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  Honky Tonk Freeway Tourist Trap
Year: 1981
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: William Devane, Beau Bridges, Beverly D'Angelo, George Dzundza, Joe Grifasi, Howard Hesseman, Teri Garr, Deborah Rush, Geraldine Page, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Paul Jabara, Daniel Stern, Celia Weston, Jerry Hardin, Frances Bay, David Rasche
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There is a new freeway being built near to the small tourist town of Ticlaw in Florida, but the residents are not happy at all. The reason? The state are refusing to build an exit to their town, meaning they will be without custom and a financial crisis will erupt. There is a ray of hope when the mayor (William Devane) persuades one of the planners to accept a bribe of $10,000 to ensure the exit will be built, and Ticlaw holds a fundraising parade to raise the cash. But the official lets them down by taking the money and not doing anything about building the exit, meaning Ticlaw will have to take drastic steps to bring the tourists in. Meanwhile, all over the country are prospective visitors embarking on a journey which will take them to the small town, but they don't know that yet, and nobody is having an easy time...

Ending around the time Honky Tonk Freeway came out, there was a brief fashion for big ensemble films featuring starry casts and broad humour. Perhaps the trend started with Nashville, and efforts as successful as The Cannonball Run, and as unsuccessful as 1941 had joined it, but while Honky Tonk Freeway had their grand scale and a similar level of humour, it didn't really have the starry cast, containing more in the way of half-recognisable faces rather than anyone more illustrious. Not that the cast let the film down, if anything they enhance it as few of the jokes are really laugh out loud funny, and the story doesn't concentrate on any one character at the expense of the others. Scripted by Edward Clinton, it's not a classic comedy, but you'll like the people in it - most of them, anyway.

There is a great assortment of travellers to be packed in as the film takes on the appearance of a road movie; quite a few road movies, in fact. Eugene (George Dzundza) and Osvaldo (Joe Grifasi) are two New Yorkers who turn to crime and rob a bank, leaving the city with the cash for a new beginning. Something noticeable about all the characters is that they're all running away from the miseries of modern life, such as Dwayne (Beau Bridges) - his wife hates him for being such a useless dreamer, pinning all his hopes on the admittedly pathetic idea for a children's book, "Ricky the Carnivorous Pony", the manuscript of which she burns, so he leaves. Then there's Carmen Odessa Shelby (Beverly D'Angelo), a kind hearted, smalltown whore who is taking her recently deceased mother's ashes to Florida with her, just as requested.

On the way Carmen meets Dwayne, as everyone in the film finds a connection with the others eventually. Sherman (Hume Cronyn) and Carol (Jessica Tandy) are on their way to Florida to retire, and Sherman is upset by his wife's drinking problem, and even more upset when their car is stolen, although the film's mixed good naturedness shows when the thieves leave all the couple's belongings behind. A family (headed by Howard Hesseman and Teri Garr) are holidaying across the country, but their obnoxious kids would rather watch television than see Monument Valley. And a couple of nuns (Geraldine Page and Deborah Rush) are going to Florida too, only the younger one is having doubts about her vocation and would rather disco dance.

As all this is happening, Ticlaw gets more desperate, painting the whole town pink and offering free gas to lure the customers, and that's not to mention the promise of seeing the water-skiing elephant in action. When that doesn't work after interference by the authorities, they decide to blow up a section of the freeway to force visitors to arrive as a detour. All everyone wants in Honky Tonk Freeway is a contented life, and the film is in two minds whether to give it to them, throwing up obstacles in their paths but them offering them happiness when they are unexpectedly nice to each other. There are a few decent jokes, as when Sherman calls out the vehicle repairman for his broken down car in the pouring rain, only for him to start the engine first try and charge him $45 for his trouble, and the running gags do lead somewhere, but there's a hint of cruelty, a feeling of laughing at the losers, especially in the climactic set piece. Still, it comes over as sympathetic for the most part, and is amusing enough to be termed underrated. Music by Elmer Bernstein and George Martin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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