Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Side Hackers (Crown International, 1969)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I picked the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of something called The Side Hackers, a 1969 release from “Crown International Pictures” (living up — or down — to the usual reputation of studios with the word “International” in their names) that turned out to be yet another motorcycle movie starring Ross Hagen, whose true name, Leland Lando Lilly, turned out to be the silliest real-life moniker for a major action star since Marion Michael “Duke” Morrison became John Wayne. We’d seen a previous Hagen vehicle on MST3K, The Hellcats — also a motorcycle film — and pronounced it pretty boring, but this one turned out even worse.

Also known as Five the Hard Way (an even worse title, especially since it would imply a gambling story and no sequence of gambling occurs at any time in the film), The Side Hackers takes its name from an off-shoot form of motorcycle racing called “sidehacking.” The bikes are equipped with sidecars — not the teardrop-shaped ones familiar to anyone who’s seen the motorcycles driven in World War II movies but flat platforms on which the second crew member, the “navigator,” stands (the actual driver is called the “pilot”), and leans either left or right depending on which way he needs to go so the pilot can negotiate a turn successfully. This means that when the person leans left it looks like he’s fucking the pilot in the ass, and when he leans right it looks as if his own ass is going to be sanded off by the ground.

What makes this a particularly bizarre movie is that, though the filmmakers (the director was Gus Trikonis — who supposedly put his then-wife, the then-unknown Goldie Hawn, in the movie as an extra watching a side-hack race — and the writers were Tony Huston and Larry Billman) enlisted the aid of a side-hacking association and got permission to film in Perris State Park, where real sidehackers went to do their thing, after the first half-hour or so no further side-hacking sequences are shown and instead the film becomes a singularly dull revenge drama featuring Vince Rommel (Ross Hagen) going after the villain, “J. C.” (Michael Pataki), for having murdered his girlfriend. (J. C. later kills his own girlfriend as well — one’s got to wonder just what problem this guy has with women.) The film builds (if you can call it that) to a big confrontation in the desert in which Vince virtuously insists that his side will not carry guns — and of course they’re mowed down by J. C.’s gang, which isn’t similarly encumbered. About the only surprise in the denouement is that Vince actually dies at the end — he isn’t given some way to dispatch J. C. without firearms and, just when it looks like J. C. has finally been disarmed, he finds one of his minion’s guns in the desert and uses it to blow away Our Hero.

The Side Hackers isn’t entirely without entertainment value — though the fabric looks more like flannel than denim, at least a lot of the male dramatis personae are wearing tight jeans and showing impressive baskets (particularly Robert Tessier as “Jake”), and the side-hacking scenes themselves are genuinely exciting even though the sport seems particularly pointless (an commentator pointed out that cyclists unencumbered by sidecars and their riders do a better job of stabilizing themselves in high-speed turns with their own leans) — but for the most part it’s a pointless bore that makes The Hellcats look like a vertiginous, edge-of-your-seat thriller by comparison, and a movie so lame even the MST3K crew couldn’t do much to make it entertaining.