aka Poliziotto Sprint
( 1976 / Italy )
Review by Paul CookeDirector: Stelvio Massi Starring: Maurizio Merli , Giancarlo Sbragia , Angelo Infanti , Lilli Carati , Glauco Onorato & Orazio Orlando Source : Pony Video Japan / Wide Screen Ratio Approx 1:75:1 / English Language With Small Japanese Subtitles
‘‘You gotta pay a price to get out of the herd’’
Seventies crime Action movie icon Maurizio Merli steps behind the wheel of a fast car for a change in gear outing , one that leaves its audience breathless in awe of the sheer amount of on screen mayhem. With all his usual dogged grit and determination the feisty Merli plays Marco Palma , a pursuit cop charged to pull over the bad guys from the roads of Rome. This time out sees the charismatic Merli on screen without his customary moustache , yet his on screen antics contribute to many a further close shave for the proven king of Euro slap downs.
Palma is constantly frustrated at being what he feels is a better driver than the cars he is given to drive. Palma loves the thrill of the chase but wrecks cars by the score and his against the grain attitude gets him into trouble. The shadow of his superior looms over him , as police Chief Tagliaferri was once a highly successful professional race car driver. Palma constantly riles the chief by pushing the boundaries of his responsibilities and in so doing risking the welfare of his partner. The relatively rookie wannabe racer is a talent that needs to hone his abilities both as a professional driver and a consummate cop. What he starts out as is an obvious loner who shuns authority and considers the world is against him including his doting girlfriend.
Taking matters once again into his own hands Palma defies the police mechanic and modifies the standard car that he has , effectively setting himself up as the Twentieth Century precursor to ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky. Its not long before he pushes both himself and his engine enhanced vehicle to the limit and beyond , with irreversible results !.
A professional gang of armed bank robbers appear in Rome , and with the use of skilled drivers begin to effortlessly target the banks. They easily elude capture by the police thanks to the skills of the men behind the wheel. Their identities from storming the banks , to racing off with their bounty , is protected by black visor down helmets , but Chief Tagliaferri suspects the gang leader to be a former racing competitor. By using two identical performance enhanced Citroen cars the gang lead the pursuit police a merry drive which leads to many a car stunt , as captured right up on the screen with superlative skill by Director and stunt coordinator Stelvio Massi. Industry revered Action Director Massi is well suited to this era of film making , his energetic prowess at delivering unlimited views and angles for a vehicle to come to a sudden demise is rewardingly unending !.
High speed chases both on and off road follow each of the gangs arrogantly audacious bank jobs. It’s like watching parts of the ‘Italian Job’ only made with Citroen’s !. Cars rally side by side , squaring off in a showpiece of stunt team coordination. Regular road users are forced onto the verge and others pummelled into sidings or thrown into the air to meet with chassis crushing finality. Hot on their tail speeds a cursing Palma in self driven defiance against his superiors radio call to all cars to cease pursuit. He is no match for the expert wheel handling of the lead villain , who leads the reckless Palma down a narrow route , one which leads to a dangerously narrow outlet that Palma fails to negotiate. The result is both sudden and tragic as Palma’s co pilot police partner is killed !.
As Palma contemplates his future in law enforcement the bank job car gang continue about their business as the Rome police squad are led a merry dance akin to an episode of ‘The Dukes Of Hazzard’ crossed with ‘Smokey And The Bandit’. Their arrogance confidently backed up by a driving dystrophy of daring disbelief !.
Both Palma and Tagliaferri make important decisions , Palma to resign from the force and Tagliaferri placing his faith in the only man capable of stepping up to the mark as his replacement one day. Tagliaferri refuses to accept Palma’s resignation , putting to one side his own bigoted beliefs and injecting his fatherly guidance into his new disciple. Palma’s brief is to dedicate himself to an intensely rigid training program , and to prepare to infiltrate the gang as a seasoned ex-con with a background in professional driving. Palma accepts and is rewarded , not only with a newfound senior officer dedicating himself to helping him become what he has always wanted to , but also with the keys to the police forces greatest driving asset !. Unveiled from its dust covered canvas is the stuff of enforcement talked of lore , the Squadra Mobile , a black lacquered Ferrari with a stallion under its bonnet. Finally Palma has what he has striven for all his life , the opportunity to prove his worth and with the ability to enhance his own belief beyond his wildest dreams.
Tagliaferri takes Palma under his wing and immediately puts him through a gruelling regime of driving and fitness , honing his skills and parading him before the camera like the Italian hard core version of Hollywood’s very own James Caan. The undertaking is final and successful when Palma weans his way into the gang through illegal money making one on one drive meets arranged by the gang leaders own seconds , unbeknownst to him but culminating in his acceptance of Palma through recommendation.
When Palma’s girlfriend spots him with the gang she unwittingly blows his cover and then things really heat up as the bank robbing syndicates leader loses his cool. The scene is set for both drivers to square off in a modern duel to decide who is the best driver. The roads become the battle ground coliseum for the two mobile gladiators of new Rome. Look out for a truly squirm inducing react ional car to human body hit during the frantic chase sequence , one that surely must have left the recipient near dead yet remained in the final film to jaw dropping effect !. Buckle up then for the all Action violent conclusion in what is the most exhilarating rush you may ever experience , ending with a scene stealing stunt that even ‘Thelma And Louise’ would have passed on !.
Director / stunt coordinator Stelvio Massi shows once more just how damned great he is at delivering an Action movie to thrill and enthral his audience. There may never be a film made again that can all out impress to such a degree as he has managed with back to back productions throughout the Seventies. As the on screen Action unravels , all the while playing out over the cut and thrust of the revved up proceedings is a score by Stelvio Cipriani , worth mentioning for its subtle enhancement to the thunderous visual play that takes centre stage. There are many masterful examples of Seventies Crime Action films , without question though ‘Highway Racer’ roars ahead of the also-rans for sheer unadulterated foot to the floor exuberance. Massi and Merli make for one heck of a watchable team and with ‘Highway Racer’ they have delivered an all out winner.
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