Motorama is one of those movies that got lost amidst the tides of time. Many films pass unnoticed upon first release and remain so for many years, but they’re eventually rediscovered, at least to some extent. Others, however, seem like they’re destined to oblivion like Motorama. It’s like a curse or something. You know this is particularly true then its Wikipedia article is a stub. Very few people know about it, yet those who did watch the movie will be hardly able to erase it from their memories and still discuss it to this day. I saw it as a youngster myself and it has stuck with me ever since. In other words, what we have here is a true cult film in every possible sense.
The plot follows a really cool ten-year-old kid called Gus that attempts to pass as an adult. Tired of his banal life and the abuse of his parents, he goes on the lookout for the pieces of a mystic lottery, sponsored by the shady Chimera Gas Company, which can only be found in participating gas stations across America. They are eight pieces in total that spell the word “MOTORAMA” and rumor has it that it’s impossible to win the game. The prize: $500 million dollars, so at least there’s a bit of incentive to try. Thing is, nobody is playing the darned game anymore. Gus initially finds two pieces and makes the goal of his life to hunt for the rest… so he literally hits the road in a stolen Mustang to seek every imaginable gas station out there. The kid’s ride is wild, dreamy and surreal, not to mention shocking: poor Gus loses his left eye halfway into the movie but he does get a sweet eyepatch instead, so I guess we can say that he comes out even (for some strange reason, the poster of the movie is inverted and the patch appears on his right eye). He will meet a bizarre cast of characters, each one stranger than the other, including cameos by Flea (you know, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jack Nance (Mr. David Lynch’s fétiche actor), Meat Loaf (who fortunately acts better than he sings), the ubiquitous Dick Miller and Robert Picardo (who did the alien in Explorers — ‘nuff said). Actually, almost every single cast member had acted in a notable cult film before. Motorama is also noteworthy for featuring the reappearance of Drew Barrymore in movies after her little acid trip. Did I mention that the soundtrack was performed by Andy Summers of The Police?
I mean… is there anything else I have to tell you?!?! The plot alone is pure gold and the execution is perfect. The movie should have been a runaway hit, that’s for sure — but, by one of those strange whims of the film industry, it remains an underdog. Not even the DVD release did anything to improve its popularity. Unsurprisingly, the scriptwriter is Joseph Minion of After Hours fame (possibly Scorsese’s best movie) and it shows. Indeed, Motorama does quite play like a road movie version of After Hours, but even more surreal and perplexing. I was appalled to find that Minion’s output has been sparse and that he appears to be inactive. It’s the same case with the director – Barry Shils – and the kid who plays Gus – Jordan Christopher Michael – who very sporadically appeared in TV shows. This actually manages to add even more mystery to Motorama, which feels like a dream, like it almost never happened…
Hands down, my favorite “lost film” of the 90’s and one of the most unique ever. Essential viewing.
Motorama can be acquired from Sony Pictures.