Smokey And The Hotwire Gang (1979)

Although you may not have heard of him, Tony Cardoza is bad movie royalty. His most famous series of credits is as producer and co-star of the entire filmography of Coleman Francis – “The Beast of Yucca Flats”, “The Skydivers” and “Red Zone Cuba”, three of the most miserable, dark-hearted, and just plain incompetent movies ever made (although they have a few defenders). You may have seen them covered on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – to be fair, you’re unlikely to have seen them anywhere else – and those sleazy performances, along with whatever he did to secure money for Coleman Francis, means his place in the ISCFC Hall Of Fame is already set.

But there wasn’t just that. This one-time welder was bitten by the movie bug, so as well as helping Francis, he produced a few films for other people – the Ed Wood Jr movie “Night Of The Ghouls” is probably the most famous, but there’s also “The Hellcats” and a smattering of other biker movies. He also, which is the thing that interests us today, directed two movies of his own, twenty years apart. One is a genuinely puzzling-looking cop comedy from as late as 1998 (“Misfit Patrol”), and the other is this.

It might reasonably be said the super-success of “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977, and lesser stuff like “Convoy” persuaded Mr Cardoza to put aside biker movies and move on to…whatever genre you’d say those gems inhabit. Easy-going Southern comedy? Whatever it was, he rustled up a few dollars and was able to give the world “Smokey and the Hotwire Gang”.

The first thing you see is a couple of good ol’ boys get tricked by a sheriff who’s using the CB to encourage drivers to speed down the stretch of road he’s looking after. Unfortunately, his car is garbage and theirs is a Porsche, so they blow past him and continue with their day. One of them is on leave from the Army, the other one is…blond. That’s about as much character as I got from them. They exist to get the audience up to speed on how amazing CB radio is and how dumb cops are, basically.

After that, all bets are off on what the movie is about. There’s a van, with some sweet paintings on the side, driven by “Billy The Kid”, and he picks up a hitch-hiker who’s also got their own portable CB radio which they use to ask for rides. Then there’s a couple of car thieves who spend some time at classy strip joint “Filthy McNasty’s” before heading off to an upscale party hosted by one “Hotwire”, aka Eleanor Brookhurst; she’s the crime boss of the city, stealing cars for her upscale clients (who ought to be able to afford their own), running prostitutes, and (in what passes for the central plot of the movie) arranging for an armored car full of a million dollars to get held up.

There’s a mobile brothel, run by two cheerful prostitutes, who announce their wares over the CB too; a guy who’s handle is “The Jewish Cowboy”; and a couple of idiot cops. The cops suck at driving so they release a guy in a weird sparkly costume from jail so he can drive them round – sparkly suit guy then really gets into being on the side of good. Oh, and a gang of Hotwire’s mafia-style goons, one of whom is Tony Sirico, who’d go on to huge fame as Paulie Walnuts in “The Sopranos” (despite him being listed in the credits, this doesn’t show up on his IMDB profile).

ASIDE: There’s also James “Son of Stacy” Keach, Alvy Moore (formerly of sitcom “Green Acres”) and Tony Lorea (who was in “What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon?” and “Hot Shots”) rounding out the cast. So, Cardoza had a few dollars to throw around, at one point.

ASIDE 2: If you’d like an extremely detailed recap of “Smokey”, then feel free to visit http://www.roguecinema.com/smokey-and-the-hotwire-gang-1979-by-albert-walker.html because they must have watched it multiple times to get that amount of information from it. I’m more a broad strokes kind of guy.

My chief broad stroke is that Tony Cardoza perhaps bit off more than he could chew when it came to his directorial debut (I think he wrote it, as well, under the “pseudonym” T. Gary Cardoza). I’ve listed a bunch of different characters above, and I’d love to say one of them is the star, but they just sort of bounce of each other in random pairings, or are just featured in short scenes on their own. The CB radio is perhaps the star of the movie, as every character uses it, and we’re treated to tons of CB speak, which for the uninitiated is just sorta like the language that develops around large websites, only said by a bunch of people with mostly redneck accents.

I’ve tried, quite a lot, to figure out why this movie was put together the way it was – Cardoza seems to have had almost complete control over it, so the way it looks like it was edited mostly at random (apart from a few scenes near the beginning and a few near the end, the rest could be in almost any order) is weird. It amounts to a series of 2-minute scenes featuring whichever actors he had on set that day? I mean – the acting is tolerable, it’s lit so you can tell what’s going on, the camera remains in focus throughout – but it does have quite a few technical issues, like focusing on the wrong character in a scene, or the sound being weird, stuff like that.

Oh, my favourite is when you see a shot of two people talking in a supposedly moving car, and it’s very obviously standing still. I love that they try to give the impression it’s moving, by rocking it a little and running a light over it (to recreate street lights zooming past) but then don’t bother not shooting the background, which stays completely still.

It does have one of the most amazing pieces of product placement I’ve ever seen, too (more for the time it was made, when that really wasn’t a thing that movies did). Action basically stops for a minute while the entire screen is taken up with an ad for Dad’s Root Beer, with the impression being it’s on the TV that a couple of characters are watching. But it’s an advert, straight-up inserted in the middle. Well done, Mr Cardoza!

Perhaps the most curious thing about it all, though, is the complete lack of anything approaching progress. Take the Jewish Cowboy, who appears to just be some guy driving through town. The movie takes place over several days, but he’s still close enough to the action to be able to continually comment on it. Where was he going? He ought to be half a country away by the end of the movie. At least “Convoy” and “Smokey and the Bandit” ended up somewhere different to where they started.

So strap yourself in for some 70s slang, 70s sexual politics, and get ready for a good time. This is why I love bad movies so much – anyone can make a normal-ish drama, there are tons of perfectly competent actors and technical crew around for the hiring. But not everyone can make something that sort of looks normal but is in fact absolutely bonkers, seemingly without effort. Anthony Cardoza has been involved in the making of many such bonkers movies, and for that we must celebrate him. I see an old interview with him where he talks about writing an autobiography – he’s sadly no longer with us, but if anyone reading this knows his family, and that book is sat somewhere unpublished, I’d love to read it. I bet he’s got some fascinating stories of the Z-list.

Rating: thumbs up

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