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— W.C.U.N — Pittsburgh!!

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) Dir. Stephen King. Written by Stephen King. Starring: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith, Christopher Murney, Frankie Faison, and Giancarlo Esposito.

Declared a 'Moron Movie' by Stephen King himself, Maximum Overdrive stands as one of the least appreciated genre films of the 1980's. And it's really no wonder why - the movie starts at a sprint and delivers a solid forty-five minutes of batshit primo King before succumbing to an underwhelming 2nd Act and one of the most anti-climactic endings to grace silver screens in that year of our Lord, 1986. That said, the first forty-five-minutes is amazing and I would like to venture some of the finest characterization and rendering of King characters and scenarios ever put on celluloid. It's a fucking crime that King didn't direct more of his own work. Yeah, I said it. Can we imagine how he might have developed as a director under the guidance of a strong-minded producer and less of the Bolivian Marching Powder? 

Yet, here we are, living in an era where every obscure, Canadian tax-shelter Slasher can get a special edition Blu-Ray with four hours of extras, and we have yet to get anything more than a barebones edition of Maximum Overdrive. If that sounds like a thinly-veiled plea to the powers that be - it is. Maximum Overdrive is absolutely worth the price of admission and there has to be a wealth of behind the scenes stories worth hearing, maybe even some validation or dismissal of that persistent rumor that DeLaurentis had a ghost director on set. 

Looking back at King's literary oeuvre, the element that for me has always elevated him above the Koontz's, and McCammon's of the world is his characterizations. He has an unbelievable knack for succinctly crafting characters that we cannot help but identify with - even the morons. It's the characters that drive the story, always, and you feel it when the shit hits the fan. Ignoring the sheer fun lunacy of the machine rebellion deftly shown in the first half of the movie, the roster of seasoned character actors putting in work here is drool-inducing. King and Casting Director Mary Colquhoun knew what they were doing: Pat Hingle, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo "Yo Mama" Esposito, Ellen McElduff, Christopher Murney and Yeardley Smith. It's probably the only aspect of the film that I can say, King nails and the aspect that most King adaptations ignore and or fail at completely by casting too on the nose. Every single character in this film feels like they stepped out of one of King's novels and that's refreshing as hell. 

Combine the stellar character work with an absurd but fun premise and we're primed for a rollicking good time. And the first half delivers in spades with total lunacy. We're talking killer electric carving knives, killer lawnmowers, and a Little League team annihilated by a Coke machine and one poor fucker crushed by a rogue steamroller because he can't a ride a bike too good. All this and more as the ensemble cast careens toward Gas World - a fucking gas station where the rest of the film will play out. That should be our first hint that things might not live up to the high-octane opening. Then the second act hits and King drops the ball like no ball has ever been dropped before.

Once all the characters have been corralled at Gas World, the machines start lining up . . . . for gas, and our characters are held hostage as gas jockeys and . . . that's pretty much it. There are some fun deaths at the hands of a military jeep outfitted with an M-60 and of course the infamous semi bearing the Green Goblin's visage - a great menacing piece of pop culture that King really does nothing with. We're even teased with a final showdown between the Goblin and Estevez, but it's over in the blink of an eye, or the roar of a rocket I should say, and our heroes escape to an island as a post-script tells us that the comet passed and our heroes survived. Bummer. 

And still . . . that first half is such a good time, the characters so vivid that for me it overshadows the dire second half. Hell, the opening scene of a drawbridge disaster is book-ended by one of the Kingiest scenes I can imagine; two city employees, playing poker, one of them knuckle deep in his nose and the other disgusted with his co-worker's card playing all-the-while a major disaster looms. There is one scene after another of great, quick characterizations like this; Giancarlo Esposito's Twinkie thief in one of the best arcade-set scenes of the eighties - brief as it may be - Mcelduff's over the top "We Made Yoooooo!!!" meltdown, Pat Hingle's cigar-chewing and artillery-hoarding, the list goes on and I haven't even mentioned the grab-bag of over the top kills on display. While all that doesn't necessarily a good movie make, it makes a great moron movie! King should be proud and we really should have that deluxe Blu-Ray already. 

 

 

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