Detour To Terror:
Take a Detour to the glory days of made-for-TV movies with this convoluted pot-boiler starring O.J. Simpson, Lorenzo Lamas and Arte Johnson - because nothing says televised terror quite like the name Arte Johnson. (As a pointless aside, I'll mention that Arte is best known as the goofy German soldier who pops up to say, "verrrry interesting," on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In - though those of us who are old enough already know this, and those too young don't care.) At any rate, Detour To Terror may have seemed a fine way to kill two hours on a Friday night in 1980, but any power it may have had has diminished greatly since then. You can still kill 97-minutes of run-time with this sumptuously photographed thriller, but whether you enjoy standing around flapping your lips as much as these characters seem to do is another matter entirely.
As Golden West Tours guide Johnson and bus driver Simpson prepare to dazzle another group of low-rollers willing to ride a bus into the desert on their way to Las Vegas, Lamas and a pair of crazed dune-buggy pilots hijack the bus in order to kidnap an heiress. Realizing they're a bunch of screw-ups, the psychos double down for a little backup cash in the form of an expensive stamp transported to Vegas in order to be sold on consignment! Anything modern audiences might find thrilling must pass through decades of desensitizing filters - not to mention television standards and practices from the day - meaning you on your couch later tonight will enjoy a somewhat leisurely pace and plenty of camp value, but not much in the way of terror.
There's also the little elephant in the room known as O.J. Simpson; phenomenal football player, barely-serviceable actor and world famous wife-killer. Though legally acquitted, it's impossible to ignore Simpson's killing ways, (and memorabilia-extorting ways, etc.) an unfortunate fact that casts a weird pall over the entire affair. Simpson's genial line readings don't do him any favors either; he comes off as a disingenuous letterman trying to please his prom date's parents, only slightly less convincing. Throw Arte Johnson into the mix; comic relief where it isn't needed, and unctuous irritant, and your chances of wringing terror from Lamas and crew are doomed. Yes, Lamas dives headlong into his role with aggressive glee, while the stuntmen deliver some dune buggy thrills, but the mix simply fails to gel.
Ominous cinematography from John M. Nickolaus Jr. captures the desert in all its harsh beauty, helping capture dune buggy fun, and even squeezing improbable menace from shots of the tour bus going through a car wash during the credits sequence! But much time is spent watching Lamas and his thugs argue in a motel, hanging out on the bus with a bunch of shrill Central Casting clichés, or hanging around in the sun outside the bus with those same clichés. Detour To Terror is a campy relic of days gone by. It's not terribly exciting or dramatic, but represents a breezy enough bit of fun for TV scholars, O.J. weirdoes, and out-of-control DVD collectors.
Preserving its OAR of 1.33:1 designed for fullscreen TVs, Detour looks quite nice. I noticed one instance of possible posterizing in an evening scene featuring a gorgeous, dusky sky, but no other purported compression artifacts. Colors are nice and rich, at least in outside shots - interiors appear to still be reeling from bad '70s color choices such as avocado and harvest gold - and the image is fairly sharp. Small amounts of film grain appear, but otherwise the print is reasonably damage-free.
Digital Mono Audio highlights Morton Stevens' creepy, subdued score, though not at an overbearing volume, and dialog sounds mostly fine. It seems as if, in a couple of instances, audio becomes slightly muffled, though in a way that's barely distracting. That's my only complaint.
No extras on this standard M.O.D. disk.
Even without O.J. Simpson's sullied presence, Detour To Terror is an odd, convoluted and all-too-chatty made-for-TV potboiler. Nutcase Lorenzo Lamas hijacks Arte Johnson's Vegas-bound tour bus, piloted by Simpson. While the movie looks and sounds quite nice in this M.O.D. version, sadly intermittent thrills give way to lots of bickering and seething in the sun, as Lamas' plans go awry and clichéd tourists argue incessantly. Arte Johnson's presence simply pushes the entire thing off of a cliff, making this campy relic an oddly intriguing Rent It proposition.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com