Wednesday, November 02, 2005

WHITE LINE FEVER (1975) - Jonathan Kaplan

You might assume a movie named White Line Fever made in the ‘70s would be about something other than big trucks. The title refers to a hypnotic state that the passing white lines on a nighttime highway can lull any unsuspecting trucker into. You know, the type of fever you don’t take aspirin for, but strong 7-Eleven coffee, No Doze, over the counter ephedra, or, I don’t know, some other type of white line.
Well, you might consider taking one or all of the above before sitting down to White Line Fever. It’s basically a watered down mish-mash of themes better explored in Convoy and Rolling Thunder. Jan-Michael Vincent plays a recently returned Vietnam Vet named Carrol Jo Hummer (don’t even go there, man) who, upon hitting the tarmac, immediately marries his girlfriend and buys himself a big-rig on loan in order to bring home the bacon. But when Carrol Jo goes to get work from old friend Slim Pickens, he soon finds that the trucking business has changed – you’re now forced to haul contraband (cigarettes and slot machines mostly) or else you’re black-balled by the shady good ‘ol boy mafia that runs the show.
Not to mention, being whacked in the stomach with an iron pipe and thrown in a pile of cow manure. Or finding your best friend impaled through the eye with trucking tools. Or being accused of murder when an 18 wheeler runs old buddy Slim Pickens down smack dab in the middle of the highway. Or what about having redneck thugs sneak into your house at night and club your pregnant wife in the stomach, thus aborting the baby. So why do these guys keep coming after ol’ Carrol Jo? Simply because he refuses to haul Pall Malls and gaming equipment? And why does he decide to take up a shotgun instead of, I don’t know, getting a job at the post office on seeing the first signs of a trouble? Because he’s a TRUCKER dammit and it’s the 18-wheeled principle of the thing!
Or maybe he’s just plain dumb. You’ll find nothing that complex in Jan-Michael’s performance. Only an athletic build and a willingness to pick up the shotgun, hang off the side of a moving semi and take pot-shots at pursuing baddies when necessary. Sure, eventually ol’ Carrol Jo becomes a kind of folk hero / leader of a trucker uprising. But he’s got about as much charisma as the rotten crates of avocadoes he hauls. Kris Kristofferson’s “Rubber Duck” in Convoy could run tire treads of charisma all over him.
White Line Fever does have some fun moments and fine Peckinpah-heavy supporting cast. But, sadly, direction is TV-caliber bland and misdirected, at times going for moments of disturbing violence (the pipes to the pregnant stomach, the Slim Pickens squash) then alternating them with a light Melvin and Howard-type local folk hero whimsy. The movie’s like a cute little hybrid Prius horrifyingly mangled beneath the wheels of a tractor trailer. You rubber-neck it out of curiosity and then have to look away.

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