Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

I think I’ve accidentally meandered, possibly while drunk, into Droid’s forthcoming bombs series. That is the only explanation I can come up with for the cinematic boredom that flitted its way across my screen on Sunday. Not only was Honky Tonk Freeway (Release date 21st August in America) terrible, but it is one of the biggest bombs in history, taking a mighty $2m from a $25m budget in 1981. The question I have to ask, though, is who on earth decided that this was the film to spend that whack of cash on? Seriously, who? Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, this was also a real bastard to find, and I ended up watching  almost all of it on YouTube. So, thanks for that too- this was probably the only way I could have found to make the entire experience more of a trial.

Contains an elephant on water skis and a singular lack of comedy not to mention mild spoilers below

Elephants? Water? Skis? sounds like a recipe for hilarity.




All words that serve as warning signs when attached to comedy.  And this is billed as having all three of them. So, you’re probably expecting an absolute laugh riot of culture clashes, footballs hitting men in the nuts, and cutting edge satire. Well, you’d be disappointed, because I’ve not sat through a comedy, even modern comedy, as relentlessly unfunny as this one. Not one single joke hits the mark, and not one single set piece works. Honky Tonk Freeway is  basically a terrible film, a bloated and confusing morass of a movie, and one that I only persevered with because of this stupid series.

There’s a salient lesson here- us Brits should not attempt to make a slice of Americana. We just don’t understand it, and the urge to sneer is ingrained in our national psyche. Nor, on the other hand, should we hire an American director of adult themed material such as Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man or Day of the Locust to direct one. Quite what John Schlessinger thought he was doing with this utter turd of a film is a mystery and quite what EMI were doing when they hired him is another. Honestly, it’s like hiring David Cronenberg to direct an episode of Dora the Explorer. As hiring decisions go, this ranks up there with their idiotic signing of Mariah Carey for tens of millions that nearly bought the label down.

Don Murphy knew this would be the last time he was allowed in the department store so decided to make the most of it

Welcome to Ticlaw, Florida. This is a little town with literally nothing going for it, not even an off ramp from the freeway. Slimy local politician William Devane needs this off ramp. He NEEDS it, goddamnit, else the podunk town will simply cease to exist. The only thing the town has going for it is a local safari park with 2 animals, an inebriated lion and a water skiing elephant that, er, can’t water ski. Anyhoo, undeterred by such obvious shitness, the locals plaster ads everywhere to draw in the tourists.

The rest of the film, sadly, deals with the tourists on their way down the freeway to Ticlaw, and honestly it feels like there’s about a million of them. There’s dickhead teacher/ wannabe kiddy author (Beau Bridges) who has left his wife because she burnt his masterpiece. Said masterpiece? A kiddies novel about a carnivorous pony. I shit you not. That’s honestly up there with the idea of a gangbanging Famous 5. Which is wrong, because the fifth member of the famous five was a dog. Teri Garr and Howard Hesseman play an immensely annoying suburban couple with an even more annoying child. They’re travelling down the freeway and the entire gag is that the kid needs to piss every 3 minutes. 2 New York binmen robbed a bank and have decided to run off to the sunshine state, Beverley D’Angelo is taking her mother’s ashes down because she’s had to leave town for shagging 300 blokes, which, to be fair, she says was “quite hard”. Quite fucking hard? You don’t want to be at the end of that fucking queue, do you? It’ll be like stirring the biggest pot of porridge since breakfast at Culloden.

SIDEBOOB! You know a film is shite, when a sideboob is the most exciting thing in it

To be honest, I know that she didn’t do them all at once, but that joke is funnier than anything in the film, and it’s not particularly funny.

There’s also a nun Geraldine Page taking down novice Deborah Rush. Anyone want to bet if she’s still a nun at the end of the film? No? you sure? Moving swiftly on, the tourists are rounded out by an ad executive and his dipsomaniac wife (Jessica Tandy) who hates him and says that he invented halitosis. With such a motley crew, how can this be anything other than a slice of deep-fried comedy genius?

Well, the answer to that is because it’s shit. It’s not funny in the slightest, and I struggle to pick out the least funny gag. Although a contender has to be the “Honk if you’re horny sign” that D’Angelo honks at only to see a bearded face pop up from the drivers lap. They repeat this gag later in the film, just to make things a bit worse for everyone. If you think that’s fucking funny- go and sit in the fucking corner and I’ll fucking tell you when you can come out. Honestly, it’s worse than the fucking Chuckle Brothers. I think the actual low point is when the junkie accidentally snorts D’Angelo’s dead mother (oh my aching fucking sides), but in all honesty there are so many contenders, that it’s unfair to pick out one or two.

“Honk if you’re horny”? More like “Honk if you want to wake up crying, alone and bleeding from the rectum in a  roadside motel.

The problem here is that it’s (aside from being unfunny) too bloated and too unfocused. There are a huge amount of characters that simply shouldn’t be in the film, and I get the feeling that Schlessinger was running around coked out of his gourd screaming “OLD PEOPLE ACTING DRUNK! FUCKING GOLDEN”. It’s literally had every bad idea the screenwriter  had thrown at it, and the depressing result is a creepy, ill-conceived miasma of boredom and cringeworthy humour- even down to a shitty and highly unamusing reverse racism joke from the black cop(“You want me to have a bone through my nose”, yes all rednecks are racist. HAR DE FUCKING HAR).

Then there’s the soundtrack. It’s horrid. Riddled with country and western dirges, that I suspect were specially commissioned for the film, it’s so bad that I started to miss the theme from Smokey and the Bandit. In fact, it got on my nerves to such an extent that I almost began to consider Dolly Parton to be underrated for even managing to squeeze some kind of music out of the whole misbegotten genre. Which is just absurd, because if there’s one thing that Dolly is not, then that’s underrated.

I would honestly rather have been in this car than watch this movie

Ordinarily, this would be a nailed on Orangutan of Doom, but it’s not getting one. Basically, there are a couple of redeeming scenes that stand out for being such oddities, such as the car chase, or the party, and, hell, elephants that water ski are automatically entertaining, just not as entertaining as elephants that fail to water ski. As such, I don’t recommend this at all, and I’m going for half a Dumbo the elephant out of four, but on another day, I’d have broken out the monkey for it.

Absolute fucking shit, this film, and I’ve got a bloody Mario Bava horror film next. Yay! Or not.

Until then,


The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

18 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)”

  1. Jarv says :

    Utter crap this. Utter, utter crap.

  2. Jarv says :

    Right, it’s over with now, and I’ve just got Schock (bound to be shit), Rich Kids (bound to be shit), and Coma (good) left.

    Then I have to take on the might of….

    Keith Lemon.

  3. Droid says :

    I’ve never seen any of these late 70’s early 80’s Smokey and the Bandit style comedies. They don’t interest me. The closest I’ve come is Rat Race, which I’m assuming is in the same vein. And that only had Lovitz’s genius and not a lot else.

    • Jarv says :

      Smokey and the Bandit (the first one) is quite good fun.

      This isn’t remotely like that. Rat Race is closer, except without the race, and the shenanigans here are even less amusing, if you can believe that.

  4. Continentalop says :

    Elephant on Water Skis? Potential sequel to “Tiger with a Hat”?

  5. Continentalop says :

    But this movie sounds like shit. Although the actual making of it and the financial scam involved in it sounds like a more interesting story than what was filmed.

    • Jarv says :

      Not so much of a scam as a monumentally bad piece of business by EMI.

      Setting the standard they would adhere to for the next 20 years. No wonder they’re currently fighting of takeover from Warner.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    Never heard of this. The best movie dealing with a freeway off ramp story is Used Cars.

  7. tombando says :

    Hooper is good, Smokey and the Bandit of course, ummmmm Sheriff Lobo episode(s) of your choice, things like that are okay. I also like Gator and White Lightning. I.R. Redneck like that sad to say.

    Jerry Reed was all over the place in the ’70’s, in some of these-you can see why.

  8. ThereWolf says :

    I haven’t seen this, but you do make it sound quite funny at times…

    “It’ll be like stirring the biggest pot of porridge since breakfast at Culloden.” Thank you for that horrific image.

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