GRUNGY AND INFLUENTIAL, George Miller's 1979 revenge flick Mad Max became an international smash when American International Pictures—which also spawned Roger Corman, teen horror pics, and biker films—replaced its Aussie accents with good ol' American talk. Yet it never really hit in the US, and it's hard to fathom why. Mad Max is a classic B-movie exploitation picture, perfect for AIP's drive-in market (then declining due to video). An impossibly young, baby-faced Mel Gibson plays Max as both rebel and reliable family man. He's a cool cop in black leather and a souped-up V8 whose specialty is playing chicken with revved-up road pirates. It's "a few years from now" in a world on the verge of social breakdown, where the highway has become a battleground between cop and criminal. When Max's family is murdered by a horde of sleazy bikers, he turns rogue and transforms his car into a vehicle of vengeance. Think of Death Wish by way of Death Race 2000.
directed by George Miller
starring Mel Gibson
runs March 3-9 at Egyptian
Rereleased in a new print that restores the original soundtrack (which is, despite AIP's fears, quite easy to understand), Mad Max is both better and worse than you might expect. In the wake of its 1981 sequel, the colorful comic book cum mythic postapocalyptic epic The Road Warrior (a.k.a. Mad Max 2), it looks a little cheap and raw. Its bombastic score suggests a humorless seriousness that Miller's often witty direction belies. He bounces between macho clich頡nd outrageous exaggeration, never quite abandoning one for the other, all the while staging car chases and screeching wrecks with confidence and kinetic flash. It's a tough and grimy little piece of cinema, full of ambiance—love the crumbling "Hall of Justice" sign—and attitude, with occasionally inspired flourishes. Mad Max will never earn the cult status of The Road Warrior, but it's still an eminently road-worthy picture.