Speedway Junky Review

Date Released: 08/31/2001 
Rated: R (violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use) 
Length: 101 minutes 
Produced by: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Rodney Omanoff, Jeff Rice, Rafi Stephan 
Directed by: Nickolas Perry 
Cast: Jesse Bradford, Jordan Brower, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Daryl Hannah, Patsy Kensit, Tiffany-Amber Thiessen, Warren G 
Distributor: Regent Entertainment 

Critic's Grade: D+

A well-known film critic once stated, "It's less interesting to see unconventional people express traditional values than to see conventional people express untraditional values."* I kept running this thought through my head during "Speedway Junky," which, until its conclusion, spends outrageous amounts of running time trying to convince us that its characters have sufficient moral virtues and should be admired and cared for. 

But what reasons does the movie provide for this? Here is a cast of characters who do everything from indulging in narcotics and theft to desecrating public property and prostituting themselves for the almighty sawbuck. We've seen things like this before, where a certain person's habit and/or lifestyle is used as a constituent for bringing us into said person's situation (case-in-point, 1988's drug-abuse meller "Less Than Zero" or Darren Aronofsky's brilliant "Requiem for a Dream"). In the end, however, writer/director Nickolas Perry is unable to relate to us any sign or evidence that these characters have learned anything from their experiences, thus rendering their morality null and void. 

The story takes place in Las Vegas, where we meet Johnny (Jesse Bradford), a runaway-turned-drifter who is trying to make his way to Charlotte, North Carolina in hopes of becoming a race car driver, or at least a member of a pit crew. Through a series of uninspired incidents and run-ins with strangers, Johnny is stripped of everything but what he is wearing on his person, leaving him broke and stranded. 

He meets up with a local street hustler named Eric (Jordan Brower), whose explanations of street life and how to make it to the big time by selling your services are one of the movie's laughably bad moments. Johnny accepts his friendship, but is put off by the fact that his new companion is gay, and worse, likes it. The two have various conversations about their lives, forming a connection that borderlines on sexual inclinations, but always keeps itself from taking the plunge. 

On a side note, I have to comment on how this movie is one of the many movies to showcase would-be wholesome actors making their first big jump into big-boy territory. Jesse Bradford is a good actor when given the right material, but the movie seems more interested in sensationalizing itself by casting him in the role than it is in his actual talent. The same thing applies for Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who is cast as a bisexual street hustler who spouts obscenities in an attempt to prove his versatility from his days on the set of the TV show "Home Improvement." But not once did I believe in these performances; the film seems more aimed at shocking us through the actors than it does through character and situation. 

There's much more to complain about in the first hour or so of the film. I was physically ill at the inclusion of "Saved by the Bell" sweetheart Tiffany-Amber Thiessen as a trashy, randy newly-wed who attempts to bed Johnny after their initial introduction, only to be interrupted by her Marine husband, who proceeds to beat Johnny to a bloody pulp. There's no purpose for such a sequence, nor does it do anything to enhance our liking of the character by seeing him weakened and defenseless. And then there's Eric's mother-figure, Veronica (Daryl Hannah), who invites Johnny to dinner one night, during which she asks him what he wishes for most. "To give a woman an orgasm," he replies; then they hit the sheets. We soon learn that Eric set all of this up, trying to help his friend who happens to be a virgin. Ugh. Ew. Spittle. 

The movie's final third introduces a conflict of sorts, in which one of the street hustlers gives Johnny and Eric a stash of money and drugs to hold for him while he alludes authorities. We see an unknown thief lift the stash from their apartment, and when the hustler comes calling, all hell breaks loose when he finds out his life's work is missing. The situation itself is ill-conceived and ridiculously plotted, but it provides the sole believable moment in the film's end, where the characters, for a brief, grief-stricken moment, look as if they've realized the consequences of their actions. But even that is squandered by the final shot, a phony uplift that provides no apparent sense of awakening in any of its characters. 

In short, what have these people learned from their experiences? Does Johnny become a better person through his journey into the underworld of sex, drugs, prostitution and violence? Does Eric ever begin to ponder the way in which he lives? And why does the movie try so hard to convince us that their way of life (and I'm not talking about sexual orientation) is something to be tolerated and accepted? There's a good movie about dealing with the consequences of one's actions that could have been the focus here, but "Speedway Junky" is to concerned with its own depravity to realize it. 

* Quote taken from Roger Ebert's review of "The Velocity of Gary."

Author: David Litton


PART OF jttonline.jttarchive.net.