought maybe I’d been overlooking a whole sub-genre of film. So now that I’ve read your fab review, I’ll give this one a go.
Thanks for joining the blogathon and for introducing us (actually, me) to this film. 🙂
Oh, you’re welcome! The “car film” sub-genre is filled with some pretty good “B” movies – Pit Stop (1969) is an old favorite I’d also recommend: https://fanboydestroy.com/2015/09/28/blu-ray-review-pit-stop-the-winner/
That bit about the accents was from an actual conversation I overheard a while back when some guy came up to a few Canadian tourists in a coffee shop here and noted that he thought they “talked funny” because of their accents and everyone at the table just looked at him for a second, then two of them said “what accent?” at exactly the same time.
Bahaha! That is such a great story. It’s SO Canadian.
Pretty decent cast.
What accent? I once had a New Yorker trace my accent back to the Maritimes and I left Nova Scotia in my teens!
I hadn’t heard of this film before, but I appreciated reading your thoughts on it. You balance its flaws and qualities well!
Thank you! In a small way, the film reminded me of Jack Hill’s 1969 racing film PIT STOP (The Winner), although both films are surprising in how the approach a few elements.
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While I’m not the world’s leading Cronenberg fan I do believe I’m a card carrying fan of Smith and Saxon so perhaps I’m long overdue for a revisit to this one. Gotta be well over 20 years. Nice pick.