The Sugarland Express (1974)

Written by Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins, based on a story by Barwood, Robbins and Steven Spielberg
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, Michael Sacks, Ben Johnson, Gregory Walcott


Released by: Universal
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Spielberg fans should rent.

Lou Jean Poplin (Hawn) hasn't exactly been the poster woman for motherhood. She's been incarcerated and so has her husband. When she gets out, it appears that the state of Texas has determined them to be unfit parents and put their very young son up for adoption. Lou Jean goes apeshit. She helps her husband (Atherton) escape and takes off across the state to get her son back, making several bad decisions along the way--one of which gives them a state trooper hostage (Sacks). Now on the road and in a buttload of trouble, they may make it to the end of the road to their son--but then what?

Well, sometimes there are films that everybody seems to like that you just don't get. And I apologize in advance, I just don't get this movie. So if you do and you don't want to read a dissenting opinion, abandon the review now. You've been warned. Maybe it's the cinematic context that I don't understand--something perhaps some bonus features could have addressed--but to me, the almost comical (and I don't think it was meant to be comical, at least not the whole film through) cross-country chase has been done a lot better in everything from Smokey & the Bandit to Blues Brothers to Thelma & Louise. This film predates those, yes, but if they were just improving upon this as a template then I wish I had known.

I just don't understand the point of the film. Since it's pretty much evident from the get-go how things are going to end up, you only have the journey there to sustain you. Hawn appears to be revelling in her role of Queen of White Trash, but there's not much going on with her other than that. Sure, we can understand the lengths a woman will go to to protect her child, but there are limits. Lou Jean is such a freaking airhead that by the end of the film, I was praying for snipers. Atherton (looking scary-thin and damn, so young) tries to do the best he can, but there's just nothing there. Sacks is literally along for the ride, his storyline ending in a very heavy handed way that I didn't care for. Ben Johnson is also there to play the captain who's trying to keep the body count to zero.

About the only thing the film really has going for it is Spielberg's and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's choices for shots. They capture the Texas countryside and the chase well, it's just a shame that we have to rely on that to carry us for nearly two hours. Which begs the question: why 110 minutes? Surely we could have lost something in there so that our butts wouldn't fall asleep.

The DVD comes with nothing to assist it, much less the aforementioned context that might have helped me out. This is a shame especially considering the amount of stuff Universal put on the Duel DVD that accompanied this into stores. There's only the trailer. At the very least, some interviews on the choices that went into the film would have been nice, if for no other reason to help me, you know, with my problem.

Spielberg completists who have never caught it might want to rent it, but the rest of us can avoid it with a clear conscience, I should think.

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