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Rolling Vengeance

1987, Starring Don Michael Paul, Lawrence Dane, Ned Beatty, Lisa Howard, Todd Duckworth, Michael J. Reynolds. Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern.

Exploitation films have always latched on to pop culture trends to turn a quick buck, but few would have guessed that the mainstream's brief fascination with the monster truck phenomenon in the mid-1980s would warrant any sort of cinematic record. The automotive world's equivalent of professional wrestling, monster trucks enjoyed incredible popularity at the time, with touring shows of conventional pick-up trucks tricked out with gigantic tractor tires and suspension systems that allowed them to drive overtop of junked family sedans. Though monster truck events were (and are) often set up as competitions, they're really pure spectacleredneck bread and circuses for racing enthusiasts and demolition nuts. Drawing on the timely popularity of the sport, Rolling Vengeance offers the same lowbrow, Sunday-at-the-dirt-track delight as the real live events, offering viewers a simplistic revenge story that prizes twisted metal and car-crushing carnage above all else.

Returning from a long haul, big rig driver Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul) arrives to his serene, backwater hometown to spend some quality time with his family and his girlfriend, Misty (Lisa Howard). Only lately, things haven't been very quietdrunk driving accidents have been on the rise, and local bigshot and bar owner Tiny Doyle (Ned Beatty), refuses to take any responsibility for the alcoholics that stumble out of his sleazy strip bar and into their cars. Then, tragedy strikeswhile Joey secretly builds a monster truck in his garage, Tiny's intoxicated kin attack the trucker's mom (Susan Hogan) and young siblings, forcing her station wagon into the path of an oncoming semi. When Tiny's son is fined only a few hundred dollars for his drunken manslaughter, Joey and his anguished dad Big Joe (Lawrence Dane) head to Tiny's bar and try to pick a fight. In retaliation a few days later, the inbred Doyle clan rapes Misty and tosses cinder blocks at Big Joe's truck from an overpass, sending him hurtling to his death. Beside himself with anger, Joey spends a hectic musical montage converting his monster truck into a fire-spewing, drill-packing metal and chrome beast that crushes the cars of Tiny's bar, protects his friends from attacks by the Doyles, and makes mincemeat out of more than a few good ol' boys.

Despite its gimmicky premise, Rolling Vengeance is Canada's most entertaining rural revenge film of the 1980s, far better than the similarly themed hillbilly fun of Bullies and Snake Eater. Certainly it's more exploitive, with a high octane mix of sex, booze and vehicular mayhem, but it's still strongly paced, and heavy on the car-crunching action, which is all anyone could ask for in a film that proudly bills itself as completely destroying more than 65 vehicles during production. Director Steven Stern, an American veteran of the TV movie-of-the-week school navigates the barely-there plot to deliver a parade of gratuitousbut always free-spiritedaction sequences that are wholly appropriate for the film's decidedly lowbrow tone. It's like an R-rated episode of the Dukes of Hazzard where Rosco gets a little too free with Daisy and Bo repeatedly runs him over with a tractor, but there's still a freeze-frame of everyone laughing at the end.

Obviously, the only reason anyone would want to check out Rolling Vengeance is the vigilante truck itself, so Stern doesn't skimp on leering shots of the mechanized killer. More of a sheet metal tank on enormous wheels than anything that actually resembles a real vehicle, it's an admittedly impressive sight as it barrels down on the backwoods bullies, occasionally switching to POV camera work as the truck slams into cars, buildings, and anything else that gets in its way. The most interesting touch is the giant drill bit that retracts into the undercarriage, which lends significant credence to the theory of the truck being an extension of the operator's manhoodespecially when an unknown driver uses it to chase Misty inside a drain pipe.

The film also benefits from better-than-expected acting. Lawrence Dane lends a touch of Canadian class to the film as outraged trucker patriarch Big Joe, while fellow Canadians Susan Hogan and Lisa Howard bring up the rear with surprisingly authentic portrayals of Joey's loved ones. Still, it's the leather-clad Ned Beatty who really steals the show, offering up his best corrupt Boss Hogg impression. He's clearly having way too much fun in the role, making obscene jokes, desperately praying to God for revenge, and slinging mashed potatoes at his undistinguishable bumpkin brood, all of whom sport nicknames like Finger, Hair Lip and Moon Man.

Shot in 1987, the last year of the tax shelters, Rolling Vengeance features some fine location work in the cornfields and rural routes of Ontario, but it makes little reference to its Canadian origins. That's perfectly understandable, thoughafter all, if you were making a film on a subject as unashamedly American as monster trucking, wouldn't you want it to have as much commercial appeal for the heartland as possible? Regardless of its failure as a national artifact, Rolling Vengeance is still one of the better Canadian B-movies of the decade, delivering more than its share of metal-crunching, windshield-popping, exhaust-billowing thrills.

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