Film: Gas (1981)

August 19, 2017 | By

Film: Poor

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Comedy / CanCon

Synopsis: A Texas oil baron stashes his reserves to drive up the price of gas, leading to madcap antics at the local pump stations!

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

When the second oil crisis hit North America and supply was taken down a notch, causing  prices at the pump stations to balloon, a few filmmakers exploited the paranoia on the big screen. Americathon (1979) poked fun at a broken U.S. economy, whereas the CanCon cult film The Last Chase (1981) had a former racing car driver hunted by authorities / the gas police across the U.S.

Both films present variations of a world where oil is almost gone and the machinations of society are severely broken, but forgotten (and perhaps deservedly so) is another CanCon tax shelter production, Gas (1981), written by future Law & Order creator Dick Wolf (billed as Richard Wolf) with Susan Scranton.

Aiming for broad satire,  Gas is wafer thin on plot, even though its premise of an oil baron and his sons stashing oil to drive up prices is timely. Wolf’s script doesn’t espouse any political leanings, but there’s an unsubtle jab at egotistical oil corporations who wield far too much power, personified in the broad form of loud-mouthed patriarch Duke Stuyvesant (booming Sterling Hayden) and his idiot sons – the trio being the antithesis of the slick Dallas’ Ewing family and their sleazy yet sympathetic sons, daughters, and lovers.

The story also has shutterbug Sarah Marshall (Sandee Currie) witnessing Stuyvesant and his sons pouring oil into supposedly derelict storage tanks, driving up the prices and sending desperate souls to long lines at gas stations across the U.S. –  in reality, just one centrally located station somewhere in Montreal, managed by Ira (Meatballs‘ inimitable Keith Knight). Local reporter Jane Beardsley (Susan Anspach) and her cameraman Lee Kwan (Harvey Chao, forced into a horrible Asian stereotype) don’t buy Stuyvesant’s easy explanation for the fuel shortage, and mount their own investigation.

The script quickly focuses on the ‘wacky’ characters trapped in that street lineup, including hired luxury car chauffer Matt Lloyd (Howie Mandel, in his film debut), pretty love interest Sarah, and her highly overprotective & instantly jealous brother Ed (Peter Aykroyd) who clearly wishes he wasn’t related by blood so he could legally boff her endlessly.

Ira is kidnapped by two mafia dolts and told to hack into a gas line that runs under their pet funeral parlour, while their slightly smarter father runs a milk transportation business. Meanwhile, two Army drivers (including CanCon TV’s War of the Worlds‘ Philip Akin) decide to siphon fuel from a tanker for easy cash, but realizing their sergeant will check the tank, steal fuel from the mafia which, due to an un-hysterical switcheroo, ends up being contraband milk. The mafia gets the army’s Texas tea, and dad puts a hit on his sons for being intolerable morons.

As this wackiness unfolds, Jane keeps digging for clues, eventually discovering the Great Milk & Oil Switcheroo, and with the aide of Sarah and Matt, start a massive car chase that includes the mafia (3 guys), the Army (two guys), a hooker (gum-chewing Helen Shaver) and an Arab caricature, her pimp in the Arab’s Cadillac, one highway policeman (everyone else was eating donuts?), and brother Ed in a tow-truck, still handcuffed to the gas pump nozzle from whence ‘white cow oil’ poured into the faces of Ira and many others.

All of this sheer madness receives recurring radio commentary from Nick the Noz (Donald Sutherland, lending the film both investor appeal, and valuable CanCon points), a shock jock who critiques listeners (‘earthlings’) and their antics as seen from his perch in “the Bopper Chopper” from where he also spins songs by American (Chuck Barry, Pat Benatar) and Canadian greats (Rush, Loverboy).

It’s a giant unfunny mess with terrible ethnic caricatures that are offensive for being plain dumb than anything else. The mafia brothers behave like The Two Stooges, with one smacking the other when his voice is literally out of sync; cameraman Kwan is deliberately badly dubbed with a horrible accent; Aykroyd destroys figurines, furniture, and doors using faux Kung Fu in a dim echo of The Pink Panther‘s much funnier Kato (Burt Kwouk); and there’s plenty of cheap shots, including Ed tossed into an exercise pool filled with plus-sized women. One rescuer quips to a buddy “We shouldn’t carry them; we should brand them!” However, two cheap but rare amusing gags involve a dead monkey, and the pet funeral directors selling a budgie coffin to a lady, upsold as a stylish Japanese design called “Scha-ma-ta.”

Paul Zaza’s score has a few cute genre nods – themes for James Bond and The Man with No Name – plus a great chase track at the end, but most of the time it’s forced to amplify the broadness and crudity of the humour.

The real stars (and only positives) in this unfunny dud is Les Rose’s snappy pacing that’s immensely aided by Patrick Dodd’s tight editing, great second unit car stunts, and Rene Verzier’s fluid camerawork that often energizes limp material with gliding crane and tracking shots. Technically, this is a show-stopper for Montreal’s behind-the-camera talent, but little else.

Paramount distributed the film in cinemas and videotape, and this was part of a 3-picture deal from Filmplan International that included Dirty Tricks (1981) and The Funny Farm (also shot in 1981 but unreleased until 1983). Mandel also appears as a comedian (again with his ‘hand bag’) in Funny Farm, as does Aykroyd as another big mouth, plus the film was also shot by Verzier.

Director Les Rose worked his way up from NFB shorts to features, although most of his film work remains unavailable, including the intriguing Three Card Monte (1978) and the lesser-sounding Title Shot (1979) and Hog Wild (1980), Filmplan’s first production.

Before evolving into an Emmy-winning producer-writer, Dick Wolf’s first credits were for the films Skateboard (1978), Gas (1981), the car theft cult film No Man’s Land (1987), and the sleek Rob Lowe thriller Masquerade (1988).

As of this writing, Gas is not available on DVD. Although a copy exists on Archives.org, the VHS source was cropped to 1.85:1, resulting in a few decapitated heads.

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDBComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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