Convoy (1978) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for language, violence, brief nudity, and sexuality (probably PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklyn Ajaye, Brian Davies, Seymour Cassel
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Bill L. Norton
It’s painful to see a once mighty filmmaker like Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs) fail, especially when it is a catastrophe on this level. Convoy is perhaps one of the weirdest of the late Seventies films about truckers and their bouts with authority, with its bewildering storyline and amorphous plotting, and the fact that it treads a very poorly defined line between self-parody and self-importance. Stranger yet is that they would make a whole movie about C.W. McCall’s country-western song of the same name. Perhaps when you consider Peckinpah’s health in the latter years of his life, and the stories of substance abuse, the mystery does begin to make a little bit of sense. It’s reported that actor James Coburn (Hudson Hawk, Affliction) actually filmed a good deal of the footage as a second unit director when Peckinpah wasn’t feeling up to the task.
Kris Kristofferson (Lone Star, Blade) plays a hard-nosed trucker who goes by the CB handle of “Rubber Duck”, who makes his living on the roads of the United States, making friends, and lovers, along the way. One day Duck and his buddies get harassed and jostled by a corrupt (and racist) sheriff, Lyle (Borgnine, The Trackers), who takes their cash readily, until they get their revenge later at a truck stop in an all-out melee. Rubber Duck’s dealings with the authorities quickly makes him a folk hero for other truckers and those in the CB culture, who quickly engage in helping Duck out by following his lead in a convoy which stretches for over a mile.
Probably the easiest reason as to why such a movie was made to begin with was the breakthrough success of Smokey and the Bandit, which featured a strikingly similar story of a CB sporting outlaw who captured the hearts of many in his elusiveness with the law, causing normal folk to help out whenever they can. The comparisons end there though. Where Smokey succeeded in irreverent charm, Convoy falters by taking its own story far too seriously, despite the ridiculousness of the many events that take place. It does sport the Peckinpah style of slow-motion violence and drawn out montages, but somehow these long stretches makes the film feel very padded, with filmmakers stuck in a rut as to just what kind of movie they wanted to make. Is this a comedy, drama, or protest film? The answer is none. It is a meandering mess.
Over the years, this film has gained a cult following for those nostalgic for the 70s, as well as Peckinpah fanatics, who probably see this as a curious sort of masterpiece. While I would like to say that there was a method behind Peckinpah’s madness, I must sadly conclude that his interest in this film seems to be lacking, falling into familiar rhythms when not knowing what to do with the narrative. I have a feeling that if John Q. Doe directed this film, it would easily be a quaint dinosaur, instead of the cult film it is today. Read into this all you want, Peckinpah fanatics. This is NOT the passionate work of a visionary filmmaker.
©2005 Vince Leo