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dog days

dog days

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mag Wheels

Mag Wheels (aka Summer School)
1978
Bethel Buckalew

Steve (John Laughlin) is a hunky guy with a sweet van. He has his eyes on the new girl in town, Anita (Shelly Horner). Steve has aroused the ire of his ex, Donna (Verkina Flower), and she sets him up by implicating him a drug deal. Steve’s friends blame Anita, and retaliate in the grossest way possible. The boys and girls decide to settle it all with a vehicle tug-of-war that could have some unfortunate consequences.

"I'm sorry, I could never love a man who chose Foghat over 38 Special."
Currently I possess two cinematic guilty pleasures, one is direct to DVD mediocre talking animal movies. The other is the heady world of vansploitation movies. What’s the appeal? I like mix of freewheeling sex comedy, drug humor, 70’s ephemera, and because I was born in the 70s there is something both familiar and alien about it at the same time. Also, there is usually a lot of nudity.

Mag Wheels feels like it’s going to follow the path of virtually every teen romance movie: Boy meets girl, they don’t get along, but soon develop affection for one another, and get together at the end. Since this is vanspoilation, there are also lots of cool conversion vans racing each other, kids smoking weed, and having sex in shag carpeted love dens. Curiously, when Mag Wheels hits the half-way point things start to get dark. A jealous ex-girlfriend sends things spiraling out of control in scenes of attempted rape and potential death. The fact that the film tries to play these things off with a bit of humor makes them all that much more disconcerting. These tonal changes, as bleak as they are, separate the movie from the normally breezy world of 70s teen sex comedies.

"Can I try on the bikini now?"
 Perhaps the strangest thing that Mag Wheels expects is for the audience to accept Steve as the romantic lead. He’s vain, he’s repeatedly cruel to a frat pledge, and he’s not above trying to defend his friends’ attempted sexual assault. I figured the movie was setting him up as the antagonist who would get his comeuppance just before the credits roll. I was wrong. I’m legitimately supposed to be rooting for this guy through his trials and tribulations in winning over Anita. I did find myself taking to Anita, she’s stands up to the boys and can take care of herself, but at the same time she can be shy and awkward. Shelly Horner’s performance is hampered by some supremely terrible dialogue, but her naturalistic performance almost overcomes it.

Mag Wheels concludes with a van tug-of-war near a ravine that ends rather dramatically. Rather than going out on such a dark note, it feebly tries to include a quick voice over that everything is going to be alright. The movie then hurries to the credits before the audience realizes what just happened. It’s probably the funniest moment in the entire film. Mag Wheels is almost genius in the way it continually defies expectations yet remains an air-headed exploitation film.

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