Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July
My first sign that 1980’s Roadie might not offer a very interesting flick: it’s rated “PG”! Admittedly, “PG” was broader back before the invention of “PG-13” in 1984, and some movies with that rating pushed the “R” envelope pretty hard. Given Roadie’s subject matter, I expected it to push that envelope.
However, that didn’t happen. A bizarre little fable, Roadie occasionally flirts with rugged subject matter, but it mostly remained strangely innocent and innocuous. Roadie follows Texas trucker Travis Redfish (Meat Loaf). His father Corpus C. Redfish (Art Carney) owns a salvage business, and Travis lives at home with dad and his sister Alice (Rhonda Bates).
Travis stops to help a busted-down RV because he sees a babe in the vehicle. They’re hauling the equipment for Hank Williams Jr., and Travis meets Lola (Kaki Hunter), a young woman on her way to New York City to meet Alice Cooper and become the “greatest groupie of all-time”. Because he’s infatuated with Lola, Travis agrees to drive the equipment to Austin.
On the way, Travis gets to know Lola. She claims that Cooper invited her to New York, but it soon becomes clear that she doesn’t actually know the singer. When they get to the gig, Travis displays extraordinary skills as a roadie. After he experiences “brainlock” following a fight, manager Ace (Joe Spano) and promoter Mohammed Johnson (Don Cornelius) get Lola to entice Travis into becoming a full-time roadie.
The rest of the movie follows Travis, Lola and others on the road. They first go to Los Angeles, where Travis learns more revelations about his would-be sweetie. The film pursues their journey as a potential couple as they travel inexorably toward the climax in New York.
Like other early Eighties flicks such as Used Cars, Roadie is the kind of flick that probably seemed hilarious at the time but that hasn’t aged well. Roadie features only the most rudimentary of plots, as the story really feels like little more than an excuse for marginally connected gags and musical cameos. The movie features a lot of real-life acts; in addition to Hank Williams Jr. and Alice Cooper, we see performances from Roy Orbison, Blondie, and Asleep At the Wheel. It’s an unusual mélange of genres that functions sporadically well but doesn’t really add much to the movie. If anything, the concert sequences seem like little more than filler.
Most of the musicians simply play, but some act as well. Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Cooper get the chance to flex their acting muscles to a moderate degree, and this creates a little fun. Neither do much in their parts, but it’s neat to see them try to act.
Of course, a musician turned actor plays our lead as well. At the start of the film, Loaf seems exceptionally flat and uninspired. However, he starts to come to life as the movie progresses. He seems very cartoony early, but he turns more natural and confident as time passes. His work isn’t terrific, but it appears acceptable.
Granted, it helps that Roadie is little more than a cartoon fable anyway. It tends toward broad comedy mixed with stabs at romance between Lola and Travis. Neither element ignites. The gags feel like Saturday Night Live rejects like one with a box of Tide filled with cocaine. Other attempts at humor seem equally lame and obnoxious, such as Mohammed’s constant misuse of the name “Redfish”.
Roadie seems like an odd and fairly pointless semi-satirical fantasy. At times it feels like a self-conscious attempt to mock other conventions; for example, the gratuitous car chase knows that it’s gratuitous. However, Roadie doesn’t enjoy the smarts or cohesion to make it a more pointed experience. Instead, it meanders through unfunny and dopey comedic sketches and sporadically effective musical performances. Generally loud and annoying, Roadie fails to engage the viewer.