by Rob Gonsalves
Nobody quite seems to know what to do with "Fast Company," a car-racing B-movie directed by David Cronenberg. It seems to be a non sequitur in Cronenberg's career — everything he did before it, and most of what he did after it for years, were chilly and often grotesque horror films. And here was this beer-chugging, good-ol'-boy drive-in flick about dudes who race funky cars. Huh?Look a little closer, though, and Fast Company is every bit as much a Cronenberg film as any of his others. The drivers climb into their cars, locked into the machinery, looking like firemen or coal miners with their gas masks and inflammable suits, while Cronenberg's camera dwells on hands twiddling with the engines. The hero, ace driver Lonnie "Lucky Man" Johnson (the formidable William Smith), wants to push the art and science of racing further — he's got people working on tech for him. (Lonnie is kind of the Seth Brundle of racers, experimenting with a machine that will zap him from point A to point B faster than ever before.) But Phil Adamson (John Saxon), who owns the motor-oil company (FastCo) that sponsors Lonnie's team, doesn't care about the future of racing, or even about winning. He just wants to sell motor oil.
Cronenberg always had a thing for fast cars, and did a good amount of racing himself. So this B-movie that landed on his desk is actually a little more personal than first meets the eye. But only a little; past a certain point, you get the expected B-movie narrative beats and B-movie dialogue — this isn't a dry run for Crash, or anything. The races, though, are photographed and composed (by Mark Irwin, in the first of several collaborations with Cronenberg) far more artfully than they had to be, with quiet pauses afterwards that few drive-in hacks would bother with. You get a real sense of the firepower of these vehicles, spitting out flames as they scoot down the track, and you frequently get lurching point-of-view shots that literally take you for a ride. The story is too basic and Manichean for Cronenberg to do anything complex with it; he's just having a good time.
On that level, it's a fine '70s exploitation flick, complete with an amusingly gratuitous scene in which motor oil meets breasts. (Take that, J.G. Ballard.) It's fun watching B-movie stalwarts Smith and Saxon face off, and Claudia Jennings, as Lonnie's main squeeze, is fetching if typically inexpressive in what would be her final film role (she died, ironically, in a car accident not long after she made this movie). There's nothing challenging here (other than retrospectively accepting Nicholas Campbell — aka The Dead Zone's creepy Frank Dodd — as a simple-hearted racer under Ronnie's wing); it's comfort food. I think it fits pretty well into the Cronenberg portfolio, though, if only as an attempt to go mainstream, but only on his terms (i.e., he wanted to immerse himself in racing culture and linger over engine parts as if they were, well, motor-oil-covered breasts).The script really shoots the works in the climax: a car, a plane, and even a mechanic burst into flames. But even here, the ever-clinical Cronenberg moves in for a shot of the crispy mechanic shivering on the ground. You paradoxically lose heat from your body when you suffer third-degree burns, and Professor Cronenberg would have known this. Even in a yee-haw drive-in flick about manly men drivin' cars, Cronenberg manages to sneak in some body-consciousness.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7930&reviewer=416
originally posted: 07/31/09 13:03:59