Film (1981). Argosy Films/Canadian Film Development Corporation/Crown International Pictures. Produced by Martyn Burke and Fran Rosati. Directed by Burke. Screenplay by Burke, Ray Moore, and C R O'Christopher from an original story by O'Christopher. Cast includes Lee Majors, Chris Makepeace, Burgess Meredith and George Touliatos. 101 minutes. Colour.
Sometime in the relatively distant Near Future after a plague has wiped out most of humanity and the world's petroleum reserves have been exhausted, the East Coast establishment of America has – we are led to believe, though without any narrative support – hijacked the government and instituted bureaucratic controls over Transportation; all vehicles powered by fossil fuels have been banned, the police drive electric golf carts, and mandatory public transport has become universal. The evidence, as far as the makers of The Last Chase care to argue it, is clear: America has become a freedom-destroying Dystopia. The hero of this film – unlike the hero of the hugely less unsophisticated Mad Max (1979) – will therefore be a defender of freedom.
Franklyn Hart (Majors) is a former race car driver whose family has died in the plague, causing him to drive his vehicle through a gaggle of nagging refugees before being scolded by the police. Ten years pass; he now lectures on behalf of the Department of Transportation, attempting to persuade youngsters that things have improved. The truth finally dawns for Hart when he meets Ring (Makepeace), a rebellious young Computer expert who has been hacking the government's computers, while at the same time learning of the existence of the Free State of California, where cars are legal, and freedom rules. He disinters his hidden 1973 Porsche 917/30 CanAm Spyder, and the pair escape westward. Fuel is no problem, as Hart has invented a device which allows him to extract the last remaining gasoline from deserted gas stations on the road. But they do not escape scot-free. Perhaps because they represent an unacceptable alternative to car-free totalitarian tranquility, they are soon pursued by government official Hawkins (Touliatos), who brings his friend Captain J G Williams (Meredith),a former fighter pilot, out of retirement to track them down and kill them in an archaic jet. But Williams is soon converted to freedom, and dies in a kamikaze assault upon a deadly laser that might have stopped the freedom fighters. Hart and Ring reach California, where they are greeted by scenes of jubilation.
Made at the end of the 1970s oil shortages, The Last Chase is one of several films featuring automobiles in Ruined Earth landscapes, and its plot follows Libertarian patterns of thought; certainly it is central to the message that the East Coast government has somehow conspired to use a trumped-up crisis – the exhaustion of fossil fuels – to hamstring western Americans. A fetishistic attentiveness to cars, frequently found in narratives embodying libertarian precepts, grounds and "justifies" much of the cultural Paranoia here exposed. In the end, the bureaucrats are stymied, as one of them notes in dismay: "People going where they want to, when they want to. This could set us back to the 1980s." [JC/GFi]
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