The Film: 3/5
Travis Redfish (Meat Loaf) is a fun-loving beer truck driver living with his loopy family (including his father, played by Art Carney) in rural Texas. While on the road one day with his best friend and co-worker B.B. (Gailard Sartain) Travis' life takes a turn for the interesting. After fixing up a broken down R.V being used to haul instruments and equipment for Hank Williams Jr. to a show in Austin Travis happily goes along with a group containing roadie Bird (Sonny Carl Davis) and groupie Lola Bouilliabase (Kaki Hunter) to the show to help get the stage set up. Travis' skills impress Mohammed Johnson (Don Cornelius), the manager of the "Rock n' Roll Circus' that is currently touring the country and soon Travis is coerced into joining the tour as a roadie. He also becomes smitten with Lola but she announces at the beginning of their friendship that she is a virgin who is saving herself for Alice Cooper when the tour reaches New York City. Along the way Travis gets to hang out with Deborah Harry and members of Blondie, use cow dung to provide power for a concert after local authorities attempt to shut the performance down, lead the police on a wild chase down Austin's famous Congress Avenue, get into a few bar fights, and finally earn a reputation as the best damn roadie in the business. But can the woman he loves ever love him?
Based in part on the life of its co-writer James "Big Boy" Medlin - a longtime writer for various Hollywood award ceremonies - Roadie is one of the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories. Medlin and co-writer Michael Ventura shaped Medlin's anecdotes from his years working as a roadie into an episodic feature film that ultimately turns out to be intermittently amusing. Everybody looks like they had a groovy time making the movie, but precious little of that fun was translated to the screen. Roadie is a pleasant enough viewing experience that would have been even better had it not been so down to earth for huge chunks of its running time, only to remember in quick bursts that it's supposed to be a film and not a rambling anecdote that is only funny to the person telling it.
At the time he was cast as Roadie's title character Travis Redfish, Meat Loaf didn't have much experience as an actor. He had shot to stardom with his Bat Out of Hell album and played Eddie in both stage and movie versions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the role of Eddie only required the eponymous Marvin Aday to sing for his supper. Fortunately the Redfish character shares Mr. Loaf's propensity for being a larger-than-life personality, so the role fits the relative newcomer rather snuggly. His heart is as large as his torso but he has plenty of moves when it comes to dealing with technical difficulties and winning the heart of his fair, naive gal pal Lola - played by Kaki Hunter (Porky's) in a performance that can be off-putting due to her character's sweet side often taking over for simple common sense. Though Hunter and Meat Loaf have an easygoing rapport their characters have virtually no chemistry. It's difficult to see why these two would ever fall in love with each other. Meat Loaf actually has better chemistry with Deborah Harry during their brief scenes together; at least Harry actually takes an interest in Travis. Supporting players like Sonny Carl Davis (Last Night at the Alamo), Hamilton Camp (Star Crash), Gailard Sartain (Mississippi Burning), Joe Spano (NCIS), a very surprising Don Cornelius basically playing himself, and the great Art Carney all fare better with their quirky and memorable parts.
Director Alan Rudolph is talented enough to keep the proceedings on a straight and narrow track most of the time. He stages the fight scenes and car chases with an anarchic flair that helps to differentiate them from what you could find in the Smokey & the Bandit movies. The concert scenes are the moments of the movie that I will remember. Blondie does a killer cover of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire", while Roy Orbison and Hank Williams Jr. team up to soothe a savage crowd with a beautiful rendition of "The Eyes of Texas". There are also good performances from Asleep at the Wheel and Alice Cooper.
One of the biggest faults I found with Roadie is its unwillingness to really get into the music side of its plot. Bands come and go, but the action mostly focuses on Travis and Lola's monotonous relationship and Travis and the other roadies goofing around. A scene involving a substantial amount of cocaine stashed inside a box of Tide has a good set-up but it dies onscreen.
Roadie's lack of discipline is alternately a virtue and an obstruction. It has little idea of where it wants to go and no idea of how to get there. But there were some laughs and good tunes along the way. It's like a night of heavy drinking with your buddies; you'll have a lot of fun if you're in the moment, but you won't remember a single thing the next morning.
Roadie becomes yet another Shout! Factory acquisition originally filmed and exhibited in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio to get compressed to 1.78:1 for its Blu-ray debut. This doesn't affect the quality of the transfer a great deal. Roadie was never the most visually dynamic of motion pictures. Not much DNR was done to remove grain in the print but the picture looks sharp and colorful and very impressive in the night scenes. Two audio options are listed in the main menu, but a promised English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is nowhere to be found. The option exists when the movie is playing but if you switch to the 5.1 channel at any time during the feature all you will find is stone cold silence. Not cool, Shout. What we are left with is an excellent English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It gets the job done. Music, effects, and the occasionally rambling and incoherent dialogue can be heard just fine. No subtitles are included.
Bonus features are limited to the original theatrical trailer and a new audio commentary with writers Medlin and Ventura. The topics of conversation range from the true life stories that inspired them to write the script, stories from the filming, and some insights into the team's scripting process. It's a good track you can dip into during the duller stretches of the movie.
Roadie is a loose, fun comedy that is heavier on the destructive shenanigans than on actual humor most of the time. It's overabundance of great music makes it a better soundtrack than movie. Now that I've seen it I will never need to see it again. You might enjoy it more than I, and in that case this new Blu-ray is officially the only one to go.