Rafferty (Alan Arkin) was a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marines, he never saw combat but made a decent enough living, though perhaps he was not as fulfilled as he would like to have been, since in the time he was in the army he also became an alcoholic. Having now left the services, he makes his living as a driving instructor, though he makes sure to have a large drink before work, just to steady his nerves, and little wonder when you see the calibre of student he has to test. But one day, he is taking a liquid lunch break in the nearby park when he is approached by two young women, Mac (Sally Kellerman) and Frisbee (Mackenzie Phillips); somehow he is soon being held at gunpoint...
After Easy Rider was the seismic movie phenomenon it was, there was a host of American movies (and by no means exclusively American) where characters hit the road and drove off to see what was out there. They could be car chase movies like Vanishing Point, or they could be modest comedy dramas that happened to win Oscars like Harry and Tonto, but there was an awful lot of watching folks finding themselves on the open road, and since the United States had plenty of that for those individuals to explore, it was the ideal location to get a film crew and a cast and head out on the highway, or indeed many more than one location, just getting to the places in between was enough.
Such an instance of that inner and outer excursion was Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins, the latter due being a curious name for the pair who hijack Rafferty's near-broken down old car and offer him the opportunity to break away from his drudgery and alcoholic haze and have a well-overdue adventure. Arkin was clever casting, his singular talents well-applied to a loser who has nothing to live for if he was being honest, but continues to plough ahead through the day for want of nothing better to do. The fact that his drinking problem would have rendered him an absolute menace on the roads does not seem to have crossed screenwriter John Kaye's mind, here it was simply another quirk.
Mind you, Mac and Frisbee are not exactly safe to be around; the teenage girl's pistol may be loaded with blanks, but she has a way of getting herself and anyone with her into trouble (also, was it odd that Kellerman should be answering to Phillips' name in the context of the story?). In true road movie fashion, they encounter various people along the way, yet the sheer inconsequential quality of director Dick Richards' approach had a twofold effect: you could conclude that these roaming characters had slipped between the cracks of society and if it had not been for their lawbreaking nobody would have noticed them, or you could simply wonder why we were offered them to care about since they were of so little importance, and indeed the film itself effectively followed suit into oblivion.
Or as near as a movie can get with recognisable actors in it. The road movie became a substitute for the Western in the seventies, much as the action movie did in a different manner in the next decade, and among the appearances of "that guy" performers the trio stumble across, including Alex Rocco as a Las Vegas gambler with a loose notion of acceptable behaviour in a restaurant, or Charles Martin Smith (also from American Graffiti as Phillips was) as a naïve but ultimately weasely new army recruit who Frisbee fools out of a small amount of cash, there was Harry Dean Stanton. Again, very canny casting, for he was a veteran of umpteen Westerns by the time he started to make an impact on movie fans in the late sixties, and as ever he brought an extra something to his portrayal of a barfly pal of Mac's who proves rather less than salubrious come the end of the evening at the bar. This was more a work for actor fanciers than someone wanting a strong storyline, the plot has barely got going even as the end credits roll, but had that particular atmosphere of its decade that may appeal. Music by Artie Butler (and singing by Kellerman and Louis Prima, though not together).