Director: William Olsen
VCI Home Video

GETTING IT ON!’s William Olsen moves on to bigger and better things with the ambitious and immensely entertaining ROCKIN’ ROAD TRIP, back out on special edition DVD from VCI.

Lonely Boston artist Martin (Garth McLean) is a bit too square to get a formal introduction to Nicole (Margaret Currie), lead singer of his favorite band Cherry Suicide; but his attempt to intervene when Nicole’s abusive and psychotic boyfriend Ivan (Graham Smith, SILVER BULLET) finds him sprawled in the arms of the singer’s cute sister Samantha (Katherine Harrison, THE CLOSEST THING TO HEAVEN). Martin passes the time in between chaste dates with Samantha writing up bible quotes for his blind street philosopher friend Wally (Steve Boles, FIRESTARTER), who finds himself in danger when a fleeing jewel thief stashes a valuable ring in his panhandling cup. Samantha receives a letter from her mother informing her that her father is gravely ill, but she is unable to convince Nicole to come down to North Carolina with her until Ivan breaks into their apartment and attacks them. Knocking Ivan unconscious, the sisters steal his $5000 stash and take off in a taxi with bandmate Curtis (Leland Gantt, PRESUMED INNOCENT). Samantha is reluctant to skip town without Martin, so Nicole suggests they take him with them. They arrive just in time to rescue Martin and Wally from the robber’s buddies (who have been beating up random blind panhandlers in an effort to find the ring which Wally has gifted to Martin). The group pay their cabbie (Peter Bruno) handsomely to get them down to Virginia where Curtis ends up buying a stolen van and continue on to North Carolina (and hopefully on to Florida) meeting, picking up, and battling more oddball characters. When the money runs out, they hit upon the idea to play at a Christian circus, unaware that Ivan is on the trail and packing heat.

Originally titled SUMMERTIME BLUES before music publisher Warner-Tamerlane objected, ROCKIN’ ROAD TRIP is a quantum leap in direction and style for director William Olsen from his debut GETTING IT ON! Although few of the actors worked much before or after this on film, the leads are proficient and likable, and the supporting parts are also well-cast. The photography of Austin McKinney (a regular collaborator of Jack Hill and David L. Hewitt) often approaches 1980s studio gloss, the night exteriors are actually lit (and often attractively so), and the daytime pursuit of the jewel robber by a policewoman features some fluid Steadicam photography (by David Lynch regular Dan Kneece). The film maintains a good balance between the comic and romantic aspects whilst indulging in several 1980s filmmaking clichés like the undercranked high-speed gas station convenience store visit or the mall montage (trying on different fashions, checking out new musical instruments, breakdancing, pigging out on fast food) for the most part.

The film is a tad overlong at just over a hundred minutes as Olsen stuffs in as much local talent in comic vignettes, particularly Martin Tucker (the North Carolina-lensed slasher HOUSE OF DEATH/DEATH SCREAMS) as a randy marital aids salesman who becomes the band’s drummer, Robert Bloodworth (DOGS OF HELL from local exploitation filmmakers Worth Keeter and Earl Owensby) as a coke-snorting preacher bleeding Nicole’s and Samantha’s parents dry with donations, prolific TV character actor Leon Rippy (STARGATE) as a motel owner, and a pair of incredibly easy groupies. Sure, it’s a cliché dramatic moment in many dramas and comedies (including sitcoms), but the absence of the payoff scene just feels abrupt. Olsen had already demonstrated a knack for selecting good musical selections in his previous film, and the even more essential line-up of rock music here – from the music catalog of Landslide Records – is often on-par with more mainstream films of the time. Currie and her band mime to the performances of The Cheryl Wilson Band, but the soundtrack also features numbers from Atlanta artists Guadalcanal Diary, Love Tractor Pylon, Marianna Pace and Tinsley Ellis (performing “Red Dress” with The Heartfixers). Olsen also has an eye for locations and grabs shots of some scenic country roads

ROCKIN’ ROAD TRIP was picked up by Lloyd Kaufmann’s Troma Team, and it is their logo and presentation credit that accompanies VCI’s open-matte transfer (although the original VHS release was by Twentieth-Century-Fox offshoot Key Video with no subsequent home entertainment release under Troma’s own label). The interlaced image zooms in well enough to 16:9 (in the extras, Olsen states that the film was shot for 1.85:1 projection), but the limitations of the transfer and encode become more evident with enlargement. Unfortunately, that’s nowhere near as bad as the fact that the film was transferred with two of the reels out of sequence. At first it seemed that the film set up Samantha to find and misinterpret the sight of a drunken Nicole and Martin in bed together only to then skip the discovery scene and cut to Wally trying to convince her to give them a chance to explain themselves. We also hear that Wally left Martin a note and planned to hop a bus to Florida only to be dragged off by Samantha. Both of these things do indeed happen (including Martin chasing after Samantha out of the hotel in his underwear and arguing with her in the parking lot amidst heckling onlookers), but they happen several minutes after the aforementioned aftermath scenes. The reordering disrupts the pacing and one’s enjoyment of the film third act, which isn’t anything surprising but sufficiently entertaining. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track, on the other hand, is clean and suitably boisterous during the musical scenes.

Like their release of Olsen’s GETTING IT ON!, VCI’s “Spring Break Film Festival” edition appears to be a repackaging of their earlier 20th anniversary special edition. Although Olsen provided a commentary for GETTING IT ON!, he does not do so here; however, he does provide another mini-commentary over a still gallery montage (9:53) as well as an on-camera interview (22:29) in which he discusses the title change – the film still retains its theme song “Summertime Blues” – not the Eddie Cochran song – despite the title change – Troma’s Kaufmann suggesting the title change, its video release and its heavy play on cable, his collaboration with cinematographer McKinney (who was doing process plate photography for effects companies during this period), and splitting the editing literally down the middle with credited editor David Lloyd (NIGHT EYES) as well as his preference for cutting on film, and the project’s origins as a dramatic script with Ellen Barkin and Peter Riegert intended as the leads (the project was scaled down when Olsen couldn’t raise the money). The disc also features a text biography for Olsen as well as trailers for HOMEWORK and SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS. (Eric Cotenas)