Buena Vista Home Entertainment
84 minutes
• Commentary with director Ron Howard and producer Roger Corman
• Documentary on making the film
• Theatrical trailer

The Pitch

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World meets The Graduate (if The Graduate had a less intelligent script, a happier ending, and a lot more car crashes).

The mark of quality in any car chase film.

The Humans

Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code), Nancy Morgan (Americathon), Marion Ross (Happy Days), Clint Howard (Evilspeak), Rance Howard (Grizzly Park), Paul Linke (CHiPS)

The Nutshell

Paula Powers (Morgan) and Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) are two young people in love, and they want to get married. The problem is that Paula comes from a very wealthy family, and they were hoping to set her up with the equally rich Collins Hedgeworth (Linke). What is Paula to do? Should she try to convince her parents that Sam is the right choice for her? Should she quietly elope in the night without her parent’s knowledge? Or should she steal the families’ gold Rolls Royce and tear off, with Sam in tow, on a cross country odyssey full of car crashes, explosions, and bounty hunters out to stop this union and earn themselves a twenty-five thousand dollar reward? As you can assume, she picks the latter, and before you can say “Smokey and the Bandit!” these two love struck kids lead the viewer through some of the best auto-centric mayhem that Roger Corman’s stingy budget could produce at the time.

Roger Corman’s ripoff of Blue Thunder had obvious budget compromises…

The Lowdown

It seems to me there are two sides to Ron Howard. One is the man who makes big budget, serious-minded blockbusters that sometimes hit the mark (Apollo 13) and sometimes don’t (The DaVinci Code). The other is the person responsible for lower-budgeted productions that are usually fairly breezy comedies (Splash, Night Shift). Now I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but for my money, I would rather watch the light-hearted Ron Howard. He has a knack for keeping a nice pace with comedies (with the exception of Ed TV) that never bog down enough for the audience to get restless. The same cannot be said for some of his more serious efforts.

That brings us to Grand Theft Auto. This was the first full-length movie that Howard directed, and he did it under the tutelage of Roger Corman, the notoriously prolific and even more notoriously cheap producer of such prior classics as Teenage Caveman, Bucket of Blood, and Little Shop of Horrors. None of these movies cost much to make, but Corman always believed in high concept over high costs, and this movie is no different.

…but his take on Brokeback Mountain had twists that overcame its meager budget

Ron Howard shows himself to be quite adept behind the camera in this film. It’s not like he’s handling a project on the scale of The DaVinci Code here, but for a first timer he really keeps things moving smoothly. The story is pretty simple and its basically an excuse to crash up all types of cars (in true Corman fashion, some of the cars seem to be replaced by junkers when they are getting destroyed). But what is really fun about this movie is that even the generic characters have over the top qualities of their own. Paula’s parents aren’t just rich…they are super rich; they don’t want Sam Freeman in their “mansion” or on their “estate”. And When Paula’s ex-boyfriend Collins Hedgeworth finds out about the couple’s plan to drive to Vegas to get married, he spends the rest of the film in polo gear chasing her down. The story is completely paired down to a bare bones good versus evil story, which really frees up some space for car-fueled calamity.

The rest of the characters all have there shining moments as well. Clint Howard joins in the chase as a crazy auto mechanic looking for some reward money, and Rance Howard, Ronny’s dad and the co-writer of this film, shows up as a private eye with a penchant for giving his operations to stop Paula and Sam from getting hitched really cool names. There are also a lot of favors called in on this film, and as a result we are graced with Marion Ross, the Happy Days mom, joining in on the chase and a great little cameo by Garry Marshall, the creator of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, playing a crime kingpin.

"Mrs. Cunningham, you’re trying to seduce me."

Lets not kid ourselves though, the real star of this movie is the chase itself, and again, for a low budget picture, it really isn’t half bad. This isn’t The Fast and the Furious, or some other slickly produced production, so there aren’t any massively scaled action sequences, but there is a higher sense of recklessness, as if the actors and drivers themselves are not sure if what they are doing is quite safe, and that is part of the movies charm. The highlight for me was a game of chicken played between the gold Rolls Royce and a Helicopter. I flinched twice watching these two vehicles going tire to blade against each other, and sat wondering if a major production today would dare shoot a scene like this practically, or would they wuss out and go with an effect.

Grand Theft Auto owes a debt to the 1963 film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World if only because both films involve a wacky cross-country car chase that involves many characters all clamoring for a big reward. But Mad World is too big a picture for its own good, and all the plot holes send this film crashing into the wall in the third act while Grand Theft Autos’ streamlined story and tight control of its characters keep it moving at a brisk pace to the finish line.

Hoping to cash in like George Lucas, Roger Corman added some CG enhancements
to the chase scenes for the Grand Theft Auto DVD release.

The Package

There aren’t a lot of extras on this disc, but the ones they have are very entertaining and informative. The making of documentary stars Clint and Rance Howard for the most part telling little stories of how the production came about and how it progressed. This disc also includes the trailer for the film, and the only reason I mention it is because it has what I love about older trailers. It has content shot just for it! It’s not earth shattering, but its fun to watch a coming soon attraction where a first time director is trying his best to hawk his product to a captive audience.

The real treat on this title is the commentary by Ron Howard and Roger Corman. The Commentary was recorded around the time that Howard was putting the finishing touches on his Russell Crowe boxing movie Cinderella Man, and its nice to see that he hasn’t forgot the man who gave him his start in directing features. There are some who hate listening to directors and producers who are too technical when talking about the movie, and others that hate when they aren’t technical enough and just talk about funny things that happened on set during the production. This commentary should satisfy both crowds. Howard has a very good memory about how the shoot went, all the way down to who catered the movie.

Early NASCAR sponsorships lacked a certain class.

For me, the Corman side of the commentary was like a film school on disc. This man has started the careers of many a great director, such as Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, and Joe Dante (who edited Grand Theft Auto). Make no mistake, Corman has very few memories about the cast of this movie, but he does seem to recall a wealth of information regarding how much the movie cost and how much it was grossed. He is the type of guy many film lovers may despise because he is the type of producer that always built a movie around a title he thought he could create buzz for before he even had page one of a script, and being a massive tightwad when it came to his films’ budgets. But give the man credit for at least letting the directors he picked for his projects do whatever they wanted creatively their chance.

You don’t wanna mess with Reno’s fashion police!

7.5 out of 10