Dead End Drive-In takes place when society is at the brink of a complete upheaval akin to the society seen in another Australian film, Mad Max. A society that has just about collapsed but still being held together – barely – by government officials and law enforcement. Prospects look bleak for the youth, as more and more are choosing to become part of the problem rather than part of a solution. One particular avenue some of these kids decide to travel is to join roving gangs called Car Boys. These gangs stalk the cityscape, fighting law enforcement and tow truck drivers all in the desire to steal all the usable parts from cars to build their own, including stripping cars immediately after they have been involved in an accident. With society at the brink of anarchy and crime escalating out of control, the government has initiated a rather unusual program to battle the phenomena.
Jimmy “Crabs” Rossinni (Roger Manning) finds out all about this program when he borrows his brothers ’57 Chevy and takes his new girlfriend, Carmen (Natalie McCurry), out on a date to the Star Drive-In. While enjoying the movie and participating in a bit of the ol’ in-and-out, the tires get stolen off the car. Crabs quickly finds out that is was not the work of any Car Boys, but finds it was actually the police. This fact, plus some trespassing laws, leave him and Carmen stranded at the drive-in for the night. When they awake the next morning, they are amazed to see that the Star Drive-In is populated by hundreds of young men and women who, like them, have been left stranded and are now living out of their cars and make-shift camps amongst the grounds of the drive-in.
The government’s bright idea to help curtail all of the youth-orientated problems plaguing society, was to create detainment camps to house them in. Since they are pretty sure that kids will not willingly admit themselves to a government sponsored detainment camp, they are disguised as drive-ins that kids come to to do whatever kids do at drive-ins. The difference being that once you enter one of these facilities, you are not able to leave. Locked gates, electrified fences, and patrolling guards keep them all where they are at. To combat the possible problem of the kids wanting their freedom, and possibly attempting to get it, the kids imprisoned at these drive-ins are given reasons to stay. Movies are played every night, they are given 30 dollars a week to buy fast food at the diner and sex, drugs and rock and roll are the order of the day, every day – all are freely doled out by the good, old government. This life didn’t seem too bad compared to the hopelessness and death outside the walls that held them there. While Crab’s girlfriend becomes one of these inhabitants who take a liking to the new living arrangements and is quite content staying at the Star, Crabs just isn’t buying into it and is going to get out of this drive-in one way or another even if it means dying in the process.
Dead End Drive-In was penned by award winning writer, Peter Carey (Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda), and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith(Leprechaun 4: In Space, Night of the Demons 2). The film delivers more than it really should have with decent performances by the cast, some great neon-laced cinematography by Paul Murphy and an obvious budget big enough to create a formidable population of kids who all look like they all came to the set after auditioning for a part in the other car-heavy, punk-apocalyptic film from down under, The Road Warrior. With a fairly massive smoke-hazed city made of disabled cars , trash, and spray paint, Dead End Drive-In will surprise some at the obvious work that went into making you believe, quite successfully, that people actually lived in this camp. The environment looks the way you think a “city” would look if constructed by a large group of cyberpunkish slackers and the cars they got there with. It also helps that almost every scene is accented with some type of activity going on in the background amongst the population, with EVERY style of punk and metal dress that was ever worn in the ’80s being showcased.
Dead End Drive-In starts with a great opening act, detailing the beginnings of anarchy with a couple of car gang incidents. But once inside the Star Drive-in, the film begins to lull dramatically. Trenchard-Smith takes too much time delivering an obvious message on the negative side-effects on this future governments decision of placing a band-aid on a problem. Even more unsuccessful is the introduction of racism that happens near the end of the film that begins when the government not only places the un-initiated youth in these camps, but foreigners as well. This divide in the drive-in’s population bring up some interesting social topics for discussion, it just takes too long to do so and gets quite boring – coming off as an after-thought. By time things get moving again and we see Crabs not succumbing to the burnout complacency of his fellow population, doing whatever it takes to get out, it’s a little too late.
Dead End Drive-In may have fared better had it not lingered so long on these social commentaries about government coddling and racism, and instead shown more of the reactions of the outside world, or even more of why these youths were so willing to stay locked up. Obviously, the outside world was not a good one and we only got a very small glimpse of it. This may have made a much more interesting film that not only kept you from asking too many questions in regards to some of the obvious absurdities of the scenario that was setup, but also keep you entertained in the process. But instead, all of the interesting aspects of the film are swept away and the explosions and car chases are brought into the last moments of the film that not only remind you of the glaring absurdities, but also succeed in introducing new ones.
Fans of movies in the same family tree such as Escape from New York or The Warriors may get a little more out of this film, as well as fans of the cheesy B-grade ’80s flick. But even with the great scenery, decent acting, explosions and colorful characters, Dead End Drive-In just never raises to the grade of film it obviously attempted to achieve. Watch for nostalgic purposes only.
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