The Last Chase

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp

"Damn tailgaters!"
By the time the last race is run, the human race is running on fumes. That's the apparent message behind The Last Chase, a strangely ambitious yet not-so-strangely horrible film about the future of America as imagined in the year 1981.

First comes the complicated set-up. What's a bad movie without the complicated set-up? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of Tootsie-Pop, the world may never know. Lee Majors (fresh off The Norseman) plays Franklyn Hart, a race car driver who was on his way to setting some sort of record at an international racing championship when he was involved in a car crash. (Needless to say, Tiger Woods went on to win.) Because of this, Frank developed a psychological aversion to racing and can no longer drive fast. In the years following the crash (which took place "in the 80s") the United States' supply of oil ran out, and the country was hit by a plague. Frank's wife and child died of the unidentified disease (judging by the wallpaper in Frank's Seventies-style house, they were projectile vomiting), and Frank was made a spokesman for mass transit in the new order.

The 6 Million Dollar Man and the Ninety-Nine Cent Boy.
Precisely how the all-encompassing new order came about is never explained, but here's what we know: America only exists on the East Coast, with the majority of North America being left unpopulated. However, California exists as a "free republic" in opposition to the less laid-back America. The populated portions of the country are totally urban, and there is no fuel for cars or airplanes. Even more disturbing, Coca-Cola and McDonald's are things of the past. Surprisingly, the whole shebang is run from the Death Star's control room, by one guy who sits in the middle of the room with all the buttons, and a woman who looks at the big screen and asks questions for the other guy to answer. There are some vague hints that the disease and the gas crisis may have been contrived to facilitate the takeover, but that subject is never really explored.

All of this, just to play Pong.
After twenty years of being a spokesman, Hart has had enough. Truly, being a spokesman is backbreaking labor. Upon receiving a transmission from California he decides to make a run for it in his Porsche racer, which just happens to be buried under his garage. Psychological aversion or no, this is one boy who feels the need for speed.

Before Hart heads off on his cross-country odyssey, he somehow picks up a student named Ring. Ring is played by Chris Makepeace, who played a high school schlep who kept getting beaten up by his classmates in the classic film My Bodyguard. In The Last Chase, he plays a high school schlep who keeps getting beaten up by his classmates. What a range, that Chris! Precisely how Ring hooks up with Hart is a very convoluted story, and quite contrived as well, so just take our word for it: Ring ends up riding shotgun as Hart makes a run for a border.

"Batjet, nothing. Prepare to be
humbled by Penguin power!"
Needless to say, the totalitarian government can't stop Hart because all they have are electric golf carts. Faced with a PR disaster should gasoline succeed (huh?), Washington sends a bureaucrat named Hawkins (George Touliatos) to the Death Star's control room to oversee the recapture of Hart. If this were a particularly competent totalitarian regime they would simply impose a media blackout on the whole situation, so it wouldn't matter if Hart made it or not. But this doesn't seem to ever occur to anyone. Besides, "Radio Free California" keeps interrupting the "Leave it to Beaver" re-runs.

Now, you're a totalitarian regime that wants to catch a guy in a Porsche: What do you do -- what do you do? If you answered, "Put Burgess Meredith in an old Sabre jet and send him after the car," you may have what it takes to impose your will upon a United States weakened by disease and lack of gas, because that's exactly what they do in The Last Chase. Meredith plays a Korean War-era fighter pilot who is apparently the only person qualified to fly anymore. Personally, we would have thought that they could have chosen some guy who was 18 when the fuel ran out so that the pilot wouldn't be totally geriatric, but hey, we've never oppressed the population of any country, so what do we know?

MacGyver's plan to sneak into the
secret lab disguised as a cactus
goes horribly wrong.
In a token nod towards realism, Meredith's character, Captain Williams, enjoys his return to the skies so much that he merely toys with Hart, buzzing him menacingly and firing the odd machine-gun round in order to prolong the chase. Blithely ignoring the fact that the fuel in the jet can only last so long, Williams pursues Hart all the way to Arizona, where their shared love of speed and the extravagant waste of fossil fuels makes them brothers in spirit, especially after a lively game of chicken on the abandoned highway.

Oops, we forgot one other feature of the totalitarian order. They have "the laser," which is a smallish laser gun positioned on a small hill overlooking that abandoned highway in the middle of Arizona. Hawkins says it was put there to fight off the Russians, assuming the Russians tried to invade America by way of an abandoned highway in the middle of Arizona. Also, from what we see, the laser is not effective at hitting targets that move much faster than your average cactus, so if the Russians came in at even a slow trot America would be screwed.

The most depressing aspect of The Last Chase is that, if this is indeed the last motor chase in American history, it is rather pathetic. One guy in a racing Porsche pursued by men in electric golf carts and a geezer in a jet fighter does not make for gripping high-speed cinema. We prefer to think that the fascist anti-oil government in place might have invented speedy electric cars or even have a fleet of their own gas-guzzling automobiles stashed away in order to hunt down such lawbreakers as Hart. Even the makers of such lowbrow Corman efforts as Grand Theft Auto and Death Race 2000 understood that chases need lots of cars so they can be cracked up and rolled over and generally destroyed in as flamboyant a manner as possible. Compared to these films, The Last Chase is downright soporific. To think that this is the end of the Great American Road is enough to make an assembly-line-hardened UAW member sit down on the factory floor and weep bitter, bitter tears.

The Last Chase is out of print. Sorry.

Review date: 6/26/00

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