Rollercoaster

Stop wasting my time
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
James Goldstone
Starring: 
George Segal, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Susan Strasberg
The Setup: 
Guy is blowing up roller coasters in order to bribe the police for money.
Discussion: 

I think I saw this for $1 in a garage sale, and it was from the 70s and looked like a disaster film, so I bought it. It's not so much of a disaster film, it's more a cat-and-mouse police thriller. Only it's not very thrilling.

We open with our terrorist, who is never officially named in the film, listening to the sinister strains of chamber music on his cassette player. We can tell he's evil, because he listens to classical music. Anyway, we see him studying the daily routine at an amusement park across the way. Soon enough it's night at the amusement park and—wait a minute, amusement parks used to have exotic dancers? Uh, I guess so. Something to keep the adults busy, I guess. Adult men, at least. We get a lot of shots of the gaiety and fun of the amusement park. We also see a bomb stuck to the bottom of one of the rails of the roller coaster. Then we get the typical shot of people having a good time on the roller coaster, intercut with shots of the bomb. Thing is, though, since we can't tell WHERE the bomb is in relation to the coaster at large, it doesn't generate a lot of suspense, as we have no idea when the car is getting close to it. And—we might as well get this over with up front—already we can note the way the movie is protracting everything to pad out its running time. For example, we see a group of people get into the roller coaster, and we linger on their faces and "get to know them" in a way we haven't for the other riders. So we figure these are our victims, right? And we watch them ride around and we see the bomb and we start feeling nervous and then—the car pulls in and they all get out and a new bunch comes in! And you're like; "So why did I have to pay attention to those other folks?" But nowadays movies go too fast and take no time for atmosphere, so I suppose I should just shut my pie hole.

Anyway, finally the bomb goes off, and the car hits it and flies off the track. I was surprised at how brutal it is; we see whole cars filled with mannequins come off and smash into the ground. It was MUCH more graphic than the similar roller coaster accident in Final Destination 3. And I read from the trivia on the IMDb that it was originally much MORE graphic, with severed limbs and shit. I want to see that version! Anyway, not bad!

Cut to a cigarette! Cut to an ashtray jam-packed with used cigarette butts! This is how we introduce our hero, Harry Caulder, played by George Segal, also of No Way To Treat a Lady and the original Fun with Dick and Jane. He is being given electric shocks while he smokes as part of an anti-smoking therapy. WHAT. EVER. I have to say, this is one of the odder ways to introduce a hero that I've seen, and the lingering smell of "what was THAT all about?" does hang over the film for a while, disrupting the tone. This continues as Harry goes over to his ex-wife's house and we have a lot of domestic visiting rights and post-divorce drama as Harry picks up his daughter—played by Helen Hunt. He gets the call about the roller coaster, and before you know it, another roller coaster has been bombed—only this time we only see smoke and ambulances. Skimpy! I came here to see flying lopped-off limbs and sailing severed heads—and I've been cheated.

So Harry's investigation goes along rather unremarkably, involving Henry Fonda, who Segal shares a pretty good scene of mutual contempt with, and Richard Widmark. I just watched this shit last night and I can barely remember anything about it today. Mostly what I remember is that everything is drawn-out forever. Other than that it's all quite generic. The terrorist starts making calls to Harry, and Harry loses it and bitches the guy out on several occasions. That was somewhat amusing, I guess. And calls from psychos are always fun. Usually. Anyway, the terrorist wants a million dollars, and is going to keep blowing up roller coasters until he gets it. I don't think we ever find out why, and that's a little refreshing, for a change. He just wants money. Hey, I want money, too. I can relate.

So by this time the strongest impression this movie is making on me is how very much it's wasting my time, protracting everything as far as it possibly can. A great example of this is around 1:20:00 when we watch this endless skywriting and hear bargain-basement disco music as we slowwwwwly pan around the amusement park. Plus it's occurring to me about this time that, given typical movie structure, there's no way the terrorist is actually going to blow up the rollercoaster, because we need the hero to save the day in a nick of time. I was kind of hoping against hope for an awesome rollercoaster accident and THEN the guy would be caught, but you just know that's not going to happen. There are tons of people lined up at the park for the inaugural ride of the new coaster, and while they're waiting they are treated to the all-round shitty rock of Sparks. Is this the same Sparks like Jane Weidlin and Sparks sing "Cool Places?" If so, they must have made a big turn into new wave in the 80s.

SPOILERS > > >
So they walk the full length of the big new rollercoaster looking for bombs. The terrorist is walking around eating cotton candy during this time. The guys find the bomb and there is a LONG scene of defusing it, while we hear this seemingly endless and endlessly horrible song entitled "Big Boy." There is an absolutely SHAMELESS edit around 1:34:15 where they cut from the bomb to an explosion—on stage at the rock show. Cheap, guys! The terrorist see the guys, and tries to blow them up an instant after the bomb's central wire has been cut. So he runs out to the car, where his portable bomb-making case is stowed, and whips together another one. He buys his way onto the first ride of the new coaster and fixes the bomb—QUITE obviously and in plain view—next to his seat. By the way, you'll notice that this rollercoaster ride is seemingly six minutes long. Anyway, Harry figures out who it is, there's a stand-off, the terrorist's frequency his jammed, meaning he won't be able to defuse the bomb, and he gets shot in the leg. There is then a chase which is entirely suspense-free, as the bomb is defused and the killer is wounded—which results, through a very convoluted circumstance, in the terrorist getting killed by the VERY rollercoaster he sought to destroy! Can you BELIEVE that irony? Then Harry bums a cigarette. I did find it a little amusing that the park would re-open the coaster just a few minutes after it had killed a man, but business is business!
< < < SPOILERS END

Apparently this opened just three weeks after Star Wars, so some people on the IMDb feel that it was unjustly ignored. No, it was justly ignored. The only notable feature of this movie is its overwhelming mediocrity. And how much it wastes your time. This was one of four movies released in "sensurround," which was a system where distributors would lend huge sub-woofers to certain theaters to give you that seats-are-shaking effect. Due to the large amount of front-seat rollercoaster POV shots, I'm assuming the presumptive "thrill" her was a virtual rollercoaster ride. WWWWWWOW. This is one of those relics of the 70s that is best left in the 70s. The trailer on the disc succeeds in making the film look precisely as banal as it is.

Should you watch it: 

If you want to recapture that feeling of going to see a really lame movie during the 70s.