Color, 1981, 106m.
Directed by Martyn Burke
Starring Lee Majors, Chris Makepeace, Burgess Meredith, George Touliatos, Alexandra Stewart, Diane D'Aquila
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The American government has completely failed to control the gas crisis. The majority of people are stuck in menial, demoralizing jobs they endure every day. Oh, and there's this 1981 movie called The Last Chase, which happens to begin with both of those issues in the future-- and in case you miss the point, there's a looming shot of a decaying, massive Exxon and voiceover by our hero, Franklyn (Majors), shuttling off to his job to hammer it all home. He's not happy with the fact that personal choice has been taken away from the American citizen's transportation choices, so he's stashed away the remains of his red racecar away from the spying eyes of the government, which wants to stash him in a reeducation camp for not obeying every single law. Then a crafty teenage hacker named Rider (Makepeace) contacts him, and when they run afoul of the police one night, they decide to go on the run to California, now an independent free country, at high speed in his car. Afraid his example will inspire the population to revolt, the government hauls out an elderly Vietnam fighter pilot (Meredith) to bring them down on the road at any cost.

If ever there existed a prototypical early '80s HBO afternoon movie, this is it. There's just enough social commentary to make you feel like you aren't completely wasting your time, you've got a Canadian tax shelter production with a supporting cast of local talent mostly camouflaing their accents, and a couple of American stars are on hand for box office value. On top of that there's a nifty electronic score by Gil Mell´┐Ż (who did The Andromeda Strain and a ton of Night Gallery episodes), Burgess Meredith talking dirty to a fighter jet when he gets in the pilot's seat, and... well, the end result could be called sort of a mash up between Vanshing Point, Death Race 2000, and a Simon & Simon episode. On the downside, the plot doesn't really bear up under the slightest amount of scrutiny, and the clunky-looking "futuristic" vehicles wouldn't be topped for silliness until Freejack; still, for a low-budget sci-fi slice of '80s silliness, this should be just the nostalgic kick to satisfy your retro itch on a slow weekend.

Much of this film's infamy centered around star Lee Majors, who was in between his TV gigs on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Fall Guy. Majors was making an odd attempt at movie stardom with this, an unlikely turn as a Viking in AIP's The Norseman, and Antonio Margheriti's disco action favorite, Killer Fish. At the time Majors was married to Farrah Fawcett (or Fawcett-Majors as she was known then), and while he was off in Canada shooting this, his best friend Ryan O'Neal very publicly swiped his wife. The tabloid frenzy overshadowed the actual feature, which was given a limp theatrical release by Crown International but later found a longer life cable TV and a pretty dreary-looking VHS release from Vestron. Like many of its Canadian ilk, the film then vanished completely for decades.

Code Red's presentation of The Last Chase not only revives this film from the dead but also presents a "director's cut" version featuring just under a minute of shots trimmed to get a PG rating (which still remains on the back of the box, unlikely as that may now seem). Chief among these is a nude orgy sequence early in the film, which existed only as a fleeting, confusing cutaway in the theatrical cut. The widescreen transfer obviously looks better than the VHS by leaps and bounds; fleshtones veer on the reddish side in some shots and the whole film was shot with that soft early '80s aesthetic, but overall it's a decent transfer and somewhere in the middle on the scale of transfers from the Crown library; it's also one of the cleanest print elements they've used, without the bumpy reel changes and debris that usually mar most Crown titles from various labels. Director Martyn Burke (who had earlier helmed The Clown Murders and Power Play, provides a video interview and audio commentary (the latter not mentioned on the packaging, but it is there) in which he talks about the production itself and its status among the tax shelter days, which he clearly misses. He repeatedly insists he didn't plan it as an action film (despite the title) and intended it as an apocalyptic allegory, but the promotion and tabloid controversy veered it to the Cannonball Run crowd. He also talks about how Meredith was his first choice for that role and the good luck he had casting Makepeace, a Canadian actor who had just scored big in the terrific My Bodyguard and would go on to appear in the cult favorite Vamp. George Touliatos, who plays one of the main government heavies in the film, is also on hand in an 11-minute video chat to talk only briefly about The Last Chase, instead focusing on working with other actors like John Marley and Chrisopher Plummer and his roles in films like Firepower and Prom Night. You also get the usual batch of bonus Code Red trailers including Caged Men (as I'm Going to Get You... Elliot Boy), Stigma, The Carrier, Death Journey, and A Long Ride from Hell.

Reviewed on 5/29/11