Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - March 12, 1984

Author: Rick Lyman, Inquirer Movie Critic

The wonder is that people who go to see crud like Killpoint ever go see a movie again. It's not just that there's absolutely nothing to recommend it, but that watching the thing is such a tedious experience.

The newspaper and television ads make Killpoint sound like an urban- thriller showcase for Richard (Shaft) Roundtree. What's the use of beating around the bush? That's a lie. Roundtree's hardly in it.

The real star is a galumphing lump of martial-arts senescence named Leo Fong. He plays Lt. Jim Long, hard-bitten mainstay of the Riverside, Calif., detective squad.

Cameron Mitchell plays Joe Marx, a Palm Springs arms dealer whose agents knock over an armory and get away with dozens of supersophisticated automatic weapons. Marx's assistant is a big, humorless guy named Nighthawk (Stack Pierce), who also answers to just Hawk. He doesn't like anybody.

I'm going out on a limb describing the plot - because the way the movie's edited you can't really tell what it is - but for some reason Marx decides to sell these automatic weapons to gangs of Riverside street punks. The punks use them to rob grocery stores, stick up gas stations and settle gang vendettas.

There are three or four scenes of guys with automatic rifles barreling into a room and letting rip while glass shatters and people go flying. The special effects are of the crummiest variety - a shot of the guy shooting his gun cutting to a shot of the victim screaming, throwing up his arms and hurling
himself over a table.

You couldn't fool an idiot with effects like that.

The real mystery is why the people behind this movie decided to make Leo Fong its star. He can't act. His lines are, on the average, about three words long, and he seems to have an enormous amount of trouble remembering them. For a martial-arts star, he doesn't seem limber. If Richard Roundtree is the marquee draw, why not make him the star of the movie? Give him something to do besides bark into a telephone.

This is, by my count, at least the third movie in the last year that has claimed to have Roundtree as its star. In each case, he appeared for a couple of scenes and then disappeared. What's going on with him? Does he charge by the hour?

This is not to imply that lack of Roundtree is Killpoint's only problem. The only purpose of the movie's dialogue is to repeat plot points, give you another chance to see how stupid everything is. It's not that the people who made this film do a lousy job of building character; they don't even try. Same with the camera work - some of the lighting is so bad that it can't be blamed on mere ineptness. They don't seem to have even been trying.

One more thing: I saw the movie Friday afternoon at the Duke & Duchess Theater at 1605 Chestnut St. For some reason, perhaps the previous evening's snowfall, the ceiling was leaking bucketfuls of water into the theater at about mid-aisle.

Nobody mentioned on the way in that the matinee included a water show; really, the noise of the water gushing onto the drenched, stinky carpet was so loud that it was hard to hear some of the lines.

It was quite a scene - three-dozen people sitting in a damp, smelly theater watching a terrible movie while water literally was pouring out of the ceiling, crashing to the floor and rushing toward the screen.


Produced by Frank Harris and Diane Stevenett, written and directed by Frank Harris, photography by Frank Harris, music by Daryll Stevenett, and distributed by Crown International Pictures; running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. *

Lt. Long - Leo Fong

Joe Marx - Cameron Mitchell

Nighthawk - Stack Pierce

Anita - Hope Holiday

Candy - Diana Leigh

Agent Bryant - Richard Roundtree

Parents' guide: R (violence, profanity)



Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - January 30, 1984

Author: Rick Lyman, Inquirer Movie Critic

It's being sold as one of a new breed of urban thrillers , motorcycle vigilantes with a new-wave twist.

But Young Warriors is a stranger mutt than that - a loony revenge drama about Malibu frat boys taking armed forays into L.A.'s barrio to dispense a little justice and wreak a little vengeance.

A troupe of undistinguished and indistinguishable blond surf boys is supported by a cast of weary has-beens, and the whole mess is dedicated, so help me, to director King Vidor, "for his encouragement." It's like dedicating Smokey and the Bandit III to the memory of Ernst Lubitsch.

The movie starts with our four sandy-haired frat brothers tormenting a new crop of pledges at a rush party. We bear witness to several good-natured pranks - including one involving shaving cream, a block of ice and an olive that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget - and all seems to be going quite well.

But meanwhile, the teeny-bopper sister of one of the frat boys is driving home from her first formal dance. Her boyfriend's a nice sort of lug, also blond. Out of the darkness, comes an evil-looking van with a death skull painted on the side.

Before you can say Death Wish, the boyfriend is dead, the car is aflame and the girl is being stripped and abused. She stays alive long enough for her brother, Kevin, to come see her in the hospital. I'll get those guys, he vows. I'll make them pay.

Kevin's father, Ernest Borgnine, is a homicide detective. Let the cops handle it, he says. His mother, Lynda Day George, says listen to your father. His father's partner, Richard Roundtree, says listen to your mother. But Kevin just can't be restrained. Justice must be done.

Pretty soon he has got his frat brothers armed to the teeth. This is explained by having one of them, a rich doctor's son, give a lot of money to another one, an ROTC student, to bribe an Army supply sergeant. Yeah, sure.

They get in Kevin's snazzy Jeep and come down out of their safe Malibu
hills into the nether regions of the barrio. The reason they know where to look for the black van is that they've gone back to the scene of the crime and found a matchbook that the police overlooked. Sure. Whatever you say.

Kevin, meanwhile, is getting wackier by the minute. He starts to like blowing people away. And he won't even stop when one of his frat brothers gets his throat slit by the bad guys.

His girlfriend, Lucy (Anne Lockhart), puts on her negligee and shimmies around, begging Kevin to calm down and put his bitterness behind him. But he just can't. He's too worked up. Am I going crazy, he asks?

Meanwhile, everybody hanging out in the barrio turns out to be just as healthy-looking as the frat boys, maybe slightly scruffier. Most of them are blond, too. What is this, a Swedish barrio?

This is one of those movies where a dozen or so corporations have paid the producers to get their products on screen, including Coors, Schlitz and Jack

At the climactic shoot-out at a barrio cantina there's a Jack Daniels sign about two-stories tall and two or three neon Coors lights. Kevin sprays the place with enough bullets to arm a Central American death squad for a month. People go flying through the air, windows smash, bottles shatter. But none of those beer or liquor signs falls down or go out.

These guys may not know how to make a movie, but they sure know where their bread is buttered.


Produced by Victoria Paige Meyerink, directed by Lawrence D. Foldes, written by Lawrence D. Foldes and Russell W. Colgin, music by Rob Walsh, and distributed by Cannon Releasing; running time, 1 hour, 37 mins. *

Kevin - James Van Patten

Lt. Carrigan - Ernest Borgnine

Lucy - Anne Lockhart

Sgt. Austin - Richard Roundtree

Prof. Hoover - Dick Shawn

Beverly - Lynda Day George

Parents' guide: R (violence, nudity, obscenity)


Philadelphia Daily News (PA) - February 1, 1984

Author: JOE BALTAKE, Daily News Movie Reviewer

"Young Warriors." A drama starring James Van Patten, Anne Lockhart, Ernest
Borgnine, Richard Roundtree and Lynda Day George. Directed by Lawrence D. Foldes from an original script by Foldes and Russell W. Colgin. Photographed by Mac Ahlberg. Edited by Ted Nicolaou. Music by Rob Walsh. Running Time: 103 minutes. A Cannon Films release. In area theaters.

"Mortuary." A thriller starring Mary McDonough, Christopher George and Lynda Day George. Directed by Howard Avedis from an original screenplay by Avedis and Marlene Schmidt. Photographed by Gary Graver. Edited by Stanford C. Allen. Music by John Cavacas. Running Time: 91 minutes. An Artists Releasing Corp. release. In area theaters.

This week's bottom-of-the-barrel movie entries - sleazoid flicks guaranteed to revolt any civilized moviegoer - cannibalize everything from "Death Wish" to "Pyscho." And for better or worse, they also provide us with a sort of mini Lynda Day George Film Festival.

In "Young Warriors," a young woman is gang-raped and murdered by a bunch of roughnecks. Her brother (James Van Patten) enlists the help of his fraternity buddies to hunt down the street scum.

While they're at it, they decide to root out other killers and, if possible, interrupt other street crimes in progress. Kevin - that's the boy's name - does all of this without the permission of his police-officer father (Ernest Borgnine) or his mother (Lynda Day George) who insists that skull- crashing is the job of the police.

Before long, Kevin and his chums are dressed in military camouflage uniforms and carrying weapons of all sorts as they stumble onto crimes and whip the daylights out of the subhumans committing them.

"Young Warriors" is a half-hearted, simple-minded tribute to vigilantism, telling us that violent sex and brutality are not nice, while wallowing in both. You'll need to empty out your brain cells to make any sense out of this kind of misguided logic.

In "Mortuary," a clone of Norman Bates - named Paul Andrews (and played by Bill Paxton) - is terrorizing Small Town, U.S.A. with the embalming fluid
from his mortician-father's lab (workshop?). This unbalanced kid gets a kick out of extracting life juices from people while they're still warm.

Naturally, he comes from a bad home. His daddy (the late Christopher George in one of his last film roles) is heavily into black midnight chants, satanism and things that go bump in the night.

Like other films of this ilk ("Halloween," etc.), "Mortuary" finds true weirdness at the heart of Midwest normalcy. Its "suspense" revolves around Paxton's sick obsession with a sweet girl-next-door type (Mary McDonough of ''The Waltons") and around her deadly involvement with the father-son mortician team. Lynda Day plays the girl's mother, who may or may not be in on the weirdness.

**SINGLEG* Parental Guide: Both are rated R for language and violence.



Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - December 26, 1983

Author: Rick Lyman, Inquirer Movie Critic

There are two or three nifty sequences in Fred Williamson's latest low- budget urban actioner, The Big Score.

In one, Williamson, playing a Chicago policeman named Hooks who is somewhat a black version of Dirty Harry, chases a cocky heroin dealer through vacant lots and over train trestles.

In another, Hooks, armed with fragmentation grenades, tear gas and a machine gun, goes to a meeting with drug dealers.

They're both good, solid, well-edited action sequences. And the South Side locations have a nice, seedy feel - authentic urban sleaze.

Unfortunately, the rest of the picture is a lamely acted throwback to the black-exploitation pictures of the early '70s, lacking in imagination and continuity. The message is the same old claptrap about lenient courts and police hogtied by regulations.

Williamson, who also directed, can muster a decent screen presence, but he's hard-pressed to convey even the moderately narrow range of emotions necessary to carry a movie like this. Too much is left to supporting performers like Ed Lauter, Joe Spinnell and John Saxon, who struggle like troupers under the weight of the banal, obscenity-strewn lines.

Richard Roundtree, one of the biggest stars of the early '70s black- exploitation cycle, is given a meaningless walk-on. His name is listed and his picture displayed prominently in the movie's ads, but he has only one or two scenes with a couple of lines of dialogue and then - blink! - he's gone, never to return.

The so-called black-exploitation pictures died about a half-dozen years ago, but Williamson never got the word. He has kept right on churning them out, one worse than the next. Vigilante, maybe the worst of the bunch, showed up in Philadelphia over the summer. So it's something of a shock when he manages to turn out The Big Score, a half-decent, even promising film.

Williamson plays a dedicated narc who has to watch with suppressed rage while the target of his big bust is turned loose. When a major heroin buy goes down, Hooks blasts a few of the crooks, then chases down the guy with the money. The only problem is that by the time he catches the creep and guns him down, the money is missing.

The police suspect Hooks of grabbing it. The Mafia kingpin behind the buy also thinks Hooks has it. So Hooks finds himself suspended from the force and getting threatening phone calls from hit men.

Nancy Wilson has a nice supporting part as Hooks' former wife, the owner of a Chicago nightspot, who tells him between her songs what a great guy he is.

Williamson's screen presence owes more than a little to Clint Eastwood: a combination of swaggering, sneering and s-l-o-w speaking. The dumber the line, the slower you talk. In The Big Score, he talks really slow.

The surprise here is that his direction also owes something to Eastwood, who has proved himself more than able at complicated, well-paced action sequences. If Williamson could come up with a more coherent plot line, a better grade of dialogue and a slightly larger budget, he could probably turn out a decent cop thriller .

It's worth a try.


Produced by Michael S. Landes and Albert Schwartz, directed by Fred Williamson, written by Gail Morgan Hickman, photography by Joao Fernandes, music by Jay Chattaway, and distributed by Almi Productions; running time, 1 hour, 20 mins. * *

Hooks - Fred Williamson

Pete - John Saxon

Gordon - Richard Roundtree

Angi - Nancy Wilson

Parks - Ed Lauter

Mayfield - Joe Spinnell

Parents' guide: R (violence, obscenity, nudity)



Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - July 9, 1983

Author: Rick Lyman, Inquirer Movie Critic

Deadly Force is a unctuous little movie, a quilt of a film that takes its patches from just about all of the urban thrillers and cop series of the past decade.

As such, it's a confusion of styles and attitudes with a plot that swims around aimlessly, then is magically tied together with one of those strokes of inspiration that used to hit Sherlock Holmes just seconds before Moriarty would have gotten away.

Its hero is one Stoney Cooper, your basic ex-cop gun-for-hire. He's not a vigilante on a revenge binge, a la Charles Bronson in Death Wish, but a professional doing the dirty jobs that the cops can't manage because "the system" ties their hands.

There has been a string of weird murders in Los Angeles involving a disparate collection of victims from all over the city. Each is found with the letter "X" carved in his forehead.

There's a $250,000 reward out for the capture of the killer, dead or alive, and those are the kind of numbers Stoney understands. Besides, by going back home to Los Angeles, he'll be able to help an old pal whose daughter was victim No. 16, and reunite with his ex-wife, Eddie, a television reporter who, coincidentally, has been assigned to investigate the murders.

Stoney hits town and starts investigating like crazy. His method involves paying off street snitches, stealing police files and making endless calls on a pay phone in the rain.

All this furious and meaningless activity is interspersed with arguments between Stoney and Eddie, who lives in one of those giant, warehouse lofts that chic people inhabit in movies these days.

Stoney is played with lots of energy but not much coherence by Wings Hauser, a rough-hewn pretty-boy who seems to lack direction. Hauser was last seen in an execrable item called Vice Squad, where he played a psycho pimp who dismembered his hookers with a coat hanger.

He made a nice, kinky psycho precisely because he was playing against his soft-featured good looks. When he pulled out his coat hanger and his eyes took on that evil glow, it was truly unnerving. But here he's playing the macho hero, the James Bond of urban mercenaries, and he doesn't seem big enough or hard enough to carry it off.

Fact is, he seems a little pudgy, a little too much like one of the Brady Bunch after a few hard years and a bad marriage. And the case he's unraveling is so obvious that he has all of his brilliant deductions about a half hour after we do.

Joyce Ingalls is completely forget-table as his ex-wife, but Paul Shenar pulls off a strange supporting performance as Joshua Adams, the leader of a positive-attitude cult that figures into the proceedings. He's so smarmy it's almost beautiful, and his voice is pure radio sleaze.

People who go to these films hoping to see women butchered will be disappointed, I'm afraid. Virtually all of the killer's crimes take place off camera, and none are particularly gory.

There is one seriously erotic love scene between Stoney and Eddie that involves a hammock, but the director stuck a goofy song on the soundtrack that sucks the steam right out of it. You're not so much aroused by their love- making as amazed by their sense of balance.


Produced by Sandy Howard, directed by Paul Aaron, written by Ken Barnett, Barry Schneider and Robert Vincent O'Neil, photography by Norman Leigh and David Myers, music by Gary Scott, distributed by Embassy Pictures; running time, 1 hour, 37 mins.

Stoney Cooper - Wings Hauser

Eddie Cooper - Joyce Ingalls

Joshua Adams - Paul Shenar

Hoxley - Lincoln Kilpatrick

Parents' guide: R (nudity, obscenity, violence)


Philadelphia Daily News (PA) - July 13, 1983

Author: JOE BALTAKE, Daily News Movie Reviewer

"Deadly Force." An action drama starring Wings Hauser, Joyce Ingalls and Paul Shenar. Directed by Paul Aaron from an original script by Ken Barnett, Barry Schneider and Robert Vincent O'Neil. Photographed by Norman Leigh and David Myers. Edited by Roy Watts. Music by Gary Scott. Running time: 95 minutes. In area theaters.

Last year, producer Sandy Howard and star Wings Hauser teamed for an effectively lurid street thriller titled "Vice Squad," in which Hauser plays an amazingly resilient villain named Ramrod who has a penchant for using his Pimp's Stick, a nasty gadget, on his prostitutes.

"Vice Squad" has no redeeming moral values and only a few cinematic ones, but it's wonderfully demented fun, largely because of Hauser's menacing, scenery-chewing bravado. With his baby face with its sizable overbite and hair of ringlets, he makes the perfect psychotic villain. He's versatile, too, a point proven in the song he warbles over the end credits of "Vice Squad."

But Hauser isn't that versatile. Whoever had the bright idea of casting Hauser as the hero in Howard's "Deadly Force" immediately thwarted the film's chances of working as another grimy, low-down actioner. As a tough, efficient cop who yearns to be a pianist (a plot point similar to the one used in "Flashdance"), Hauser seems smaller - diminutive, almost squashed - and more than a little uninteresting.

What's more, the plot here is less kinky than the one employed in "Vice Squad." It is strictly TV stuff, with Hauser as the kind of cop who spends 99 percent of the screen time arguing with his superior (Lincoln Kilpatrick), his ex-wife (Joyce Ingalls) and the film's assorted creeps and criminals.

Actually, Hauser is a former cop here - a displaced Californian trying to make it big in the music biz in New York. He is summoned back to Los Angeles to solve a string of murders involving women and a knife-wielding fanatic. En route to the airport, he stops off to help out an old friend whose factory has been taken over by a human bomb.

Much more interesting than Hauser is Paul Shenar whose flaccid "pod" portrait of a sleazy entrepreneur who specializes in lectures on "change" and "success" is right out of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Ingalls, as Hauser's wife, a budding TV reporter, looks and sounds awful, providing the film with a genuinely comic streak of nastiness: she plays the kind of nitwit TV personality that stations like to team with palooka-types - you know, the newsroom stewardess and the landbound pilot.

Unfortunately, this is something "Deadly Force" never pursues. Its plot
keeps returning to Hauser who, when he isn't trying out his tonsils on someone he doesn't like or having his face pounded by one of the assorted creeps, moodily tinkles at the ivories.

Cripes! Bring back the Pimp Stick.

Parental Guide: Rated R for its violence and one fairly graphic softcore sex sequence.


Image from AMOEBLOG


Detroit Free Press (MI) - April 11, 1986

Author: CATHARINE RAMBEAU Free Press Movie Critic

Every woman who has ever been raped has surely fantasized about getting even with her rapist.

That's the premise of "The Ladies Club," as it was of "Rape Squad" and " I Spit on Your Grave ," other films in which vigilantes punish their rapists with impunity.

So it's too bad that despite decent acting and the film's avoidance of the standard-issue nude scenes this 90-minute film seems to exploit women while giving lip service to their desire for justice. Too bad, too, that it looks like a TV movie-of-the- week.

Perhaps that's because almost everyone involved hails from TV and television's KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) theory is more obvious on a large screen. Perhaps the problem was simply beyond the control of director and screenwriters. (On her first feature picture, director Janet Greek used the pseudonym A.K. Allen, reportedly because of problems with the film's editing and marketing.)

"LADIES CLUB" opens with the gang rape of policewoman Joan Taylor (Karen Austin), complete with a ruinous beating and endless anti-woman filth spewed by the trio of rapists. It continues stacking the deck, tossing the usual rape statistics and stereotypes -- men who blame women for being raped, the violated and now catatonic kid sister -- into this nasty stew of violence. Yes, these stereotypes exist; but reliance on them undermines the film.

During her recuperation, Taylor makes friends with obstetrician Constance Lewis (Christine Belford), whose own daughter was raped and murdered. When the jury pronounces Taylor's rapists not guilty, cop and doctor organize a ladies' club and begin locating, drugging and castrating career rapists.

P Not a bad idea, perhaps. But I have an ugly suspicion "The Ladies Club" (originally called "Violated") may appeal less to women who have been raped than to men who hate women and enjoy seeing them humiliated.

Any movie so thoroughly focused on gratuitous physical, psychological and verbal violence against one sex should be suspect. Since rape is an emotionally loaded issue on which hardly anyone one is neutral, and since the film's political attitudes are neither radical enough nor conservative enough to please either side, "The Ladies Club" fails.


Area Theaters

RATING: 3 out of 10

Joan Taylor-Karen Austin

Lucy Bricker-Diana Scarwid

Dr. Constance Lewis-Christine Belford

Richard Harrison-Bruce Davison

Directed by A.K. Allen. Screenplay by Paul Mason and Fran Lewis Ebeling from the novel "Sisterhood" by Betty Black and Casey Bishop. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Cinematography by Adam Greenburg. Edited by Marion Segal and Randall Torno. Production design by Stephen Myles Berger. Produced by Nick J. Mileti and Paul Mason. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

PARENTS' GUIDE: R; extreme violence, intense subject matter, profanity, bad English.

MAD MAX (1979) U.S. release (1980)


Boston Globe - July 4, 1980

Author: Bruce McCabe Globe Staff

Directed by George Miller, co-written by Miller and James McCausland. Starring Mel Gibson. At the Beacon Hill and suburban theaters and drive-ins. Rated R.

When I was in Cannes last year, the chic film to see was this futuristically styled, gothic Australian motorcycle opera which also functions as an homage to the American B picture and its graphic concerns.

Ironically, the film is being distributed as an exploitation picture by the studio, American International, which has kept the B picture alive as a feature film even as television has appropriated the form.

The film is a compendium of references to the American films which have treated the outlaw of the modern Industrial Age, an outlaw who functions within the law (wearing the policeman's badge) as well as without. You can see references in "Mad Max" to everything from "The Wild One" and "A Clockwork Orange" to "Easy Rider," "Death Wish" and "In Cold Blood," not to mention a host of American International Pictures' motorcycle movies that sucked the life from the originals and left them as empty husks.

The references are not obvious enough, however, to make "Mad Max" pretentious. It has been skillfully crafted to appeal to both the drive-in crowd and the cineaste. There is enough violence and retribution to satisfy the most pseudo-pathological sensibility. Simultaneously, there is enough restraint and taste to keep the film from sliding into the mire that so often covers the genre. There are also psychological and political overtones rarely dramatized in the conventional genre. Director George Miller suggests that the violence of the motorcycle outlaw and the lawman who pursues him is rooted in a repressed homosexuality that manifests itself in strange forms. What redeems the suggestion is Miller's irrepressible humor. He squeezes the ritual of the genre for all it's worth and then some with a sort of grinning-death's-head japery.

The scenario involves a war to the death between a sleek, bullet-headed, futuristic highway patrolman named Max (Mel Gibson) and a decadent motorcycle gang. The war begins when a member of the gang, a psychopath called The Night Rider, burns to death in a car crash concluding a wild police chase. The gang, led by another psychopathic personality called The Toe-Cutter, vows vengeance. Max's partner is burned to a crisp in a fiery crash precipitated by the gang. The piece de resistance, however, is the gang's pursuit of Max's wife and infant son. When they are both run down on the highway, Max snaps and methodically sets about exterminating the vermin that has made his life such a nightmare.

As directed by Miller, the film makes the genre's conventions almost congenial. Cars are always breaking down at the most inopportune times (the motorcycles don't). Max's wife and son persist in leaving him at the most hazardous moments. At one point they have to be rescued from the gang's clutches by a crippled old woman brandishing a rifle. The ideas aren't original but they're redeemed by Miller's consistently deft manipulation of them. He operates with surgical proficiency.

If punk is a sensibility as well as an adjective, "Mad Max" is a punk movie. Its Australian setting enhances it, authenticating its futuristic aura. The landscape is a bleak desert sliced by a highway under an impassive sky. Death and destruction are cleaned up quickly and effectively. It's hard to get involved with these accidents because the people who have them are as flat and colorless as their surroundings. These people almost need speed and violence to remind them they're alive. They're almost dead anyway.


A Bumper Crop of Movies On Smashed-Up Cars

Washington Post, The (DC) - September 6, 1977

Author: Tom Shales

America's love-hate relationship with the automobile has gotten awfully lopsided in favor of hate. As evidence we have a new race of movie that promises audiences they will see car upon car abused, tortured or demolished. Children, especially, seem driven to these vehicles.

"Thunder and Lightning" and "Grand Theft Auto," now separately dominating a large number of area screens, deliver the promised carnage in abundance. There are at least 15 smash-ups in "Thunder" and no fewer than 35 in "Auto - a bumper crop of four-wheeled corpses.

Auto wrecks have long been staples of movie comedy, and car chases are practically Essence du Cinema. But never before have collisions themselves been the whole point of so many popular films. Ads for "Auto" say, with anything but subtlety, "See the greatest cars in the world destroyed!"

Considering the rigidity of the form and the regularity with which the machines are thrown at one another, you almost get the feeling you're watching auto porno - a movie made for a drive-intheater full of unoccupied cars. Or maybe they're exploiting a widespread grudge against Detroit, and have been made to titillate the little Ralph Nader that lives within us all.

More likely, the films represent a rebellion against machines in general and a backlash against the materialist excesses of a time of plenty. "Auto" makes a point of smashing up not just cars, but expensive cars. A bronze Rolls-Royce is in fact the star of the film, with a yellow Porshe and two black Lincoln Continentals in supporting roles. A Cadillac Seville is spared only because it fails to start.

As a movie, "Grand Theft Auto," about a money-fueled chase from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, is pretty much a crashing bore, with a spoiled-brat mentality behind it. Ron Howard, who co-wrote, directed and plays the lead role in the film, completely lacks the ability to sustain a story between collisions. Aspects that are bluntly imitative of Stanley Kramer's "Its a Mad, Mad, Mad World" and Steven Spielberg's "The Sugarland Express" don't help; they just remind you how superior the originals were.

But "Thunder and Lightning" is not only in the new tradition of crash-'em-ups but also in the old American tradition of crackervilly humor. David Carradine, who is getting to be a pretty ingratiating rascal on screen, and Kate Jackson star as a moonshiner and honeybunch in the Florida Everglades. They zoom around protecting the small businessman against organized moonshining in a black '57 Chevy that survives somersaults, fenderbenders and leaps through the air.

Perhaps because one may be expecting something a bit mor malicious, and cheerful high spirits of the fflm come as a breezy surprise, and Corey Allen's whizbang direction is masterful for a small-budget film. "Thunder and Lightning," except for its overly scatalogical dialogue, is good clean wanton destruction. The final scene of reunited lovers riding in a truck driven by sympathetic old geezers brings back a hundred bucolic-romantic movie memories.

In defense of both films, it should be noted that almost all the damage is done to property rather than people; mangled human bodies as a matinee diversion. Virtually every crash, no matter how devastating, is followed by a scene of the people in the cars walking or swimming away from the scene, dazed but unbloodied. Thus we have violent films striking a blow against violence.

To some extent, the movies also seem a reaction against television - even though both exploit TV names (Howard of "Happy Days," Jackson of "Charlie's Angels"), there is a comic reference to Carradine's old "Kung Fu" series, and an actor playing a hit man in "Thunder" complains about too much violence on the air.

Nevertheless, the films provide an alternative to television in that TV treats us as consumers first and people second and is regularly punctuated with homages and paeans to the glories of merchandise and conspicuous consumption. The auto wreck movies answer that with conspicuous destruction; they take symbols of American affluence and trash them to smithereens.

There is a therapeutic satisfaction to be gleaned from seeing cars killed on the screen (it would be nice if they threw in an electric typewriter now and then). And it may even be healthier in the long run than the sentimentalization of computers and machines in "Star Wars." We have to keep remembering - it's them or us. Autowreck movies give the victory to the people.