The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

Movie Review: Return to Macon County (aka Making Money!)

I pity the Hollywood director who manages to catch lightning in a bottle, only to be asked to repeat the same feat almost immediately, with a script that was better suited for the bottom of Auntie Loo’s canary cage. Everybody pile into the Family Truckster, we are heading to the DRIVE IN, for it is movie review time here at the old Nitro Joint. Perhaps the Family Truckster is not appropriate, as we need a DeLorean time machine for our journey back to 1975, and the grindhouse bomb that was 'Return To Macon County'. Not a sequel, per say, to Macon County Line, but clearly a smash and grab, cash-IN on its predecessor film, the project of Max Baer. Legend has it that Max Baer Jr. wrote the original script for 'Macon' on the backsides of scripts from Beverly Hillbillies. When he got the chance to bury the jughead character Jethro Bodine and display acting chops nobody gave him credit for, he drove the bus and starred in Macon, which went on to be the most successful independent film of its era. (In "1970 money", it cost a quarter of a million dollars to make, and it pulled in over eighteen MILLION bucks at the box office. That means a lot, and I do mean a LOT of horny teenagers stayed in the front seat not once, but twice, to have moved that many tickets!) It has been said that 'absolute power, corrupts absolutely', and in that vein, a successful movie, will have somebody in Hollywood ABSOLUTELY grab a phone and scream "make me the next (insert last week’s success here) IMMEDIATELY", so that's how we got here.

Which brings us back to poor, POOR Richard Compton, who directed the first Macon movie. Max Baer’s script was 'Macon money', but this thing was just 'makin excuses'. Bankrolled by executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff (one of his one hundred forty FIVE such undertakings) we get two up and coming leading men, in the form of Nick Nolte (his first film) and perpetually young and cute Don Johnson. (Unrelated: Johnson was coming off one of his best films, that I give FIVE stars to, 'A Boy And His Dog', which is very hard to find but well worth the cost.) Also along for the ride is career soap opera chick Robin Mattson, and this is her second mention in a Chicago Jon movie review. (She was much better in HOT ROD, which was in my lost to the ages review of HOT ROD.) At the film’s beginning, we get our heroes working on their 1957 Chevy in the year 1958. THAT part is OK, but it is the beginning of the end, as things will be falling apart 'fast and furious', and I don't mean in a Vin Diesel way! Bo (Nolte) and Harley (Johnson) are “driver and mechanic", as it is apparent that SOMEBODY saw Two Lane Blacktop, and thought it was a documentary on drag racing. They prep their ride for a check out pass, the director spends FAR too much time showing a SUN tach that won't exist until 1960, and then they LAUNCH! Half way through the run, Johnson flips a "mystery toggle switch" (this thing is never expanded on or explained) and the car displays amazing performance, which Harley clocks at “eight-point-seven". Eight...Point...SEVEN?? Uhm, the 1958 Nationals, won by Ted Cyr, had him clocking a 10.04, in a friggin’ DRAGSTER! So, horny teenagers wouldn't have a clue, but we car-movie people are already striking that pose from the 'Captain Pickard-meme' and going WHAT THE BLEEP ARE YOU DOING HERE? And trust me, the goofy bleep only will continue to pile up. I realize that the bar is sorta low in grindhouse, but this thing, before it is all over, becomes like those really bad westerns with jet vapor trails in the shots or the Indian chief who's wearing a Rolex.


Our heroes, who are on their way to California for the Grand National Drag Race stop for lunch and are intrigued by Mattson’s character Junell, who is not a very good waitress. (Or, in this film anyway, a very good actress either.) In defending her honor, a fight erupts, Junell is fired, and our (now three) heroes hit the road. At the next stop along the way, nine-tenths of the films budget is blown on extras, old cars, and a knucklehead sequence which had Harley/Johnson whooping the local punk in a race (complete with 'mystery-switch'!) only to find himself beaten down by said punk and his minions, who take his wallet in the process. Recompense is required, and our gang sets off to right the ship, which (obviously) goes wrong. NOW, not only do we have the townies (who outnumber Nolte, Johnson and Mattson) out for blood, but a dope of a sheriff enters the mix as well (because Nolte decks him). Robert Viharo, as Sargent Whitaker, the cop, who was fine as "third badge from the left" on KOJAK/BARETTA/MOD SQUAD, but sure as HELL is no 'evil Max Baer'. Dude, he isn't even 'disgruntled Jethro Bodine', so the whole deal is a throw-away mess at this point. We spend the next hour (it seemed a LOT longer) running around, dodging dopey cops who can't properly execute a road block (or SHOOT). There are throw away 'sorta sex' scenes that have nothing to do with ANYTHING, and Mattson constantly pulling a revolver on people for the dumbest of reasons.


Oh, OH, do not, PLEASE do not get me started on the continuity errors, the Sun tach was just the tip of the ICEBERG, race fans! Whether it was 1970s road signs or Nolte standing in front of Hamburger freaking HELPER in a supermarket (1958?) what appeared to be a Quasar TV in the motel room, and on, and ON....


Ah, well. So, anyway, the townies catch up before the cops do (of course). They do the obvious (and stupid, DUH) thing and leave their ride to go bombing around in the yellow 1957 Chevy, which draws the attention (and BULLETS) of Sargent Whitaker, who kills the lead townie. Our heroes, driving the townies’ car, get the old "nothing to see here, move along" from the NOT crazy cops, and do indeed, move along. Mattson, still trying to mine the whole "I'm a free-spirit" deal, jumps on the next car along, leaving Nick and Don standing there. (They ditched the townies car.) As we head to credits, while walking down a highway marked WEST, Johnson’s mechanic-character starts talking about their next build up, roll credits, praise the freaking LORD, and this mess is over. 'Down goes Frazier, DOWN GOES FRAZIER!!!'


Don Johnson and Nick Nolte went on to do "pretty good" in Hollywood, Richard Compton racked up a wealth of quality directing gigs in television, and no animals were injured during this production.


Til next month, I AM Chicago Jon, and it is time once again to say C-YAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!   



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