Thursday, September 13, 2007

EAT MY DUST

At the height of his popularity as "Richie Cunningham" on HAPPY DAYS, actor Ron Howard was offered a part in a Roger Corman-produced, country car chase movie. Now, Corman says he didn’t actually expect the red-haired TV icon to accept, but Howard agreed to do the flick – if Corman promised him an opportunity to direct another. The resulting film, EAT MY DUST (1976), went on to become one of the biggest drive-in hits of the era, and one of the highest grossing films released by Corman’s original New World company.

The plot – if I may dignify it with such a term – is simple: to impress a shallow, speed freak blonde in itty-bitty hotpants (soap opera mainstay Christopher Norris, AIRPORT 1975), Hoover Niebold (Howard), the son of the local sheriff (veteran character actor Warren J. Kemmerling, GODZILLA 1985), steals a stock car and takes her on a reckless joyride across rural Puckerbush County. Soon, his father and a bunch of deputies – as well as a posse of drunken racecar drivers – are on the kids’ tail, resulting in plenty of high-speed pursuits, car crashes and other blatant traffic violations.

With, ironically, a pedestrian script & direction by Corman vet Charles B. Griffith, EAT MY DUST is pretty thin, nonsensical stuff. But I’ll give it this: it keeps moving, is never boring, and the ending is rather perfect. That said, Howard’s follow-up for Corman, GRAND THEFT AUTO, is a much better movie.

An aside: something I find interesting, since it’s from a producer known more for imitation than innovation, is that EAT MY DUST actually predates, by a year or so, the whole SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT/DUKES OF HAZZARD phenomenon of the late Seventies. Hmmm.

Buena Vista’s new "Supercharged Edition" sports a decent, if unremarkable, 1.33:1 full frame transfer and Dolby stereo sound. The meager extras include an introduction by producer Roger Corman, the original theatrical trailer, and a retrospective documentary, "How to Crash on a Dime," which features on-camera interviews with lead actress Norris, as well as he film’s stunt coordinator and film editor. Unfortunately, as on the GRAND THEFT AUTO disc, there’s no participation by Howard himself.

It’s not a classic, but it’s a fun example of 70’s drive-in fare. For fans of the car chase genre, EAT MY DUST is worth checking out.

BUY: Eat My Dust (Supercharged Edition)