Grand Theft Auto (1977) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for language, violence and some sexuality
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan, Paul Linke, Don Steele, Barry Cahill, Marion Ross, Rance Howard, Elizabeth Rogers, Peter Isacksen, Clint Howard, James Ritz, Hoke Howell
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Rance Howard, Ron Howard
Review published September 11, 2004
Grand Theft Auto (not to be confused with the mega-popular videogame) is a quintessential 70s car film, full of non-stop chases, explosive pile-ups, and constant defiance of the law. Perhaps more significant as the first film directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, EdTV) than as a fresh or innovative take on hot rod demolition derbies, GTA was made in part of an agreement between Howard and producer Roger Corman for starring in Eat My Dust! It's strictly a niche genre piece, made only for those who want to see mayhem on the freeways, so if you like Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, or TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard", this should easily find a spot in your collection.
Ron Howard and Nancy Morgan star as Sam and Paula, a young couple who steals Paula's well-to-do politician father's Rolls Royce to make a trip to Las Vegas and get hitched. Daddy (Cahill, Coffy) doesn't approve of Paula marrying beneath her, which would thwart his plans for her to marry Collins (Linke, who would later appear in Howard's later film, Parenthood) rich son to Vivian Hedgeworth (Marion Ross, who played Howards' mother on the hit TV show, "Happy Days"). Collins attempts a high-speed pursuit, but can't quite seal the deal, so he calls up a popular radio station to tell the listeners that there is a $10,000 reward for anyone able to bring Paula back safely before she gets hitched. Vivian puts in another $10,000, and the freeway is swarming with potential winners of the loot, who all begin crashing into each other trying to get to Sam and Paula first.
There's not much plot here, but there doesn't have to be to please the target audience. Grand Theft Auto could easily be labeled as "car crash porn", as it religiously seeks to spotlight as many varied vehicles smashing into buildings and other cars at every opportunity. At 84 minutes, at least half of the running time is spent showcasing cars speeding down the freeway, usually ending with a crash, and often an explosion. For what it is, it's not horrendously bad, although people looking to see something more than non-stop destruction will find Howard's creation devoid of meaningful substance.
While not really similar to video game with the same name, it most certainly could be called an early influencer of another crazy video game, "Twisted Metal", which also featured a cavalcade of interesting vehicles in a destruction derby, the most popular being an ice cream truck, similar to the one featured in this film. It's a wafer-thin, loosely held together action vehicle, only recommended for any in the mood for mindless mechanical carnage.
©2004 Vince Leo