Saturday, April 14, 2012

Deadhead Miles (1972)

Vernon Zimmerman’s film, “Deadhead Miles”, isn’t a biopic on ShowShow’s Miles. The title refers to the number of miles one needs to drive from the point of unloading a truck to the point where a new load is ready for pickup. Suffering from these dreadful miles is Cooper (Alan Arkin), a zany truck driver who does just about anything he can to stay awake and keep himself entertained.

He picks up a hitchhiker (Paul Benedict), despite his hatred of them. Anything to pass the time. The two spend the trip stealing food, breaking glass bottles on road signs and bumping into a wide assortment of people. One man, who goes by the name Johnny Mesquitero (Bruce Bennett), fixes Cooper’s truck while he’s out getting supplies. When the hitchhiker informs him of this gentleman’s generous assistance, Cooper informs him he died six years ago. It’s hard to tell whether this is true or false due to Cooper’s antics.

Alan Arkin is a hoot as Cooper. He’s energetic, lively and highly unpredictable. He never comes across as a malicious or deceitful man. Just one out to have some fun. He gives the police a run for their money quite a few times. He convinces one of them he’s a returning veteran of Vietnam to sweet talk his way out of a ticket. He bolts from a pair of cops after they ask him to unload his truck. He does so and hightails it when they leave for a brief moment. To cap it all off, he convinces a group of cops he’s being chased by a murderer to keep them as far away as possible from him.

The script, written by Terrence Malick (yes, the Terrence Malick), is low on story development, but high on gags. It’s more of an observation on a crazed trucker’s job than it is a story. Instead of having a beginning, middle and end, it follows a route A to route B style of storytelling. Malick handles this with a tight grip, throwing in the hitchhiker to keep things interesting.

Vernon Zimmerman handles the thin plot to the best of his ability. His aimless direction can be a burden at times. He makes up for this with expeditious pacing. With the action moving fast, he’s able to bypass any slow moments that show the lulls in the script. This is a wise decision that keeps the film on track.

As I expected, the film doesn’t lead to a satisfactory ending. It’s a fine ending, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not worthy of the build given to it. This is a trend amongst “day in the life” films. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is “Clerks”. Even that is arguable.

“Deadhead Miles” met a very limited release in 1972. It took over a decade for it to see the light of day on cable, where it faded off into obscurity. It’s never been released on home video. Thanks to Netflix, it’s available to stream instantly. That’s a blessing, as it’s a breezy watch.

MVT: Alan Arkin. His hyperkinetic performance is a joy to watch and never runs out of steam. He doesn’t go full-on crazy. He restrains himself and releases his wild side in spurts. This not only benefits the character, but the film as well. It keeps you on your toes.

Make or Break: The pacing. Keeping the film moving at a speedy pace helps in keeping the viewer’s attention. Since there’s not much of a story to work with, it keeps the film afloat.

Final Score: 7.25/10

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