The Whoo-oo Highway

The Chase harkens back to The A-Team, Batman (the TV version) and old-fashioned movie serials, with a little mushy stuff on the side. It's set inside a cherry-red BMW and on television, as live spy-eye news crews follow the chase. This "Terror at 100 mph" -- as one TV station dubs it -- portrays the high-speed entanglement of an underdog (Charlie Sheen) and an heiress (Kristy Swanson).

Writer/director Adam Rifkin's previous work includes a moody fantasy called The Dark Backward (which won awards and made the New York Post's top-ten list) and a road comedy, Never on Tuesday, a buddy movie about two geeky college boys who bond with a babelicious lesbian. The Chase, another sincere oddity, fits smoothly into the Rifkin oeuvre.

The action is rife with gratuitous non-violence -- each time a car flips over, we get a shot of the occupants fleeing to safety before the wrecked vehicle explodes in flames. There are, as well, gratuitous tender moments.

The main chasers, the cops in Car 39 (Henry Rollins and Josh Mostel), wax lyric about their lives and desires. Mostel seems a completely good and gentle man who has spent too much time at the doughnut shop, indulging in crullers but also in introspection. He adds only one of the many small, truthful touches that make The Chase more than just a goofball take on the action genre.

With this movie, Henry Rollins -- punk-music icon, poet, publisher and video impresario -- launches yet another career. This is the first film role for the man who did for tattoos what Lana Turner did for sweaters.

During the filming here in Houston, Rollins cheerily described his previous acting experience: "In fourth grade, I did The Little Bat. Didn't we all?" Even then, Rollins was a frontman: "I was, like, the main bat." During his giddy recounting, he re-created the role, spreading his arms in a boyish and batlike fashion. "I had paper wings which we painted brown."

Rollins took this role because, he explained earnestly, "I thought it was just hilarious.... What a sharp script." Rifkin's screenplay "has some witty stuff. It's not evil."

"I read a lot of scripts, man, and you see what they're going for. I read one where the big part of the film is there are two cops who both have sex with the same hooker -- and sometimes at the same time, so 'whoo-oo.' Basic Instinct was like 'whoo-oo,' and this one is ten yards down the whoo-oo trail -- 'My god! People got naked. Whoo-oo!' "

American films, Rollins believes, are too exploitative and too expensive. "And then you see My Life as a Dog, how much did that cost?"

The Chase is short and sweet, and well worth the price of a ticket and a giant Nestle's Crunch. See it with someone silly.

-- Edith Sorenson


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