01/18/2018

“Oh merciful Lord! What’s wrong with all these cars?” (Review: The Road Movie)

by Matthew Hawkins

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As odd as it might seem, please allow me the opportunity to wax philosophical about a movie that is entirely comprised of wacky dash cam footage from Russia (some of which you may have already seen online).

There are few things that is as quintessentially American as the road trip. Exploration is in this country’s DNA, and while heading west is no longer the dangerous affair that it once was, there’s still a sense of mystery, danger, and excitement that comes to travelling, regardless of direction. I love being on the road, like most Americans. I’m also a New Yorker to be exact, which means I’m rarely on the road, so it’s a rare treat. And when I do find myself inside an automobile, it’s never as a driver (again, as a New Yorker, I lack the necessary license) but instead a passenger. A helpless passenger.

It’s either a blessing or a curse to be free of the responsibility of control, to therefore just sit back and simply brace for impact, literally or metaphorically. And that’s what The Road Movie is all about. It’s a highlight reel of every crazy car ride you’ve ever been on… provided if you were Russia. The timing of this film could not be any better; it’s funny how I grew up with the Russians being the bad guys, then they became the good guys, and now according to the news (well, the news that they’re not apparently controlling, at least), they’re back to being the bad guys again. Yet despite all the time that has passed, that country and its denizens are a total mystery.

You learn a lot being on the road. About the land, and its people, from the comfort of speeding vehicle. Or one that’s just sitting there. You also learn about the person behind the wheel, primarily their reaction to what you’re seeing. Sometimes it’s the total opposite. Sometimes it’s similar… yet still very much foreign. There are two things I learned while being in countless Russian seats, during the hour & half or so run time: 1. Russian cars are seemingly very light. They have a tendency to roll very easily. And 2. if one ever decides to visit and explore the country, by renting a car and driving around, under no condition should one overtake and pass another driver. Because there’s a very good chance you’ll piss someone off. And that person may also have an ax or a hatchet.

The most intriguing part is the matter of fact reactions from the drivers and the actual passengers, to the wacky sights and sounds (at least they might be considered as such, to non-Russians). Which are mostly cars and trucks colliding and crumpling. But then you have a group of men who look like they’re cops, who have stopped and surrounded the car… but as it turns out, they’re not actually cops. Or rolling into a car wash, only to be cut off… by a tank. Or driving through a forest… one engulfed in flames… which also appears to be on another planet, by the way. Actually, there are fairly strong reactions from those inside the car, yet they’re far less animated that what you or someone here in the States might produce. It’s definitely more nihilistic.

As noted, you’ve probably seen some of these clips online before. But just imagine watching said clips on the large screen, with an audience. It’s not often that such an opportunity presents itself… to chance to not share with others how you’d react if you were going down a dark road at night, with a bear running right in front of you, one that also decides to take a crap while running… but also to see how they react to the driver’s deadpan reaction. Hence why, if The Road Movie is playing near you, do yourself a favor this weekend and catch it.

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