Blu-ray review: 'Two-Lane Blacktop'

“Two-Lane Blacktop” is still a smooth dramatic drive.
BY DENNIS KING Special Correspondent Modified: March 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm •  Published: March 15, 2013
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‘Two-Lane Blacktop' Blu-ray

Age has been kind to “Two-Lane Blacktop,” director Monte Hellman's 1971 existential road-trip movie about two drifters drag-racing their way across America in a gray '55 Chevy.

Once considered mainly a cool, indie cult flick following in the considerable '70s wake of “Easy Rider” — a work perhaps most notable for casting hip musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in key roles — the film has grown in critical esteem as the years have raced by and now a spiffy Criterion Blu-ray edition provides testament to this lean, unpretentious picture's classic staying power.

Roaming from the drag strips of Southern California to the back roads of the Deep South, the picture follows two pals, The Driver (Taylor) and The Mechanic (Wilson), as they cruise America's byways in a souped-up Chevy hustling wagers on illegal races along the way. It's a precarious lifestyle that guarantees bushes with blustery sheriffs and macho confrontations with boisterous local yokels.

In Arizona, they pick up The Girl (Laurie Bird), a feckless, vagabond hippie chick who practices free love, and as a raw love triangle forms the two buddies also take on a grizzled old wanderer named GTO (Warren Oates), a boisterous braggart who challenges the Driver and Mechanic to a race to Washington, D.C.

The sparse dialogue of Rudy Wurlitzer's script and the spare, naturalistic performances by the musician-actors (especially the scarecrow-like Taylor channeling James Dean) give the film a raw, unschooled and haunting quality that's hard to forget.

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