The Record (New Jersey) - September 8, 1986

Author: By Will Joyner, Staff Writer: The Record

MOVIE REVIEW @@ DEAD END DRIVE-IN: Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Written by Peter Smalley. Photography by Paul Murphy. Music by Frank Strangio. With Ned Manning (Jimmy), Natalie McCurry (Carmen), Peter Whitford (Thompson), and others. Produced by Andrew Williams for Springvale Productions in association with the New South Wales Film Corporation. Released by New World Pictures. Opened Friday locally. Running time: 85 minutes. Rated R: profanity, nudity, adult situations.

You spot an ad for a movie called "Dead End Drive-In," and what comes to mind? Low-rent, late-night horror , right? Lots of screaming teen-agers caught with their clothes off, lots of blood. Bad acting, bad direction, mercifully bad lighting.

Duck into the "Dead End Drive-In" that opened Friday, and you're going to get something entirely different. It's not a great movie, by any means, but it's also not a picture cynically planned to feed on the public's worst fascination with violence.

First, "Dead End Drive-In" is an Australian production, filmed on the industrial outskirts of Sydney. Second, it's a fairly provocative allegory about the near future an open homage to Stanley Kubrick's classic "A Clockwork Orange" without any pretense to the same profundity, as well as an unabashed echo of "The Road Warrior. "

Third, exploiting an ugly low-budget look, the film is a playful send-up of a punk visual style now irrevocably in vogue all around the world.

The time is halfway through the 1990's. Nuclear mishaps happen frequently. Rioting over dwindled resources is widespread in the United States and Europe. A full-scale racial war has engulfed South Africa.

In Sydney, a cheerful young man named Jimmy (Ned Manning) incongruously jogs through rubble, past lots protected by barbed wire and barking dogs, along a greenish horizon dominated by chemical-spewing factories.

Jimmy's in training to be just like his big brother Frank that is, employed as a tow-truck driver, one of the few lucrative jobs left in this strange, auto-obsessed society. (A tow-truck driver has to be in great shape because any radio call requires combat, against other towing companies and against ghoulish scavengers known as "cowboys. ")

As good as he is, though, Jimmy's also a boy who just wants to have some naughty fun. One night, he borrows Frank's vintage '56 Chevy, emerges from their bunkerlike home (a deserted underground parking garage), and takes his vampish girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the Star Drive-In.

The ad for "Dead End Drive-In" may be misleading, but it's correct when it says, "The price of admission is your life. " The place turns out to be an internment camp for unemployed young people, where, just as they're getting down to sexual antics, their cars are dismantled by roving policemen.

There's no escape, even for the odd ambitious type like Jimmy. Thompson (Peter Whitford), the kindly old man at the ticket booth, issues blankets, and coupon books for junk food and drugs. There's a cafeteria and a shower house, both covered with brightly colored graffiti murals. ("The Lord is coming," one says. "Wear a raincoat. ") This is life, for the duration.

This is also all-too-obvious symbolism of a postindustrial country's inability to motivate its youth, but "Dead End Drive-In" has a crude charm anyway. The drive-in's residents are done up in such an outrageous array of leather duds, black-and-blue makeup, and spiked hairdos that the movie turns into campy street theater, where unsubtle messages are perfectly appropriate.

The unsubtle message is this: Locked up or not, many of tomorrow's (and today's) youth are going to spend their days listening to music, puffing marijuana, and reveling in their rude docility. A few will have the gumption to jump the fence.

Ned Manning, as Jimmy the fence jumper, feigns just enough dated forthrightness to make everyone else who's wandering the dusty, car-strewn landscape half Kafka, half Lower East Side seem hilarious. Especially memorable is a punk cricket match that robs the game of every trace of gentility.

"Dead End Drive-In" has its share of bad acting, misguided direction, and bizarre lighting (the cinematographer went wild experimenting with filters, adding to the movie's glow of abnormality). And it eventually hits a narrative dead end of its own. But at least a razor-wielding psychopath isn't waiting in the shadows there.

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