Eat My Dust


May 12, 2011

Eat My Dust (1976)
Director: Charles B. Griffith
Writers: Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Ron Howard, Christopher Norris and Brad David

The Plot: Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is a real gear-head with a fixation on stock-car racing. He reads all of the magazines and keeps up with his favorite driver Big Bubba Jones, who drives the sweetest little ride with the fastest engine around. His father, who is the sheriff, thinks that the entire stock-car racing business is a bunch of bunk. After sneaking into a race, Hoover stumbles upon his greatest crush: Darlene Kurtz (Christopher Norris), a blond haired angel who wears tight shirts and short-shorts. After Darlene doesn’t immediately take to his charm, she soon lets it slip that she wouldn’t mind going for a ride. A really FAST ride. The only thing is, she doesn’t want to go anywhere in Hoover’s beat-up truck. She has her eyes set on Big Bubba Jones’ tweaked out stock-car. Hoover, acting off of instinct, proceeds to steal the stock-car and goes off on a mission with all of his friends and the beautiful Darlene. With Hoover’s dad and the rest of the county searching for him, Hoover is facing a lot of trouble but for now he’ll simply have some fun along the way.

The Review
Roger Corman certainly contributed to the world of the action-comedy, that is for sure. His New World productions often featured some rather spectacularly silly comedy mixed in with some very large action spectacles. In our film today everything seems rather over the top. In both terms of good and bad, Eat My Dust is a BIG movie. The comedy is broad, very broad, but surprisingly it actually manages to work. Written and directed by Charles B. Griffith, who some regular Varied Celluloid readers may actually remember. He was the man responsible for the very similar 1981 project Smokey Bites the Dust, which I did not have many nice things to say about. The projects are similar in both their tone and plot devices, but in this instance the movie has two additional features going for it that Smokey… did not: a lot more wit and a charismatic leading man in the form of Ron Howard. Made earlier in Griffith’s career, this just goes to show just how dependent a director can be on his cast. With so much in common between the two films, the success of Eat My Dust is entirely dependent on the main cast and crew.

The comedy this go-around, within the work of Charles B. Griffith, is much more tolerable than what I had seen from him later on. The comedy is still very broad, but this time out the character of Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is much more forgivable than the lead we were given in Smokey Bites the Dust. Despite the property damage that Hoover creates along the way, it is rather understandable due to his love-affair with Darlene (Christopher Norris). The blossoming “romance” between these two makes for one of the more interesting developments in the movie. We’re never quite sure if Darlene actually likes Hoover or if she’s just here for the ride. Her free spirit makes her three dimensional and hard to read, which is commendable for this sort of project and adds an extra layer of believability.

The performances are generally what makes the project for me. We have several really well acted roles here, with Ron Howard obviously the standout from the cast. Ron Howard, within the first ten minutes, reminds the audience what a tremendous performer he was. Despite his wholesome image and somewhat geeky demeanor, Howard is a tremendously charismatic actor and puts forth as enthusiastic a performance as you are likely to see from such a young actor. His take on Hoover isn’t the standard “cocky and self confident” young man that you’ll usually see in movies like this. There is a degree of that cocky charm that one might expect, yes, but he isn’t assured that everything will turn out okay and as we see him ending up the butt-end of several jokes made by his friends, we see that he isn’t the coolest cat in the county. Howard’s ability to make a “worry-wart” character into someone you root for makes the movie that much more fun as things escalate.

The rest of the cast all do well in their roles, including the lovely Christopher Norris. Her role is a bit duplicitous at times and it makes her more interesting than your average damsel-in-distress. Not to mention the fact that she’s also about as beautiful a piece of eye candy as one is going to find, especially whilst wearing her yellow hot-pants… which the filmmakers do a fine job at showing off throughout the entirety of the movie. Warren J. Kemmerling who plays Hoover’s father and the local sheriff is also really great in his role as the pursuing force. He is a bit exaggerated at times, as anyone in such a role needs to be, but he doesn’t come off as annoying. That in itself is actually quite impressive, since I usually find these characters to be brutal on the nerves and I’m generally not that forgiving with these cliche villains. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t mention Clint Howard who shows up in a small role during the first half of the movie, and believe me you have never seen him looking so enthusiastic… or young.

The film itself looks fantastic despite its age and has been cleaned up tremendously by the good folks over at Shout! Factory. Although they didn’t remove all of the scratches or pops that show signs of age, especially during the introduction, this turns out as a good thing since its part of the film’s charm and firmly roots it in a particular time and place. The soundtrack is also handled quite well, as it brings about that “southern” charm that is expected from any good car-chase movie from this time and era. Even if the movie itself doesn’t scream out “southern” charm, the music gives it a very “genre” feel. Ultimately, this is a beer-swilling, broad humored piece of zany action-comedy and it does just the things that you expect from it. It may not be great, but its a fun little ride.

The Conclusion
Sometimes the humor is a bit overboard, sometimes things come across as being too heavily reliant on “shtick” and sometimes it just falls flat; but as Smokey Bites the Dust taught me… things can always be worse. I give Eat My Dust a solid three out of five. It’s not what I would consider a shining example of this particular sort of movie, but it takes the genre into some interesting directions and really works at its best when it tries new things.