White Line Fever: Motorama

Behold, Motorama! The bizarre black comedy you may have never heard of! Or maybe watched by accident, thinking you just found an undiscovered 80’s teen romance co-starring teenage Drew Barrymore! Oh boy, were you wrong!

See the kid standing in that picture standing on the Mustang? That’s 10 year-old Gus, and he basically represents the all-American kid’s fantasy: he’s a supervised minor with a car. Now you’re probably thinking that’s a guaranteed recipe for comedy hijinks later downplayed by a saccharine, but important moral lesson at the end. Maybe, but that wouldn’t really be all that bizarre, now would it?

Actually, Gus isn’t so much unsupervised as he is newly emancipated from his abusive parents. But rather than going through the cumbersome legal channels to sever ties, a stolen Mustang and some cinderblocks to reach the pedals provide the quickest and surest path to independence. Screenwriter Joseph Minion, the man behind the Scorsese comedy (yes, Martin Scorsese directed comedy) After Hours and the creepy 1989 movie Vampire’s Kiss, penned this rather unique interpretation of “coming-of-age” fiction. Gus is a kid in childhood limbo, in a sense. He’s far more intelligent and a hardened cynic for his age, but he seems like he’s searching for the traditional notion of “childhood.”

At first, escaping his parents seemed to be just about Gus’s only goal. His subsequent journey on winding, generic highways seem like an aimless one and Gus is now a 10 year-old with all the time in the world. Luckily, the road is paved with a host of unusual characters who keep things entertaining. Upon stopping at gas stations along his impromptu route, Gus rather haphazardly starts collecting game cards that contain one of the letters in the word M-O-T-O-R-A-M-A. Players who find all 8 letters can claim a $500 million dollar prize from the Chimera Gas Company. As soon a Gus has a few successes, he begins to obsess over finding the remaining cards. In the process, Gus gradually transitions from  and understandably cynical 10-year old runaway explaining the relative innocence of his actions to the “enlightened” gas station attendant named Phil, to a deceptive gambler who happily hustles overconfident competitors. Somehow a brief adolescent daydream fills Gus’s head; the dream girl of course, played by young Barrymore. But by the end of the film, the 10-year appears noticeably aged and run down–after dodging an explosion his hair appears to have grayed. He wears an eye patch to conceal injuries received when getting caught trying to siphon gas from a seedy couple (which includes Mary Woronov). And strangely, he is eventually trying to rescue an older version of himself before future tense Gus drives off the road while, in a panic, trying to find that one last letter to claim his award money, loses control of his car.

Although this kind of tale might be off-putting or just simply confusing to the viewer not typically accustomed to movies like these, the narrative construction is the interesting element — the circular storytelling of character reflection. That is uses a 10-year old as its central character is perhaps its most distinctive draw. Unfortunately, while making the transition to DVD faster than probably more well-known cult films (The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps come to mind), it is a film that remains woefully absent in background information of any kind (considered bonus materials for the DVD, all that is included is a trailer of Motorama and a mismatched companion trailer for the idiotic David Spade comedy, Joe Dirt.


2 Responses

  1. Great underrated movie

  2. I just bought this at Big Lots, of all places, for only $3. I thought that it would be more of a rocker movie, considering that Meat Loaf and Flea were in ti. It was a really good film, overall, with an amazing performance by the kid. Because it was so surreal, and the end didn’t make a lot of sense to me, I have been thinking about it all day. There is almost no information about this movie anywhere on the internet that I could find. I highly recommend it, if not for the great acting and quirky mood, then for the way it will haunt your thoughts after viewing it.

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