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  Sweet Revenge Taken For A Ride
Year: 1976
Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Stars: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklin Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock, Marvin Rosand, Robert Lewis-Ferguson, Betta St. George, Evan A. Lottman, Adrian Sparks, Jock Dove, Duncan MacLean, Brooks Woolley, Edmund Villa, Adele Burnett, Jan D'Arcy
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Vurrla Kowsky (Stockard Channing) goes by a number of names, she has to for her expertise is in car theft and selling those stolen vehicles on under aliases, but then even those she could count as friends know her by different monikers. She has her heart set on buying one thing in her life, the one car she cannot steal since it is so distinctive that she would be picked up almost immediately after taking it illegally: no, this one she has to get by fair means, though that does not mean raising the cash has to be anything but foul. Having a skill for breaking into cars then hotwiring them, she begins her campaign of robbery, but didn't count on being arrested on the highway for foolishly stealing a mirror along with the wheels...

Jerry Schatzberg as a director specialised himself, in low key drama delving deep into character, and his films previous to this one took much the same template of a hard look at flawed people. His most interesting film had been Scarecrow, which as with much of his work was by no means perfect but he did have a way of coaxing out rich performances from his leading actors, and so it was here with what was known both as Sweet Revenge or Dandy the All-American Girl, ironic titles in light of the manner they played out. Once the seventies turned to the eighties, Schatzberg's area of interest had been shunted out of the way to the realm of the indie drama, and there more or less it stays.

Which left this little item neither one thing nor the other, a wisp of a plot about the car thief who happens to be a materialistic young woman rather than an opportunistic young man, one who sees nothing of worth in pursuing relationships other than seeing how far they can help her progress in life towards the objects of desire she so sorely and determinedly covets. There was really not much more to it than that save for a very late in the day wake-up call to Vurrla (or whatever she wants to be called) when tragedy intervenes and she unconvincingly does a volte face on her priorities; a more satisfying (and less expensive, one assumes) denouement might have seen her driving off into the sunset, but Schatzberg wished a conscience to arise.

It wasn't a one woman show, even though Channing dominated against a sea of wishy-washy masculinity, with Sam Waterston her co-star as Philip Le Clerq, a lawyer who thinks he is persuading Vurrla to get on the straight and narrow, though in fact she's duping him as much as all the other men in her world. There's also Richard Daughty (who was never in anything else of note and disappeared into obscurity shortly after this) as the hapless Andy, he thinks he is Vurrla's boyfriend and also thinks she's called Jenny, but she treats him like a doormat until he eventually lashes out in an ugly display. Rounding off the support was stand-up comedian Franklin Ajaye as her childhood friend Edmund who drives around in a decorated car and sets up her deals.

In some places this was billed as a comedy, or at least a comedy drama, but the truth was laughs were thin on the ground when much of the plot was concerned with Vurrla riding roughshod over everyone else. It simply wasn't that entertaining to see ninety minutes of deliberate, scheming cruelty, and while you could see Channing was glad of a role to get her teeth into, her character so overpowered everyone else that there was no light and shade, just relentless bad behaviour without so much as a smattering of regret until the final act, and even that was triggered by an incident so over the top in its violence that it was hard to take seriously. By that ending, you had to wonder what the filmmakers saw in Vurrla that would have made her such a compelling persona since she pretty much does the same thing repeatedly, a state of affairs that quickly grows tiresome so that Channing strutting her stuff in a mean-minded fashion was the sole reason to stick with it. It was all too one note to truly satisfy, though the last shots were resonant in their resignation. Music by Paul Chihara.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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