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Hipster Holy Grail: Moving Violation (1976)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

For and hour and fifteen minutes, Moving Violation features a whole bunch of shitty cops wrecking cars, and that's pretty fun.  Then it has one of the lamest, most awkward endings you could imagine.  I still recommend it for the many, many car chases, but be prepared for disappointment.

My Rating: 4 / 5 (Shitty Ending)

The Plot Summary

Eddie Moore (Stephen McHattie) is a jovial, sarcastic drifter hitch-hiking his way through a small oil town named Rockfield.  When the film opens, two bickering cops - Sheriff Rankin (Lonny Chapman) and his deputy, Tylor (Dennis Redfield) - flag Eddie down to harass him.  They smash up his guitar for no good reason and tell him to get lost.  In other words, they pull a First Blood.

I don't get this.  Clearly, they don't like strangers hanging around town.  Fine.  So why not let the guy go on his merry way and leave?  That's like if somebody is trying to kick their drug habit by eating donuts, but you're so disgusted by junk food that you have to go and smack the box out of their hands.  Dude, I know you don't like seeing them pig out, but wouldn't you rather they not smoke crack next to the elementary school?  Wouldn't letting the drifter wander through be the lesser of two evils?

Anyway.  This will not be the last time Rankin acts like an idiot.  It's probably the least awful he acts for the whole movie.

After the cops get tired of messing with him, Eddie goes to an ice cream stand where Cam Johnson (Kay Lenz) is working.  They flirt a bit, and within the hour, they're making out and looking for a place to fool around.  They get into Cam's van and drive to the rich part of town to go skinny dipping in somebody's pool.

What they don't realize is that at that same moment only a few hundred feet away, Tylor is talking to a nebulous oil baron of some sort and threatening to blackmail him over a price gouging scheme.  The oil baron just shrugs and calls Rankin into his office.  Surprise!  Turns out Rankin is a corrupt cop, and he chases Tylor out to the front yard and shoots him in cold blood.

Eddie and Cam witness the shooting and quickly get dressed.  Tylor, with his last bit of strength, climbs into the back of Cam's van to hide.  Then Eddie and Cam drive away just in time for Rankin to realize they're witnesses.

Cue the car chase, Phase One.

Moving Violation deserves credit for its pacing.  It wants to be a big, silly action comedy full of car chases, and it goes for it.  Everything I've described so far only takes fifteen minutes, and once the chase starts, it does not let up for about an hour, save for one notable detour I'll explain later.  Dozens of cars get wrecked, flipped, spun around, cartwheeled, set on fire, and every other trope you can think of.  You want somebody to crash through a fruit cart?  They've got fruit.  You want somebody to drive through a roadside stand?  Consider it smashed.  There's shootouts, popped tires, explosions, everything you want.

Most of it is played out for slapstick effect, but once in awhile there's something truly brutal - like a part where one of the cops drives headfirst into a brick wall at maybe 30 miles per hour.  You can tell the filmmakers were excited about that particular wreck because they filmed it from like six or seven different angles and replay it a few times to get their money's worth.

Since two-thirds of the movie's run time is comprised of car chases, it feels a bit silly to describe the plot.  But what the hell, I'll go for it anyway.  I'm going to gloss over all the specific vehicular carnage for the most part, so to get the right effect, just add the words "and then a car gets wrecked" to the end of each sentence from hereon out.

Phase One of the car chase involves Cam's van.  Rankin eventually forces it off the road, and then he gets out of his car to shoot down Eddie and Cam.  But he's an idiot, so he slips and hits his head on a rock, thus knocking himself out long enough for Eddie and Cam to escape.  They take his car and drive off.

Cam gets on the radio and tells the rest of the Rockfield police department that they're being shot at, and that they saw Rankin shoot Tylor.  The Rockfield police tell Cam to stay put.  Then Rankin wakes back up, gets picked up by another police officer, and gets on the radio to tell everybody that Cam is lying and needs to be shot on sight.

Cue Phase Two.  They chase Eddie and Cam to a cornfield, where our heroes lay low and screen the radio.  Realizing they're now fugitives, Eddie suggests they go to the nearest city since (in theory) it'll be harder for the cops to kill them if there's more witnesses.  He waves down a passing motorist and they carjack him.  Then they drive further down the highway to a gas station / diner to start calling anybody they can for help.  The carjacking victim hitches a ride and finds them at the diner.  They have a fistfight, somebody calls the cops, and they're back on the road.

Cue Phase Three.  Eddie and Cam cross over the county line and get into another city, where they try to lay low and call the FBI (or some other nebulous authority higher than the podunk police).  Rankin calls the county police and tells them to help him out, and Eddie and Cam get pinned inside a secondhand clothes store.  Even though they are able to reach somebody who can help them, they have to hang up and run.  Again.

Cue Phase Four.  I'm glossing over it, but this is where most of the best stuff happens, including one really funny moment where the cops wreck a car that looks exactly like the one Eddie and Cam have stolen, and some poor bastard climbs out and goes, "What the hell?"  This chase sequence ends when Eddie gets on the phone with a lawyer, and we are finally introduced to the other main character of the movie: Alex Warren (Eddie Albert).

Warren is an aging, sarcastic defense attorney, and there's not nearly enough of him.  He's perpetually self-assured and has a great "fuck you, I'm busy" sneer.  Warren goes to his office and finds Eddie and Cam hiding inside.  They talk about their situation and Warren agrees to take on their case pro bono because he knows Rankin is corrupt and has been trying to nail him down for years.

Warren takes the fugitives to a country house where they can lay low, and then the movie has an odd tempo swing.  For about five or ten minutes it becomes The Warren Show.  You get to see him throw his weight around and take charge.  He gets the police to back off and tells the state attorney that his clients will surrender at the courthouse tomorrow morning.  The movie takes a nice, deep breath and relaxes.

The next morning, Warren hides Eddie and Cam in the backseat of his car and starts driving toward the courthouse.  For no reason except that it will be fun to use in a car wreck later, he's also towing a fishing boat.  Some cops stop him and try to search his car, but since they don't have a warrant, he basically just tells them to fuck off and leaves.  That's probably my favorite part of the movie.

Cue Phase Five.  Rankin assembles a bunch of other corrupt cops and tells them to chase Warren, and then Warren and Eddie take turns at the wheel as another barrage of inept drivers chases them.  This is another pretty good sequence with a lot of ridiculous mayhem - I believe this is where the biggest explosion of the movie happens, along with at least another half dozen wrecks.

There's only one part of Phase Five that disappointed me.  At one point, Warren leans out the back window (which has been shot out) and unhitches the boat - which you knew was going to happen sooner or later.  You're expecting it to be a big moment.  But the boat doesn't do much at all.  It just falls off and makes one of the cops swerve, and then he crashes.  That's it.  Y'know, Moving Violation, I hate to be a nag, but if you're going to precariously drag a fishing boat through a chase scene, you should at least make it count.

Eventually, they get to the courthouse.  Warren parks a few blocks away and they start walking down the street.  It seems like we're about to ramp up to a happy ending.

Then, out of nowhere, a car full of masked gunmen swoops around the corner and they shoot the shit out of Warren, then drive off.  Cam gets stuck in a pile of debris and Eddie runs away.  Then a whole bunch of reporters and cops descend on the scene.  They chase Eddie for a bit, but he hides and manages to get away.

Very quickly, the movie throws a bunch of quick scenes at you and wraps up:  Cam goes into a catatonic state and is sent to a psychiatric ward while Eddie breaks into a National Guard armory and steals a sniper rifle.  Eddie goes to Rankin's police station and shoots up a bunch of his cars, then kills Rankin and leaves.  The final scene shows Eddie sneaking up to a yard at the hospital where Cam is staying.  On one side of a chain-link fence, he calls Cam over to him.  She wakes up from her trance, realizes he's there, and starts climbing the fence.

Freeze frame.  Credits.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

The main draw here is the hour-long chase scene.  I wasn't totally sold on it at first - it starts a little slow. But by Phase Three, I realized what I was in for, and I loved it.

Moving Violation is a great movie to watch with a crowd.  It's light, it's fast, it's full of nonsense.  More importantly, it lends itself to games, drinking or otherwise.  Get a group together and have everybody think of every car chase cliche you possibly can, and then either make bingo boards out of those or assign them as drinking rules.  You'll all be winners.

I should be clear about this, because I don't want to oversell the chase scenes.  They're not amazing.  Nothing is so mind-blowing, unique, or expertly filmed that I would describe this as a classic.  They're all very competently filmed and fun to watch, just not particularly innovative.

But what it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in sheer quantity.  The IMDb trivia notes that 26 cars are wrecked in the course of the movie.  All of the action takes place over about 60 minutes.  That works out to a wreck every 2.3 minutes.

Ordinarily I would say that more of something doesn't automatically make it better, but in this case?  It totally works.  I kind of want this movie to be remade simply so they can up it to insane heights.  Moving Violation (2017) should have a wreck every fifteen seconds.

The big problem, if I haven't made it clear yet, is the ending.  What the hell is that about?

First of all, it's a massive tonal shift for no reason at all.  You're having a great campy time and waiting for the next car wreck, and then suddenly it gets all dark and morbid.  If you're going to do that, the least you can do is ramp up the action.  But Moving Violation ends at a mental health hospital, for Christ's sake.  I know it's not written down anywhere, but this is breaking one of the most important laws of filmmaking: a movie that starts out like Smokey and the Bandit is not allowed to end like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

But let's ignore all that for a minute.  Let's just pretend that it was a bold and daring move to change things up and get serious.  It doesn't change the fact that the last fifteen minutes are just plain poorly filmed.

Right up until the point where some paramedics cart away Warren's dead body, the movie is crisp, fast, and easy to follow.  You have a good grip on the passage of time - it's been about twenty-four hours or so.  You have a good sense of location - they're still trapped near Rockfield.  You have a good sense of the stakes - they're wanted by the police, nobody believes their story, and Cam has been apprehended.

Then, suddenly, you have no idea.  When we see Eddie loading a sniper rifle, is that later in the day or later in the week?  Same question for Cam in the hospital.  Has she been catatonic for awhile, or is this the same afternoon?  And how long is it before they're reunited?  How has Eddie been laying low?  For an hour and fifteen minutes, it was impossible for him to shake off the cops, and suddenly he's a total ninja?

When it cuts to Eddie shooting up the police station, the editing is so slapdash that I wasn't even sure if it was real or not.  From the way the camera hung on him a second earlier, I actually thought it was a fantasy sequence, and it was going to cut back to him looking down at the rifle and saying, "Nah, that's ridiculous."  But, no, apparently his rampage is real - and tragically short.  If you're going to ramp up the chaos and finish off your Rambo arc, then do it right and show him carrying out a full-on attack.  Don't just have him take a couple of potshots from an overpass and slink away into the night.

It's such a let-down.  I'm trying to be fair, so I'm giving the movie a 4 / 5 overall, but honestly, my gut feeling after the credits rolled was more like a 3 / 5.  Bad endings are one of the worst things you can do to a film, particularly one as fun as this.

Still.  Go into it knowing you're going to hate that last part and I think you'll enjoy yourself.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

Obscurity bonus: 30 points (just over 200 IMDb ratings).  Recommendation bonus: 30 points.  We're off to a good start.

I'll give it another 5 cred apiece for young Stephen McHattie and a brief, but entertaining, sequence with Dick Miller.  It gets another 5 for being directed by Charles Dubin since you can say, "Sure, MASH was good, but I liked this other thing he made before it so much better."

Lastly, I'll give it another tiny 5 point Same Title bonus.  Ordinarily that's worth more like 10, but I'm fudging this one a bit - the better-known title isn't an exact match and is more of a cult classic than anything else.  Still, if somebody says, "I really loved this obscure comedy from the '80s called Moving Violations," you can sneer and go, "Oh, yeah?  I thought you were talking about that more obscure comedy from the '70s, you poser."

It adds up to a total of 80 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

You can either get it as part of a double-feature DVD, or, if you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch it on Youtube.