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  Running On Empty Driven To Distraction
Year: 1982
Director: John Clark
Stars: Terry Serio, Deborah Conway, Max Cullen, Richard Moir, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Vangelis Mourikis, Grahame Bond, Warren Blondell, Chris Haywood, Robin Ramsay, Geoff Rhoe, Keli Roberts, Annie Semler, Gerry Sont
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mike (Terry Serio) is a young mechanic who is obsessed with cars, living in an Australian town where road racing is a way of life, led by the top dog in the unofficial sport, Fox (Richard Moir). Just today he was taking part in a contest, confident as ever that he would win, and so it came to pass though not in the way he would have expected as his rival was so frustrated he tried to force him off the road, only to crash and die in a fiery explosion. Fox couldn't care less, all he wants is his cash winnings, but the girl he's with, Julie (Deborah Conway), has other feelings...

Which drive her into the arms of Mike in what in some views could have been the Australian Rebel Without a Cause, except aside from the antics of the characters when it came to cars, this was a lot more feral. Running On Empty, not to be confused with the River Phoenix "Oh dear, my parents used to be terrorists" drama of a few years later, was a major cult movie in its native land, depicting as it did a way of life that many of its target audience could identify with and most importantly for them showing off a bunch of fast cars to something like their best advantage. Who needed great acting when you had the vehicles?

Cars have a strong connection to many Aussie movies of this stripe, especially in the exploitation vein, but there were signs director John Clark, whose only film this was (he came up with the story, too), wished us to take the dramatic side very seriously. So there was more than a hint of earnestness about Mike's romance with Julie, and the other aspects of his life from his barely seen deadbeat hippy dad to the blind mechanic who becomes a surrogate father to him, Rebel (Max Cullen). As for Fox, he demands that if Mike wants to continue seeing Julie, he must race for her, a plan which works out badly for both of them in the long run as Fox wins the race, but Mike wins the girl.

Well, up to a point, as there's still a load of relationship ups and downs to come for the couple, though that did include another reason this went down in the annals of Oz movie history when Conway, best known there for her singing talents, had a couple of nude scenes which made her more famous than she was already. That probably won't mean much to foreigners, but then you could say that of a lot of the material included here, and even so it has managed to work up a following abroad thanks not so much to the recognisability of the stars, but more the stunts. Action films from this region were notorious for a while for their devil may care attitude to safety as long as they could get a spectacular shot, and Running On Empty was no exception to that.

What offered this an edge, more than the automobiles crashing, was the atmosphere of utter lawlessness evoked. The racers basically behave as they want, and though there are a couple of cops sighted, they don't act any more responsibly than the other characters, resembling something more akin to gangsters, though they still have to be distracted when Fox wants to stage another competition. When Mike, Julie and their Italian friend Tony (Vangelis Mourikis) head off to the Outback to meet Rebel, testing out their souped up wheels, they encounter a gang who would not be out of place in a Mad Max movie which ends up with their car in a very bad way, though they are able to drive away to safety. It really was the stunts which were the highlights, with the motors tearing up the asphalt with abandon, but regardless they wouldn't seem half as dangerous without the mood of barely contained violence which invades every scene. This wasn't a slick film by any means, but it did have a certain verve. Music by Peter Crosbie.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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