Monday, May 25, 2009

Movies You Can't Netflix: Runaway Car

(In light of yesterday's total clusterfucktastrophe of a news day, I thought I'd post something a little more light-hearted. Runaway Car aired once, on Fox, the evening of January 21, 1997. It has not hit the airwaves since. This is my second favourite made-for-TV movie, right after Dead Ahead starring Stephanie Zimbalist.)

I'm not going to bother explaining the chain of events that led to three total strangers and an infant being trapped in a car together, because it really doesn't matter. All that matters is this car is on the highway, hurtling to its doom. The title sums up the plot quite succinctly. There isn't a whole lot more to the film than that.

The car is stuck in gear, pedal to the proverbial metal, zooming down the freeway at 80 miles per. At first the Highway Patrol assumes Jenny (Nina Siemaszko) is just a reckless scofflaw and quickly engages in a pursuit. But Ed (Judge Reinhold) suddenly remembers he has a mobile phone and dials 911, letting the cops in on their predicament.

So now the cops have to figure out a safe way to resolve the situation. That is, if the bureaucrats don't muck things up. Like the mayor of Springfield ("The City That Never Stops"). He's assembled a water barrier to keep the dangerous vehicle out of his town. It doesn't do much, except splash everywhere, but it does send a message to the passengers: the authorities are not interested in helping them.

And things aren't any better at the state line. The Governor has ordered the drawbridge raised, there is no way he's letting this two-ton speeding bullet into Seaport, not on his watch. I'm not sure that was his actual dialogue, but it's close enough. The passengers decide to take matters into their own hands, and send Dexter (Brian Hooks) out to disable the car's wiring under the hood. Not a great plan at 80 MPH, but better than drowning. I guess. That doesn't work. Like hitting the brakes didn't work, and how monkeying with the ignition didn't work either.

It's clear nothing is going to stop this car. Nothing except splashing into the bay or running out of gas, whichever comes first. The decision is made that the infant must be saved and an attempt is made to pass her out the window to a nearby cop car. Ed doesn't have the nerve to let go of the kid dangling inches above the asphalt and the plan is quickly scrapped.

Watching Judge Reinhold attempt to act distraught is almost as ridiculous as the fake baby he drapes out the window. (See left.)

However, they don't have a problem attaching the kid to a flimsy looking rope dangling from a news copter and chucking her out the sunroof. Of course, they probably should have checked to see if there were any overpasses on the horizon. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess. Luckily, the baby doesn't go splat. That's one down, three to go, and all our passengers have to worry about is that drawbridge. Given, it's a pretty major obstacle and the Governor has no intention of backing down.

But when the officer escorting the runaway car disregards orders to break away, and reveals his intentions to stick with the pursuit to the end, the Governor has no choice. He's got to lower the bridge or risk killing a cop. The thing is, it'll take seven minutes to lower the bridge, but the cars will be there in six! Authorities will need to slam the bridge shut, but Willie Mae, the Sassy Black Woman™ who operates the bridge does not like this idea at all, and makes it perfectly clear. No one messes with her baby, not even the Governor!

(As an aside, I want to point out that the cantankerous draw-bridge operator is played by Ketty Lester, who sang the enormously popular hit song "Love Letters" in 1965.)

The bridge is lowered, just in the nick of time, and the runaway car sails quietly into the next state. Quietly? Yes! The car has finally run out of fuel and is coasting to safety. Oh, wait, no… What's that up ahead? A school bus! The marching band will be killed, unless Jenny does something drastic…

Oh, how I love this movie! It is unrepentantly silly. I was lucky enough to catch it on its premier airing on Fox back in 1997. So enamored of it I was that I emailed Fox and asked if they planned to air it again, so I could maybe videotape it. They were very kind in their response, but ignored my pleas to rebroadcast this gem. It took me nearly a decade to track down a DVD, and I had to import my copy from the UK. This film never fails to make me laugh whether it's Judge Reinhold's performance, or Ketty Lester's cameo, or the obviously fake baby or Springfield's tongue-in-cheek city motto. It's comedy gold, whether the filmmakers intended it or not. Though, I suspect they did.


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