If you remember the 1970’s because you were a teenager at the time, you probably can’t think of those years without wincing over at least one memory. Whether it was the way you wore your hair, the polyester suit you bought, or some similar crime against self, it really doesn’t matter. The 1970’s, no matter what the nostalgia merchants would have anyone think, will go down as the wince of a decade.
It wasn’t only people like you and me, either. Do you think John Travolta and Debra Winger want to be reminded of Urban Cowboy? Would Ethel Merman want to be remembered for her disco album? I’d hazard a guess and say no to both of those questions.
Ron Howard is another person for whom the seventies were most likely seen as a mixed blessing. Although he finally shed the “little” Ronnie image and all the Opie associations that went along with that, it was still hard to take him seriously as an actor when you thought of Happy Days. For the man who has gone on to direct movies like A Beautiful Mind, which won an Oscar, what might be the worst memory was his directorial debut.
There is no conceivable reason for Grand Theft Auto being released on DVD, except perhaps as a lesson in humility for Ron Howard and a reminder that even good and gifted directors had to start somewhere. Even as an example of seventies mediocrity, it doesn’t merit the waste of electricity used to transfer it onto digital media.
The plot, such as it is, involves Ron’s character falling in love with a girl from a rich family. Girl wants to marry Ron, but her parents want her to marry other rich guy and forbid her to have anything to do with Ron. Girl steals daddy’s Rolls Royce and they elope to Las Vegas to get married.
This provides the excuse for an extended car chase to pass as a movie. Providing the scant motivation for all the ensuing “action” is a $25,000 reward posted by girl’s jilted rich suitor. As the lovebirds cross the dessert from California to Nevada, they gather a variety of stereotypes to chase after them: Rednecks in pickups, low-riding Hispanics, a hillbilly evangelical preacher, and of course parents and suitor.
Along the way we are treated to such set pieces as the blowing up of the wooden bridge, dynamite blowing up in the trunk of a police car, as well as a variety of cars rolling, spinning out, and driving into ditches. The one spark of originality, a DJ providing running commentary on the chase from a helicopter, is overused to the point of nausea.
Instead of providing a point of reference for the action and allowing a respite from the chase, it becomes the sole form of narration by the middle of the movie. Not only is the character so annoying that you are left pining for a rocket launcher, it replaces any attempt at letting the movie speak for itself.
This is such a self–explanatory movie that having a running commentary adds insult to injury for anyone watching. The DJ spends his entire screen time simply reiterating what a character had said in a prior scene. On the off chance you might have missed them saying it, they were heading towards Las Vegas.
When the best thing you can say about a DVD is that the 5.1 surround sound at least lets you hear the soundtrack clearly -– really good guitar driven instrumental funk -– it begs the question, why did anyone bother releasing it? Grand Theft Auto doesn’t even serve as a good example of this type of seventies road movie. Any of the Burt Reynolds’s vehicles from the same time period, even Smokey And The Bandit 2, would have been better.
Grand Theft Auto should have been left as an historical footnote or a quiz show answer to the question, “What was Ron Howard’s first cinematic director credit?” As a movie it has little or nothing to recommend. Even the car chases and pile-ups are pale imitations of other movies from the same time period and genre. I’m sure Ron Howard would rather forget about this, his embarrassing moment from the seventies, rather then see it in a new “Tricked Out” version. I know I would have preferred not even knowing of its existence.