Shitty Movie Sundays: Driving Force, or, Dance of the Tow Trucks

Regular readers of Shitty Movie Sundays will know that there is something of a cottage industry in Mad Max ripoffs. Mostly, these flicks aren’t ripping off the first Mad Max film, but the second, where filmmaker George Miller refined the look and feel of his post-apocalyptic vision. Driving Force, from 1989, is a Mad Max ripoff, but it hews closer to the original film, which was dystopian rather than post-apocalyptic, and throws in a little of Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris for good measure.

It’s sometime in the near future. The United States hasn’t collapsed, but it does appear to be on its last legs. The middle class is gone, with society divided between the rich few and the many poor. Picture in one’s head a third world country, and one gets an idea of this film’s setting.

Steve (Sam J. Jones) is an engineer who has been out of work for a long time due to the economy. He’s desperate for work, otherwise his dead girlfriend’s parents are going to get custody of their daughter, Becky (Stephanie Mason). Out of desperation, Steve takes a day job driving a wrecker. The terms of employment are simple. Bring a wreck a day back to the shop, or look for another job.

Driving tow trucks is a tough gig in the future. There aren’t enough accidents to go around, so it’s up to the drivers to create them. Steve’s rivals from another garage are a cartoonish trio of baddies. There are Surf (b-movie regular Robert Marius) and Pool (martial artist and future fitness guru Billy Blanks), but it’s their snake eyed leader, Nelson (Don Swayze), who steals the show. That’s not because he’s a better actor than the other two, or Jones, for that matter. It’s because Swayze goes after the role with gusto, playing Nelson as a stereotypical Driving Force movie posterdirty long-haired beer-swilling hilljack. It’s like Swayze is showing John Irvin what he missed out on when Liam Neeson was cast in Next of Kin instead of him. (Side note: how glorious would it have been to see the brothers Swayze team up in a stupid action flick? Alas, like all dreams, it’s mere vapor.)

Oh, there’s a love interest, too. After Steve gets his butt kicked by Nelson and company on his first towing run, he meets Harry (Catherine Bach), named so because her daddy wanted a boy. She’s part of the upper crust in this film’s world, but is wooed by Steve’s razor sharp jawline and sense of humor. She becomes central in helping Steve in his custody battle with Becky’s grandparents, and she also ends up in Nelson’s crosshairs.

There is quite a lot of plot in this silly movie, what with the rival towing businesses and the extensive custody battle. But, that’s not all. Nelson has cancer! Instead of making him look inward, Nelson lashes out, vowing to take those he hates with him into the ether.

All these soap opera plot machinations don’t fit the film that well. At heart, this is a Mad Max ripoff, after all. Director Andrew Prowse, working from a screenplay by Patrick Edgeworth (one of the writers of BMX Bandits), spent too much time on the side drama, to the detriment of the action. There are car chases and some explosions during the finale, but for the most part this is a pretty tame action flick. There are no serious fisticuffs, despite a genuine martial artist in the cast, and no gunplay at all. What we do have are a bunch of custom tow trucks battling it out on the road for supremacy. And, what trucks they are.

Driving Force was filmed in the Philippines. It was an ideal location for portraying the States after economic collapse. Not to pick on Manila too much, but it’s a tough-looking town. There also appears to have been slim pickings when it came to acquiring tow trucks for the movie. Instead of real wreckers, the trucks in this flick look like light pickup frames that have been stripped of their bodies and had some rusty steel tubes and sheet metal welded to them. There are structures on the back that resemble booms, but the way they bounce around during chase scenes betrays the fact they couldn’t hold up the weight of a car at all. In rare shots where the trucks are actually towing cars, they are hooked up to hitches connected to the frame. Watch the trailer and one will see what I’m describing.

I enjoyed watching this dog quite a bit. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling there was a much better film trapped in there, waiting to get out. The idea of rival tow truck gangs fighting over bloody accidents that they caused is far better than this movie’s execution. I would love to see similar material given a full on awfuckit treatment. We get too much Over the Top in Driving Force, and not enough Fury Road.

Driving Force still makes it into the top half of the Watchability Index, mostly due to Swayze. It lands at #211, displacing Bug. Check it out.

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