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Running On Empty
cast: Richard Moir, Terry Serio, Deborah Conway, Max Cullen, and Vangelis Mourikis

director: John Clark

83 minutes (15) 1982
widescreen ratio 16:9
Brit Films TV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Mark West
As the film opens, we follow a street-car race between local speed demon Fox (Richard Moir) and an unlucky challenger, who ends up in a ditch immolated in his car. One of the bystanders is a factory worker called Mike (Terry Serio), who dreams of being a street-racer himself. At 'Aces' nightclub, he picks up a girl, Julie (Deborah Conway), who is both a model and a sometime girlfriend of Fox. Angry at this, Fox roughs up Mike and challenges him to a race, with the loser having to keep off the roads. In a spectacular crash, Mike loses and, later, Fox beats up his friend and mechanic Tony (Vangelis Mourikis). The two friends, with Julie in tow, head into the outback to raise some funds so that they can challenge Fox to a final race, to prove that they're kings of the road.

Made in 1982 and apparently never released in the UK before, this is a straight-forward action film, full of great stunts, wonderful 1980s' styling and the beautiful Australian scenery. Some of it is far-fetched (nobody seems particularly bothered at the fatalities during these races), some of it betrays the low-budget origins, but there's something about this, a passion that seems to seep onto the screen, that makes it well worth a watch. Also, during the races, you get the sense that the makers of The Fast & The Furious might have seen it but completely missed the point and replaced wit and ingenuity with pointless styling and CGI rubbish.

In the outback, the gang meet Rebel, a 1950s' obsessed greaser with a cool car and a jiving girlfriend - it turns out he's blind, but loves driving anyway. The sequences between him and Mike are really well done, their dialogue natural and generation spanning in a way that would be out of place if this were remade today (Rebel explains that both of his sons became pen-pushers in a bank - "Went off the rails, did they?" says Mike casually). There are also a couple of moments between Mike and Julie that are tender and quite philosophical, but again it doesn't feel out of place.

The tone of the film shifts, once the police get involved (both seem to be caricatures at first, the male looking like Weird Al Yankovic, and the woman a smaller version of Sergeant Callahan from Police Academy - which this predates) and the ending, following a thrilling chase, is very stark and abrupt. But it fits.

The quality of the acting varies (Fox gets the best part, with most of his screen-time being close-ups of his emoting) but you never get the sense that any of them are coasting. I didn't know any of the actors, but a quick check on IMDb suggests most are still working in film in some capacity or another. The direction is assured and it would have been nice to see John Clark try something else (apparently, this was his only feature). As I mentioned above, the stunt work and driving are all superb, with only a couple of sequences obviously speeded up, and the picture quality overall - bearing in mind the vintage - is excellent. Best of all, the photography uses the Australian landscape to wonderful effect - from night-time Sydney to the rugged beauty of the outback. Running On Empty (aka: Fast Lane Fever) is a clever, action-packed, fun little film that does its best and does it well. It's worth watching...

There were no extras on my screener copy - a little behind the scenes featurette would have been nice - though there were trailers for other Brit Films TV releases, all of which were Australian (peculiar only because of the distribution company's name) and all of which looked intriguing.
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