All Revved Up: Gary Graver’s Crossing the Line (1990)

Dave checks out a rare mainstream outing for the prolific filmmaker, and dreams of what could have been…

“I directed a movie in 1989 with Cameron Mitchell called CROSSING THE LINE. He was a strange cat. He ate a lot of garlic to prevent heart trouble, but he was a chain smoker so he died of lung disease.” [1]

Admittedly, it’s not the most pertinent way to begin an appreciation of a little-known motocross movie, but a Cameron Mitchell anecdote is usually worth telling, especially when it comes from the mouth of Gary Graver.

Mitchell plays Sheriff Willows, lawman of a little place in the sticks of Pennsylvania (although it’s shot in Johannesburg) where the prosperity is dependent on the steel industry, which is controlled by the wealthy Jack Kagan (John Saxon, the only man to look dapper in beige slacks). For the most part it’s a harmonious environment, but when the rascality of Jack’s overindulged son, Rick (Rick Hearst), lands the union leader’s kid (Evan J. Klisser) in hospital, all hell breaks loose, and Rick ends up leaving the family mansion and holing up in a rat infested hut out at the race track – the place he really feels at home.

With a doe-eyed crush on the unassuming Megan (Colleen Morris), a Dad desperate to win the love of his son (“I may be a sonofabitch, but I’ll never let you go”), and the inspiration of the stirring track owner Steve Sinclair (Vernon Wells, brilliant as ever), it’s a small town melodrama that demands a mullet-haired rocker belting out a titular anthem over the end credits – and it gets it.

Crossing the Line is riddled with every boy-comes-good cliché that you can think of, and it’s justly unapologetic about that. Harnessing the spirit – and occasional plot contrivance – of a host of ‘80s crowd-pleasers like All the Right Moves (1983) and, to a lesser extent, Flashdance (1983) with their industry dependent locality and utopian dreams of an idealistic future, Crossing the Line grabs that well-worn template and holds on to it for dear life.

Alas, Rick doesn’t elicit the same degree of empathy as Tom Cruise’s Stefan Djordjevic or Jennifer Beals’ Alex Owens, because he is quite frankly a spoilt brat with Daddy’s chequebook at his mercy. However, Hearst (coming off the back of Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (1988)) manages to imbue the character with not just a begrudging charm, but a degree of contrition as well, enabling a clear pathway from zero to hero.

This felt as though it may be a make or break picture for Gary Graver. He was desperate to move into mainstream cinema having granted his X-rated alter-ego “Robert McCallum” a brief sabbatical, but the threesome of director-for-hire gigs that began with Party Camp (1987), and continued through Moon in Scorpio (1987) and Nerds of a Feather (1989) had so far failed to set the box office alight.

Despite the budget for Crossing the Line being a healthy one and an extensive crew to boot, all the South African production could muster was to sneak out onto the video rental shelves of America with a whimper in the summer of 1990. It deserved more than that, and you do wonder if it was blessed with higher profile leads to accompany character actor royalty like Saxon and Wells, whether it could have altered the career path for the protean genius.

USA ● 1990 ● Drama ● 94mins

Rick Hearst, Vernon Wells, John Saxon ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. Rick Marcus, from a story by James Ryan


[1] Penny Blood, No. 11, Fall 2008, interview with Harvey Chartrand

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