Grand Theft Auto
As Richie Cunningham/Opie Taylor/Ron Howard grew older, he was compelled to move behind the camera, where he made films for the greater glory of Hollywood. While others were making more episodes of "Happy Days," Howard was concocting his directorial debut: Grand Theft Auto.
Howard plays Sam Freeman, an everyman engaged to Paula Powers, the daughter of a rich and powerful gubernatorial candidate. No, no, these character names were not chosen with any meaning in mind -- shame on you for even thinking it! Paula spurns the marital choices her father has made for her, and within the first ten minutes of this film, makes the first car theft and the first car wreck in a film that overdoses on both.
Paula and Sam race from Los Angeles toward Las Vegas to get married, followed by her flaky suitor, Collins Hedgeworth, and a band of hangers-on, who want to collect the $25,000 reward Hedgeworth has offered for the "rescue" of his "kidnapped" bride-to-be. That's pretty much all you need to know. Oh yeah, Sam and Paula are driving her father's Rolls Royce, too.
It seems that Ron Howard called in every marker he could to get his fiercely personal vision of this film on to celluloid. Howard secured financing from Roger Corman under the agreement that he would star in Corman's Eat My Dust! (1976). In addition, the film is co-written by Ron and his father, Rance, who co-stars as a mercenary, and also features Ron's brother, the ubiquitous Clint Howard. And finally, Marion Ross, Mrs Cunningham on Happy Days, was called in to provide much-needed comic support. At one point, she flips the bird at a cop, an action which probably set seventies audiences into gales of laughter. Sure.
What results is a film that seems to be completely the result of Ron Howard's adolescent need to see cars get wrecked. Really, it's that simple. The rest of the script reads like something drunken frat boys might work up over a quiet weekend. The example that springs to mind are the two yokels, one of whom adds an 'o' on to every other word he says ("Let's get-o this automobilio on the road-o"). His companion starts laughing and says, "It really cracks me up when you speak Mexican!" And that's one of the big laugh getters in this movie.
In any case, the movie just moves from one group of people chasing the young lovers to another group chasing the young newlyweds, etc. etc. So many cars get wrecked that we felt compelled to count. And THAT became a challenge during the climax, which takes place after all the main characters blunder their way into a demolition derby, where all great romantic movies have their climaxes.
In 1977, we can imagine a scene in which moviegoers had a choice between Star Wars and Grand Theft Auto. Sadly, some of them must have chosen Grand Theft Auto, because it somehow made its way to videotape and into the homes of American moviewatchers. Well, at least the frat boys will be happy.
Other great pictures from Grand Theft Auto
Review date: 12/17/96
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