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Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto
cast: Nancy Morgan, Ron Howard, Hoke Howell, Rance Howard, and Lew Brown

director: Ron Howard

85 minutes (PG) 1977
widescreen ratio 16:9
4 Digital DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Utter the words 'grand theft auto' to most people and they will immediately think of the multi-sequel videogame that is criticised as much for its gratuitous violence as it praised for its playability. What most people forget is that the moniker, Grand Theft Auto, was originally used in the title of Ron Howard's 1977 feature length directorial debut.

It is about here the comparisons end. Whilst the movie has a certificate of PG, the videogame regularly draws an 18 rating; and this is part of the charm of the movie. Ron Howard - once better known as Richie Cunningham in Happy Days - and now for directing the modern classic A Beautiful Mind, amongst others - writes, stars and directs this fun film with great gusto.

Essentially the plot is idiotically simple; boy (Sam) loves girl (Paula), girl loves boy, girls' parents don't approve, boy and girl decide to elope to Vegas and get married. How does this then create a movie of constant car chasing where some of the 1970s' most famous cars are destroyed? Easy, Paula's obscenely rich parents and the mother of the boy they want her to marry put a bounty of $50,000 on their heads.

Grand Theft Auto is Smokey And The Bandit for teenage lovers. The bounty offered means that every hillbilly and redneck is after Sam and Paula, as well as live news coverage of their progress feeding an information hungry nation on their progress, and more importantly, their whereabouts.

Bearing in mind that this is a 1970s movie some of the direction is clichéd to within an inch of its life; the lazy cops, the sunglasses-wearing DJs, the fashion on parade; hell, in the 1970s if you couldn't grow a decent set of sideburns then your virility was surely called into question. There are some amusing little cameos in the film, but my favourite has to be the appearance of Marion Ross (Marion Cunningham in Happy Days) and her plea to Sam (Ron Howard) to be careful.

Yep, Grand Theft Auto is like a wonderfully preserved piece of art. It is a quirky little comedy with the classic teenage love-story undercurrent. The fact that every loon-ball and space cadet in the US is chasing them for the reward just adds to the fun - and in these characters Howard gives some of the best lines and flaws. This is a movie that grows old gracefully and one in which Howard shows his early promise as director. It is not to be taken too seriously and the question is; do they get married in the end?

DVD bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, the original trailer, and a commentary from Ron Howard and producer Roger Corman.

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