|Review||Final Exam (1981)||Director||David Cronenberg|
|Writers||Alan Treen (Story), Phil Savath, Courtney Smith and David Cronenberg (Screenplay)|
|Cast||William Smith, John Saxon, Claudia Jennings, Nicholas Campbell, Don Francks, Cedric Smith, Judy Foster, Robert Haley and George Buza|
“Winning is too expensive!” – Adamson
Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (Smith) is a popular but ageing race car driver who tours the countryside of Canada along with his crew of Billy “The Kid” (Campbell), P.J. (Haley) and Elder (Francks). During one of the competitions Lonnie crashes his racer but escapes without injury. Although the team is being sponsored by big timers FastCo Oil, the company’s representative Phil Adamson (Saxon) decides it’s too expensive to re-build the car. Adamson, who’s also on the take, wants the team to think they’re going to have the racer back so he tricks Lonnie into driving the funny car for the time being while repairs are being made. This is much to the dismay of up and coming driver “The Kid” who gets sidelined while Lonnie races the funny car.
Lonnie discovers that Adamson is playing him and rebels in such a fashion that the sleazy rep fires him and his team. Adamson and FastCo then start to sponsor Lonnie’s main rival Gary “The Blacksmith” Black (Smith) in the funny car races. To top it off Adamson also confiscates the team’s funny car and leaves them high and dry. Next up is for Lonnie and his team to steal back the funny car and compete independently against Adamson and “The Blacksmith”. But Adamson may just prove to have the killer instinct when it comes to winning at all costs.
Cult filmmaker David Cronenberg has made many cult classics but really only one B-movie complete with a bona fide hero vs. an utter villain, cars and crashes, fistfights and some good old fashioned sleaze thrown in the mix. “Fast Company” was sandwiched in between “Rabid” (1977) and “The Brood” (1979) and both those films are much more representative of the director’s body of work. Thanks to a distribution fiasco “Fast Company” hardly travelled outside of Canada so the film’s DVD debut in 2004 was like a premiere for those interested in Cronenberg’s little race-car film. The fact is that “Fast Company” is so readily accessible for those simply wanting some B-movie fun rather than the thought provoking and heavy handed “body-horror” that Cronenberg was focusing on and that reached it’s peak with “Videodrome” (1983) and his reworking of “The Fly” (1986). Some others say he topped himself with “Crash” (1996) but I’m not one of them.
I’m a big fan of Cronenberg and my personal favourite is “The Dead Zone” (1983) closely followed by “The Brood”. “Fast Company” is, however, the film the gets the most replay. I’m a sucker for simple B-movies and this film fits the bill perfectly. The racing scenes are well staged and exciting, the story has surprising character depth that’s well played by a great cast (more on that later) and the plot is simple but direct and compelling in that is creates clear protagonists and antagonists. It all culminates very satisfyingly with an eventful showdown that’s action packed and good triumphs over evil. The viewer isn’t left scratching his head in deciphering what he’s been watching and that’s often the best medicine to draw the curtains on an uneventful day.
A special mention must also be made of the rock soundtrack by Fred Mollin (of “Friday the 13th: The Series” fame amongst numerous other credits) and it’s catchy, mood setting and fairly reminiscent of early Springsteen. Simply a wonderful soundtrack.
I mentioned the cast. The chief factor of why I re-watched “Fast Company” and wanted to write about it was when I learned of the passing of the great genre legend John Saxon. He has 197 credits to his name on IMDB and he was mostly known for his roles in “Enter The Dragon” (1973), “Black Christmas” (1974) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) but cult aficionados have seen much more of him. He’s a guy that popped up in the most unlikely of places. The likes of “Dynasty”, “The Rockford Files”, “Magnum P.I.”, “Wonder Woman” and even in three episodes of “Murder She Wrote” and always playing a different character. He made many appearances in Italian horror movies and his biggest starring role was probably in “Cannibal Apocalypse” but he worked with genre greats like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. In short; Saxon had a wonderful career and made many memorable appearances.
Saxon’s role as Phil Adamson in “Fast Company” isn’t among his better known ones but it is a meaty part that the actor tackles expertly. Adamson is on the take and pockets a hefty sum on the side, he takes advantage of his position with female employees (or at least he tries to) and he cons Lonnie and his crew while seeming to be fighting for them. In the end he will look the other way and possibly condone murder to get what he wants. He’s a sleaze but Saxon never makes him into a caricature. Adamson really believes in what he’s doing and thinks rather big of himself. He demands respect and enjoys being a step above in the success ladder. He’s a bit more complex villain than many B-movies serve up and all the more memorable for it. In the end though the viewer clearly sees a struggling side in the character and that’s mostly down to good acting from Saxon. But it doesn’t save him from a righteous finale.
No less a genre legend is William Smith. Although he’s mostly known for playing bad dudes he excels in the hero part and turns in a memorable performance. Claudia Jennings, who tragically died in a car crash before the film was even released, is very likeable as Lonnie’s love interest. Campbell, Francks, Haley and Buza all contribute heavily in their small but well realised parts. Nearly a scene stealer is Cedric Smith as “The Blacksmith”, the funny car opposition, as his character is surprisingly likeable, relatable, decently written and well played.
Cronenberg himself describes “Fast Company” as a western. Cronenberg aficionados who desperately want to tie the film in neatly with the rest of his filmography tend to highlight the director’s fetishistic attention to loud engine noises or attention to the minute workings of the engines or the likes. I just see a very well realised old fashioned B-movie that’s well crafted, above average in the writing department and with a killer cast to boot.