Sunday, February 14, 2016

DOUBLE NICKELS (1977)

Rated PG
Running time: 89 min.

Double Nickels came out in 1977 and it's very much a product of it's time. We have vans equipped with CB radios, people pulling over to use a payphone and Pintos being stolen. The film never did get a VHS release, instead falling into the public domain and getting dumped onto countless multi-disc collections with other notable feature films like Bail Out and Night of the Sharks. This film deserved only a slightly better fate and at least should have been a minor cult classic.

Written, produced and directed by Jack Vacek, whose only other writing and directing credits also include the 1988 film Deadly Addiction, the story (term loosely used) is about two California highway patrol officers, the appropriately named Smokey (Vacek) and Ed, played by Ed Abrams. Yes, this is one of those films where the actors play characters who also share their first name. The only thing missing here was Tony Danza playing a character named Tony. Smokey and Ed are not very good at their jobs. They never write up any tickets, are always letting people go and are easily coerced into moonlighting as repo men, even though it may cost them their jobs. Smokey, as played by Vacek, is a smooth-talking charmer who drives his motorcycle really fast past the same cop everyday, resulting in pointless chase scenes that don't really contribute anything to the plot, sparse as it is. Ed is the loyal sidekick who is a lovable goofball that isn't as cool as Smokey, but appears to be a very adequate wingman with top-notch pinball skills. One day, Smokey pulls over a cool cat by the name of George, played by George Cole (see? Tony Danza, where are you?). George explains that he is in the repo business and if Smokey is interested in a sidejob, here's his card. Smokey and Ed meet up with George later on, who takes them with him on a job. These two cops are so bad they can't see there is something fishy about this whole scenario from the get-go. 

The movie then turns into several set pieces of Smokey and Ed comically bumbling their way through various repo attempts. They have to hotwire a few vehicles, which isn't suspicious at all, and end up running from the cops more than once. Poor Ed is being chased while driving a Pinto, which leads to a funny scene of the Pinto driving down several flights of stairs very carefully, while the cop chasing him requests back-up and that he is "in pursuit", while both cars are slowly making their way down the stairs. Meanwhile, Smokey pulls over a girl named Jordan (Patrice Schubert, who also gets co-writing credit), makes a date with her, and then is two hours late because he was busy repo-ing. The scene where he shows up at Jordan's house and tries to make excuses for being late is one of the funnier scenes in the film. Finally, the cops start to think that maybe something isn't right about this whole thing. They share their feeling with George, who assures them "Don't worry about that right now". I wish I could get out of arguments with my wife using that line. It turns out that George doesn't even know what's going on. We get a scene where he meets the man that has been hiring him (played by Tex Taylor) to find the cars and bring them to him. George is told that it's better for his health if he doesn't ask too many questions, so now we know who the real villain is. This leads to the gang going to the man's house and stealing back one of the vehicles, leading to the high speed chase down the Pacific coast highway and literally through a fireworks stand. I enjoyed the build-up of that scene, with shots of kids purchasing fireworks and a man loading crates that read "HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE" onto a truck, with shots of the fast-moving cars interspersed. 

The plot of this film is very basic: cops moonlight as repo men and ultimately find out that they're actually stealing cars for a criminal. The dialogue for the movie is very loose and appears to be improvised. This leads to some funny scenes that appear to be organic, but then when it comes to moving the plot, the dialogue pretty much goes like this: "Hey guys, I think we're stealing these cars for someone shady." "Yeah, it looks like it. I guess we better go say something." Don't get me wrong, it's hilariously bad. I laughed at how poor the dialogue came off, which is why we watch these movies. The final chase scene had a couple characters in a vehicle that had a mobile phone (I know there are millenials reading, so think of a landline phone--no, not a cordless house phone. A phone with a cord---what, I have to explain what a cord is also? Never mind). One of the characters is on the phone yelling "They're shooting at us! Listen!" while the phone is held up in the air, where the bad guys are clearly NOT shooting at them. 

The chase scenes are what the movie is really selling and they are just not that thrilling. Jack Vacek worked with H.B. Halicki on movies like Gone in 60 Seconds and The Junkman, but Halicki had more panache when it came to chase scenes and cars crashing. Ultimately, what we get is a film with some funny moments of dialogue and dull action scenes. Drive-in movies of the 1970's were made simply to entertain, but this one doesn't really pull it off all the way. If you're interested in the nostalgia of the era, check it out, sure. But Pintos were meant to be forgotten.

Score: 2/5


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