White Line Fever (1975) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and language (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Sam Laws, Don Porter, Leigh French, Johnny Ray McGhee, Dick Miller, Martin Kove, Jamie Anderson, David Garfield, Ron Nix
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Screenplay: Ken Friedman, Jonathan Kaplan
No, this isn't a flick about cocaine. The title refers to the condition of fatigue while driving long distances on the highway with nothing to stare at but the repetitive lines on the road.
Jan-Michael Vincent (Hooper, Big Wednesday) stars as Carroll Joe Hummer, a fledgling truck driver with an aspiration to settle down and start a family with his beloved wife, Jerri (Kay Lenz, Breezy). On his first gig, he discovers that the job is rife with corruption, smugglers, and racketeering, and he would rather keep his nose clean and starve than perform illegal transactions. The slimy boss (L.Q. Jones, The Patriot) sends out a crew of thugs to see he minds his manners, as well as pulling all the strings he can to see the local law enforcement harasses him at every turn.
As far as action flicks go, White Line Fever does deliver the goods, with some excellent stunt work and gritty confrontations, and a fine set of character actors throughout. It's another example of the disgruntled working man's film, very similar to many others at the time, but not nearly as bad as most. It is decidedly cynical about corporations, and the influence they exert in order to chase down the almighty dollar, which sees them own the police and force their will upon the good-hearted working folk just trying to make an honest buck. However, political statements aren't really what's on the agenda here, as White Line Fever is strictly a borderline exploitation flick, utilizing the labor squeeze angle to concoct a revenge scenario that would result in several scenes of fistfights and vehicular mayhem. Not surprising, considering writer-director Kaplan cut his film-making teeth with exploitative drive-in classics like Night Call Nurses, College Coeds, and the blaxploitation films, The Slams and Truck Turner.
That it's an important trucker film seems more an accident than by design, but yet it is resonant enough to those who have seen it for it to have gained a cult following. It doesn't always make sense, as it's not really understood why the trucking honchos don't just kill Carroll Joe, instead of doing everything they can to just piss him off incessantly, including the murder of several others who are completely harmless to their interests. The plot jumps around in ways that aren't very clear, including an ending that doesn't seem to resolve very much in terms of the conflict resolution. Still, I suppose thinking too hard about the plot holes doesn't really seem to be what the creators of White Line Fever think people would be doing while watching, so if none of the motivations are well-developed, everyone will understand what it's like to be pissed off by greedy corporate slime. Although it has limited appeal for those into great films, it is recommended for fans of Vincent, trucker films, and anti-authoritarian 70s b-movies in general.
©2004 Vince Leo