So here is a thing I didn’t know about Ron Howard (well, several things): he got his start, like so many filmmakers, with Roger Corman. He was in his early twenties when Corman cast him in Eat My Dust, a high-octane car chase movie that also features his dad Rance and brother Clint. Initially turning the role down, Howard then bargained for a chance to make his own movie if it was a success, and after writing a script with his dad he was set to direct and star in another, far superior road movie: Grand Theft Auto. Everyone had a good time, and now Ron Howard is famous. This was all during his Happy Days stint, too, so I’m impressed he found the time.
In the fairly nonsensical and nihilistic Eat My Dust, Howard stars as Hoover Niebold, a funny-lookin’ teen with a funny-soundin’ name, who sees his chance to get with the hottest girl in school (Christopher Norris) by stealing a racecar from the local track and taking her and his free-loading friends on a joyride across the county. They drive around, destroying buildings, cars, and a boat in their wake, and sort of kidnap an old man. Hoover’s sheriff father sends out a police force to capture them, but they’re smoked every time by the boy’s ruthless (and surprisingly sober) steering. But of course the real question is, Will he ever sleep with this lady? WILL THERE BE BOOBS?
This is a fast-paced, ridiculous sort of movie that doesn’t offer anything new for the viewer but does have plenty to entertain us. There is an impressive assortment of driving scenes and mass destruction, and it was interesting to see Ron Howard as this lascivious teenage jackass who still looks the way he looks. I also dug the crowd chilling at the police station in a sort of haunted-jail-comedy shtick (that makes sense if you’ve seen it). The story is paper-thin but no one is coming into Eat My Dust for plot, and it’s easy to sit back and just let things happen. It’s written and directed by Charles B Griffith, a frequent Corman collaborator who also gave us Death Race 2000, the perfect violent road movie. While it’s a fun enough movie, it’s sort of underwhelming just because I’ve seen so many better ones of its ilk. I also thought the complete lack of morals in these kids gave a surprising dark underbelly to the whole proceedings that didn’t quite fit tonally.
I’ve always thought of Howard as a perfectly able and very “crowd-pleasing” kind of filmmaker- his movies may entertain but I’m not going to be telling everyone I know about how his likable underdog totally won in the end, wowee! His first studio picture (he made several amateur films in high school), Grand Theft Auto, came as a complete- and utterly welcome- surprise. He stars as a hippie college student engaged to preppy rich girl Paula (Nancy Morgan). They’re determined to get married but her politician father won’t allow it, so they steal his Rolls Royce and high-tail it to Las Vegas with a stream of private detectives, cops, bounty hunters, and a spoiled rich kid (her intended) hot on their heels.
When I say “they” I mostly mean, “her”, since she is the badass one in this relationship, who actually takes the car and does most of the driving. Seriously, I am in love with Nancy Morgan as Paula Powers, the cardigan-wearing country club member with perfect hair who steals the show at every turn. She’s a totally unexpected component to this film that makes it so much better. Ron Howard is basically her sidekick as she decides to be awesome. Even without this thrilling gender turn-around, this movie is great though! So many really expensive cars are totalled.The high-flying car action and ridiculous characters are more exciting and better-written than in Eat My Dust– though it brings on a few of the same actors-, and the inclusion of the REAL Don Steele as a nosy radio reporter just makes for a good time that had me smiling ear-to-ear for most of the film. With him there I could imagine that this movie takes place in the same universe as Death Race 2000, a few years before everything became a dystopian shithole. And Marion Ross from Happy Days is there. Yes! See this movie, it is probably Ron Howard’s best ever! I’m not exaggerating!