- Stacy Keach as Pat Quid
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Pamela “Hitch” Rushworth
A tight and bristling with tension thriller that takes a leaf out of Hitchcock’s expertise with suspense, Road Games makes for quite a ride that begins slowly and then gets quicker. Peppered with unexpected touches, it’s undoubtedly an underrated thriller.
Pat Quid is a sardonic truck driver in Australia who specialises in the transportation of meat. He picks up his latest load of pork in Melbourne and then deliver it to Perth. To pass the time, he often speculates on the lives of those he passes on his long journey on the Nullarbor Plain. Quid is a man of tall tales and almost endless trivia, which he regales his pet dingo Boswell with. A lot of this is to make the journey he’s taking to deliver the goods more bearable and quench boredom. On the large and arid Nullarbor Plain, he becomes aware of a certain green van that he saw earlier on his journey. It was at the motel he couldn’t check into and Quid becomes suspicious about this van that always seems to be there and who the person behind the wheel is. After hearing on the radio of a maniac who has been murdering young women, he starts to believe that the man in the van is the culprit. Around this time he picks up Pamela Rushworth, a young woman looking for adventure and who he nicknames Hitch. Bouncing off each other’s humour and ideas, the two play the idea of catching the killer. Hitch believes Quid’s story, even though the police don’t. The duo take it upon themselves to solve the mystery, as no one will listen due to a lack of evidence. The thing is the killer always seems to be one step ahead, and through a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, implicates the innocent Quid. When the killer seems to up the stakes, it becomes a game of cat and mouse as Quid attempts to bring him to justice. It’s a matter of proving it first that is the problem and when Hitch disappears, Quid is put into action.
Richard Franklin is on good form directing this slow building ride into creepiness. His measured pacing is peppered with a certain humour(which I’ll come on to soon) and a feeling of something very sinister around the corner. The Nullarbor Plain makes for a fascinating landscape to set Road Games due to its vast and unpredictable nature. Plus it provides a beautiful backdrop for the tension to take residence in subtle ways. The homages to Hitchcock are well worth the price of admission, with the basic premise of thinking you know something but without any prove is highly reminiscent of the great Master. While it references him, it never becomes a parody and stands on its own merits and talent. What sets Road Games apart from some thrillers is that while the main premise is morbid, the interactions between Quid and Hitch are funny and endearing. Going from a sassy script that sets up a nice rapport, the scenes of them deliberating are funny and sparkle with witty observations. And this extends to scenes of Quid with just his dog as he watches other drivers go by and guesses what they are like, much like the protagonist in Rear Window debates the lives of his neighbours. And while a thriller, Road Games has a lot in common with the road movie genre, only adding a darker and more inquisitive angle to it. The odd misstep now and then does nothing to diminish the effectiveness of Road Games in creating an atmosphere of burgeoning suspense. And because Quid is so tired by his job and worn out by the endless journey, there is that suggestion that maybe he is in fact making up something fanciful. We know there is a murderer on the loose, but is it the person in the van that Quid thinks it is? That very idea is alluded to in some surreal scenes of overlapping road marks and sweltering heat that show him under pressure. This adds a little more mystery to the already curious story that is woven with flair and precision. Road Games is one of those slow burns that is filled with a real dread that becomes more pronounced in the latter stages, which suits it down to the ground. The sheer atmosphere and possibility of Quid maybe not being the most reliable character in his thoughts is a great strength of the picture. A shimmering, adventurous and even jaunty tone to the music is perfectly counterbalanced by the gradual suspense it produces, filling the two capacities of fun and sinister.
Stacy Keach wonderfully plays Quid as a snarky, wise ass with bundles of imagination to spare. His world-weary demeanor and one liners make him a character you enjoy being in the company of, especially when he becomes suspicious of something deadly ahead. The fact that he is prone to imaginative ideas is also addressed, but Keach overall makes Quid a likable, every man hero in the narrative. Jamie Lee Curtis has fun as the sassy hitchhiker with a smart mouth and a quick talking way. Although young, she has a certain maturity that is put along her desire for something exciting to happen in her life. As they are the two principal people throughout, they are very charismatic and enjoyable to watch together. And the platonic chemistry that is filled with heart and a genuine care( not to mention sparkling banter) makes for cool watching.
A Hitchcockian thriller with a surprising amount of snap and verve gone into it, Road Games is both fun and tense, gaining mileage from a witty script, a growing feeling of dread and the main pleasure of and Jamie Lee Curtis.